Strange turns to bizarre in Spain and Catalunya, the only professional bike race ranked Hors Silliness.
Stage three was a comedy of errors that finished in rain, snow, ice and embarrassment. First, officials waited until the riders were deep into the race to cut out 55k of the stage and eliminate the final Port Aine climb –because even the snow plows were out. Riders has to guess at the exact location of the new finish line.
Although Janez Brajkovic (Astana) won the crazy queen stage ahead of Michal Golas (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Mickael Cherel (AG2R La Mondiale), the stage was nullified and their eight minute advantage on the peloton wiped out.
That is where the story becomes even stranger and hard to believe. Facing a storm of criticism about the sloppy planning of the stage, race officials have decided that the nine riders in the ill-fated breakaway will be given their eight minutes for use in the Vuelta a Espana in August.
“Unfortunately, mistakes have been made but we must do all we can to reward the sporting element,” said Juan Espinoza Del Garcia. “These riders will start the Vuelta with an eight minute bonus.”
The amazing turn of events has radically altered the GC plans of all the top contenders in the Spanish grand tour. Brajkovic and Garmin-Barracuda’s Christian Vande Velde are now the virtual leaders of the Vuelta and will begin the race with a commanding lead.
In the chaos in Catalunya, UCI officials attempted to defuse the situation. “Nothing has been decided, there is only discussion, there is no Vuelta time bonus at this time,” said Jens Freitag of the UCI Competition Committee. “Spain cannot ignore the regulations already in place.”
Upon learning that he would be given an eight minute Vuelta time bonus, stage winner Brajikovic could not hide his surprise. “This does not make sense but the stage was crazy. I am cold and confused right now. Still, to start the Vuelta with the race leadership would be an honor,” said the Slovenian.
Reached for comment, Garmin-Barracuda boss Jonathan Vaughters struck a conciliatory note. “At the end of the day, the gaps were significant. Christian rode a strong race and it’s a shame he won’t benefit. It’s an odd switcheroo but if he can go to the Vuelta up by eight, then we’re not saying no.”
In the last few years there has been significant disagreements between the UCI and the Spanish Cycling Federation and various race organizers. The Volta a Catalunya seems sure to increase that discord.
“It is our race, it is our country and we will decide where the time gap is applied,” said Del Garcia. “Nobody in Switzerland will change our minds. This is an equitable decision and we will not waver in our position.”
Race officials are also considering inviting all 34 riders who abandoned the stage back into the race for stage 5. This would include top stars Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) and Andy Schleck (RadioShack-Nissan-Trek) and Bradley Wiggins (Sky).
“In sport, as in life, one must take risks or there is no triumph,” said Del Garcia. “We cannot move forward in Catalunya if there is nobody in the race. Where is Cavendish — he must return?”
Levi Leipheimer tweeted that there was no plan B but in fact there was. Janez Brajikovic is the early leader in the Vuelta a Espana — he’s already eight minutes ahead. Stay tuned for more news from Catalunya where you never know what’s coming next.