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Commenting on the controversial decision to allow the 93 riders who were out of the time limit on Sunday to remain in the race, Chris Froome has conceded that they should have been ejected.
Speaking to Cyclo 21, he made the surprising admission; surprising, because the other eight members of his Sky team all finished amongst that 93-man mass of riders and, had the rules been followed, would all have headed home.
The Spanish website asked him if he would consider it right to use his team to win the race, given what happened.
“No, it would not be fair,” he answered. “If there is one rule it should be respected and those 91 riders, including all my colleagues, should be out of the race.”
Early on during Sunday’s stage Alberto Contador attacked and provoked a split in the bunch. Froome and his teammates were stranded behind; in fact, only David López remained with the team leader and, as a result, they were unable to close the gap.
Although the Astana team later – and controversially – hammered it on the front to try to reduce the gap, that group never got back on terms. Froome himself looked fatigued on the final climb and ultimately finished two minutes 37 seconds behind race leader Nairo Quintana (Movistar).
With time bonuses taken into account, that left him three minutes 37 seconds off the red jersey and facing an uncertain fight to win the race in Madrid.
The 91 man group finished 53 minutes 54 seconds behind stage winner Gianluca Brambilla (Etixx-QuickStep). Two others were also outside the limit.
However, the UCI commissaires ultimately decided to allow them to continue in the race.
The governing body explained the reason in a statement. “The race commissaires, having discussed the situation, with the race organisation, the AIGCP rep and the technical directors of the race consider that the image of cycling would be negative if the 71st Vuelta has to continue with only 71 riders from the 16th stage onwards.”
Some teams disagreed, pointing out that some of those who finished far back had an easier day in the saddle than they did. They argued that they would be fresher on Monday as a result.
Indeed the first 13 on the stage to Peñíscola had all been outside the time limit on the day before. This number is likely skewed somewhat by the fact that sprinters were in the last group on Sunday, but the statistic is still an interesting one.
Froome does have his teammates to back him for the remainder of the event, but he remains uncertain about his chances. “I’m not in a situation as optimistic as a few days,” he admitted. “On Sunday I lost a lot of time, but as we have seen in the Giro things can change in a Grand Tour and we have to just keep working and keep fighting.”
He has twice finished second overall in the race, in 2011 and in 2014, and said that he will continue trying. “It is a race that I love. It is an important race for me and for that reason I took the time to try to win it. It seems that, once again, it will have to be for another year. I will keep fighting, of course, but now it seems less realistic than a few days ago.”
He confirmed that when the race ends on Sunday, he will hang up his racing wheels and bring his season to a close.
Froome has had a busy couple of months, winning the Critérium du Dauphiné and the Tour de France, netting 12th in the Olympic road race and third in the time trial and, now, fighting for victory in the Vuelta.