Sam Bennett was relegated for a dangerous sprint on stage nine of the Vuelta a España 2020, as Pascal Ackermann was handed the victory.
The peloton relished an easy sprint day with a low pace for most of the day, before the fight for the stage unfolded in the final 5km.
Pascal Ackermann (Bora-Hansgrohe) was the first sprinter to launch his effort inside the final 200m, but Bennett came from behind to raise his arms for the win.
Bennett (Deceuninck – Quick-Step) was followed across the line by Ackermann in second and Gerben Thijssen (Lotto-Soudal) in third.
But after the stage, Bennett was relegated for an irregular sprint and had the win taken away, with the victory going to Ackermann.
Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) finished safely in the bunch to hold into the race lead for another day.
How it happened
Stage nine of the Vuelta a España 2020 was only the second opportunity for the sprinters to fight for glory, after Sam Bennett’s success on stage four.
Covering 157km from Castrillo del Val to Aguilar de Campoo in the Castile and León region of Spain, the route featured no categorised climbs, but there were a handful of uncategorised ramps along the way.
The peloton crossed the finish line for the first time 36km from the end, with three minor ascents to tackle, before the pan-flat final 5km, which featured some sharp turns.
As the flag dropped on the day’s racing, stage nine quickly became the easiest day of racing so far for the bunch, after a relentless first week.
Only two riders broke clear of the peloton early in the day to form the breakaway, as Juan Felipe Osoria (Burgos-BH) and Artiz Bagues (Caja Rural – Seguros RGA) escaped and built their advantage up to almost six minutes in the opening 20km.
But the peloton was determined to force a sprint day, as Deceuninck – Quick-Step and UAE Team Emirates pulled the gap down to two minutes.
Bora-Hansgrohe’s sprinter Pascal Ackermann was involved in a crash with around 100km left of the stage and received medical attention from the race doctor before rejoining the peloton, but his injuries seemed minimal and Bora were still motivated to ride late into the stage.
With 30km left to race the pace finally increased in the peloton as Ineos Grenadiers and EF Pro Cycling moved their trains up to protect their respective GC leaders, Richard Carpaz and Hugh Carthy.
The breakaway shook hands and sat up 22km from home, as the sprint teams moved their trains to the head of affairs ready for the finish.
Drama struck Jumbo-Visma in the final 12km as their leader Primoz Roglic suffered an awfully-timed puncture, but the second place overall got a rapid bike change and was able to chase back on, as the pace still wasn’t at maximum in the bunch.
The racing finally started 5km from the line as teams powered towards a sharp and narrow right-hand turn, followed by a sweeping left, with Lotto-Soudal and Bora the best positioned.
Just inside 2km riders hit the final hazard, a nasty left-hand turn as riders were spread right across the road.
At the 1km mark Bora led the bunch with Deceuninck close behind.
Ackermann fired his sprint fist 175 metres from the finish, as Jasper Philipsen (UAE Team Emirates) and Bennett launched shortly after and all the sprinters were spread across the road, but it was the Irishman Bennett who hit the front to take the stage.
But after the finish, news emerged that the race jury was considering penalising Bennett for an irregular sprint, before it was confirmed that Bennett had in fact been relegated and the win went to Ackermann.
The race continues with a 185km stage 10 from Castro Urdiales to Suances, featuring a sharp uphill finish.
Vuelta a España 2020, stage nine: Castrillo del Val to Aguilar de Campoo (157km)
1. Pascal Ackermann (Ger) Bora-Hansgrohe, in 3-39-55
2. Gerben Thijssen (Bel) Lotto-Soudal
3. Max Kanter (Ger) Sunweb
4. Jasper Philipsen (Bel) UAE Team Emirates
5.. Jakub Mareckzo (Ita) CCC Team
6.. Alexis Renard (Fra) Israel Start-Up Nation
7. Jon Aberasturi (Esp) Caja Rural-Seguros RGA
8. Lorrenzo Manzin (Fra) Team Total Direct Energie
9. Robert Stannard (Aus) Mitchelton-Scott
10. Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg (RSA) NTT Pro Cycling, all at same time
General classification after stage nine
1. Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers, in 36-11-01
2. Primož Roglič (Slo) Jumbo-Visma, at 13 seconds
3. Dan Martin (Irl) Israel Start-Up Nation, at 28s
4. Hugh Carthy (GBr) EF Pro Cycling, at 44s
5. Enric Mas (Esp) Movistar Team, 1-54
6. Felix Großschartner (Aut) Bora-Hansgrohe, at 3-28
7. Esteban Cháves (Col) Mitchelton-Scott, at same time
8. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar Team, at 3-35
9. Marc Soler (Esp) Movistar Team, at 3-40
10. Wout Poels (Ned) Bahrain McLaren, at 3-47.