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Oscar Freire (Rabobank) thought he nailed it to earn his hard-fought victory during this week’s brutal Tour of the Basque Country in Friday’s penultimate stage, but the UCI race jury cried foul.
The jury said that Rabobank teammate Luis Leon Sanchez acted inappropriately in the final charge to line and ended up disqualifying Leon Sanchez and taking away Freire’s apparent victory. Leon Sanchez was pulling off with 200m to go when he inadvertently blocked his own teammate, Freire, but when he eased back into his lane, he also gave Freire a quick tap to the back of his saddle in what he said was a harmless gesture of solidarity. The UC jury saw it differently and awarded the stage to second-place rider Francesco Gavazzi (Lampre). Kristof Vandewalle (Quick Step) was bumped to second and John Gadret (Ag2r) to third.
“I am surprised at (the disqualification). It’s not fair. I demonstrated that I was the strongest in the final 200 meters. If they take it away from me, it will not be fair,” Freire said on Basque TV. “(Luis) touched me, but you shouldn’t really take it into account, because it was him who almost closed me down and the differences were already made (in the sprint).”
The ruling was a bitter disappointment for Rabobank, which did the heavy lifting to reel in a three-man breakaway that looked to have the legs to drive home the stage. Rabobank came with two goals; the first was to win a stage with Freire, the second was to put race leader Robert Gesink on the podium. The team fell short in its quest for Freire’s win, now it – and the rest of the Basque Country peloton – turns to Saturday’s individual time trial.
Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Cervelo) and Chris Horner (RadioShack) both finished in the top-10, with seventh and ninth, respectively, to not risk losing time if a gap opened up in the frenetic final charge. That assured them both shots at the victory and the podium going into Saturday’s time trial finale that will crown the winner of the six-day Basque tour.
Despite the drama at the finish line, there were no major shakeups in the final overall standings in what was, at least on paper, the easiest stage so far in what’s been a strenuous and hot Basque tour. Once again on Friday, summer-like temperatures pushed well into the 80s, uncommon in the hilly country known for its unruly spring racing conditions.
Joaquin Rodriguez (Katusha) kept the leader’s jersey going into Saturday’s TT finale, with Andreas Kloden (RadioShack) and Samuel Sanchez (Euskaltel-Euskadi) all knotted up with the same time. Defending champion Horner is fourth at one second back and Hesjedal is fifth at six seconds back. Hesjedal has made steady improvements in time trailing and the hilly, 24km course on narrow roads is not for power specialists.
The top-11 riders are separated by just 11 seconds, with Alexander Vinokourov (Astana) prowling in 10th at 10 seconds back.
“Even if the overall isn’t my first goal, the legs are there and I am well-placed, so play for the GC,” Vinokourov said. “The final TT is 24km, it’s quite long and I have good legs. I’ve always loved this race and I can probably get a good result. So why not aim for the podium?”
On paper, Kloden should be the pre-race favorite. He’s already won two time trials this year and looks to have his best form in years. Sanchez is no slouch in the time trial, and the hilly route favors his style of riding. Rodriguez will be lucky to hang in the top-5 while Gesink will likely be outgunned as well by the better time trial riders. Xavier Tondo (Movistar) could deliver a surprise.
“Whoever has the best day will win,” Tondo said. “It’s impossible to make a prediction because the first 10 have demonstrated that they are very strong and the time trial is not for specialists. It will on depend on the strength of each of us and who best manages their ride during the complicated course.”
That leaves all eyes on defending champion Horner. He’s shown great legs so far through the Volta a Catalunya, where he rode to fourth in his season debut, and been right at the nose of the action this week at the Basque Country. Horner won here last year en route to overall victory, so the story could have a very similar ending.
- 1. Francesco GAVAZZI (ITA), Lampre-Farnese Vini, 4:27:03
- 2. Kristof VANDEWALLE (BEL), Quick Step, s.t.
- 3. John GADRET (FRA), Ag2r La Mondiale, s.t.
- 4. Pim LIGTHART (NED), Vacansoleil-DCM, s.t.
- 5. Egoitz GARCIA ECHEGUIBEL (ESP), Caja Rural, s.t.
Overall, after Stage 5
- 1. Joaquin RODRIGUEZ OLIVER (Spain), Team Katusha, 21:39:46
- 2. Andreas KLÖDEN (Germany), Team RadioShack, s.t.
- 3. Samuel SANCHEZ GONZALEZ (Spain), Euskaltel-Euskadi, s.t.
- 4. Christopher HORNER (United States), Team RadioShack, at 0:01
- 5. Ryder HESJEDAL (Canada), Garmin-Cervelo, at 0:06