Alejandro Valverde won Stage Five of the Tour Down Under last week finishing first across the line at the top of Willunga Hill, just ahead of Simon Gerrans. Contrary to what Phil Liggett would have you believe, this was not the Spaniard’s first race in two years. He actually rode until May of 2010 but his ‘two-year’ suspension was back dated to January 2010. Consequently, it was his first race in 19 months.
Valverde won the stage thanks to the strength of his team. For the two laps of the circuit which brought the race over Willunga hill, there was a Movistar rider constantly at the front of the race, or thereabouts.
Before the decisive last two kilomtres, Valverde had Jose Ivan Gutierrez, and Angel Madrazo up the road.
The plan was for Valverde to bridge the gap to the front, then be aided by his team until the time came to launch the sprint for the finishing line. Which is exactly what happened. Valverde bridged and was shielded by Madrazo until the final few hundred metres where he latched on to Gerrans and sprinted by him for the stage win.
But the Movistar team cheated.
A hand-sling is a move used in the Madison track racing event. Rider A stretches his arm backwards waiting for his team-mate, Rider B, to come from behind and grab hold. Rider A then sacrifices much of his own momentum to propel Rider B forwards at a speed far greater than the speed at which he had initially approached Rider A.
‘Hand-sling’ is the colloquial term for this manouevre. It is known in the UCI rulebook as a flying relay. It is perfectly legal in Madison events on the track but during road racing it is forbidden.
But this is exactly what the Movistar team did when Jose Ivan Gutierrez gave Angel Madrazo a helping hand in the final kilomtres of Stage Five of the Tour Down under. This gave Madrazo the boost he needed to reach the leading group before Valverde’s group passed him out on the road. The result was that Madrazo was in a perfect position to aid his team leader in the final few hundred metres. A position which he may not have reached had he not cheated.
In 1972, former World Champion Hennie Kuiper won the Tour of Britain, finishing ahead of Marcel Duchemin. The Frenchman and his team lodged a complaint after the race claiming that the Dutch team had been giving Kuiper illegal hand-slings throughout the stage which ultimately led to Duchemin’s defeat. On this occassion, the complaint was ignored and Kuiper remained the winner.
But this was in an era where there weren’t several video cameras providing live high definition footage of the race. The footage of the alleged hand-slinging incidents was not available. For the 2012 Tour Down Under, this footage is available.
Tour Down Under 2012 Stage 5 ***LIVE*** Highlights.m4v (via zabelwatson)
Race incident number 9, article 12.1.040 of the UCI regulations states that the punishment for performing an illegal flying relay in a road race (amongst team-mates) is a fine of 200 Swiss Francs and a penalty of 10 seconds.
Having contacted the UCI about this matter. A spokesman responded saying:
We will receive the race report from the international commissaire designated at the Tour Down Under. I don’t know yet whether or not this rider has been sanctioned for this infringement. He should have been. If not, unfortunately, we cannot sanction a rider retroactively for such an infringement.
From checking the stage times and overall times of the riders in question, it appears that no time penalties were incurred, leading to the conclusion that neither Gutierrez nor Madrazo were penalised for this infringement.
Apparently, we have a case of the UCI not applying their own rules.
In the past, Alejandro Valverde tried to gain an edge over his rivals by cheating and was suspended for two years as a result. In his first race back in the peloton, he has already won a race by gaining an edge over his rivals via cheating. It’s a pity nothing was done about it at the time.