Former champion and contender for this year’s Vuelta a Espana title, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), has been kicked off the race after being towed by his team car on stage two.
Nibali and three team-mates were among a number of riders brought down in a big crash with 30km remaining, and he was caught on camera by the television helicopter being towed by directeur sportif Alexander Sheffer’s team car for at least 100m.
And after lengthy deliberations post-stage, race commissaires announced both Nibali and Sheffer had been expelled from the race, and Astana will have just one team car for stages three and four.
“Looking at the pictures it was very clear,” head commissaire Bruno Valcic announced. “There was no opportunity to give any other penalty to the rider.
“The film is very clear, it shows Nibali has put his hand on the car for 100 metres. So the penalty for this is very clear. The decision of the commissaires is very clear. Vincenzo Nibali has been disqualified from the race.”
After the stage one team time trial had been neutralised for the general classification, racing started for real on stage two of the season’s final Grand Tour, with gaps already opening up in the overall standings.
The crash saw Astana lose ground on the bunch, with Nibali, Fabio Aru, Diego Rosa and Paolo Tiralongo all hitting the deck.
A lengthy wait for a replacement bike meant Nibali had more than 90 seconds deficit to make up, and the effort in doing so – despite the tow – saw him lose further time on the day’s final climb.
That is now a moot point, however, with Aru – who finished tenth, 37 seconds behind Orica-GreenEDGE’s stage winner Johan Esteban Chaves – now likely to lead Astana’s GC challenge.
In a statement issued via their team website, the Kazakh-sponsored team called the penalty an ‘unusual and severe step’ but apologised for the error, also apologising to the peloton and race organisers for ‘the harm these televised images caused to professional cycling’.