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Tour de France

Movistar boss defends Quintana’s wheel grab

Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué says Nairo Quintana grabbed hold of a wheel mounted on a neutral service moto to avoid crashing

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MONTELIMAR, France (VN) — It’s the wheel grab seen around the world.

A fan’s smart phone captured video images of Movistar’s Nairo Quintana grabbing onto a neutral support motorcycle in the chaos Thursday high on Mont Ventoux. Many asked why Quintana was not penalized for what appeared to be a blatant rule violation.

At Saturday’s start, Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué defended Quintana, saying the Colombian was simply trying to stay upright in the frenzied, fan-clogged pandemonium on Ventoux.

“Nairo was trying to defend himself against something even worse,” Unzué said. “Nairo had to grab the Mavic bike so that he wouldn’t fall as a result of the crash.”

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Thursday’s decisive climbing stage on the wind-shortened Ventoux was upended when the leading trio of riders, including Richie Porte (BMC Racing), Bauke Mollema (Trek – Segafredo), and Chris Froome (Sky), smashed into the back of a TV motorcycle.

The video captures the incident a few moments after the impact. Froome is seen calling back to the Sky team car as he realizes his Pinarello frame was broken from the impact, and decides to take off on foot. Porte remounts his bike to give chase to Mollema, who was already up the road. Seconds later, Quintana briefly enters the frame, clearly grabbing onto a wheel mounted on the back of a Mavic neutral support motorcycle.

That image is what captured everyone’s attention, prompting questions from more than a few, including some riders in the bunch.

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Riders can be penalized or even ejected from races for tows. In last year’s Vuelta a España, Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) was ejected after he took an extended tow off a team car while trying to regain contact with the GC group following a crash about 30km to go in stage 2.

On Saturday, speaking to a handful of journalists outside the Movistar team bus, Unzué insisted that Quintana was simply trying to avoid falling or unclipping his pedals as motorbikes and cyclists tried to fight their way through the crowd.

“Nairo came upon that crash, and the Mavic bike had to stop, and Nairo nearly fell over as well,” Unzué said. “He would have been knocked over.”

Despite the video, the UCI race jury did not cite the Quintana incident in the post-stage commissaires report. It is likely the UCI did not see the incident during the race, and the video did not materialize until after the UCI had made it controversial decision about finishing times (see below).

The jury can use video evidence to impose bans, just as they did in the Nibali case last year when he was captured taking pulls on an Astana team car. But the video clip featuring Quintana does not provide a clear context of how long Quintana was hanging onto the motorbike. If it was just for a few pedal strokes, the jury likely wouldn’t impose a penalty, especially in light of the unfolding chaos. If Quintana had hung on longer, and there was clear video to demonstrate that, there could have been grounds for a sanction.

No one was happy with how the stage unfolded Thursday on Mont Ventoux, and the Quintana incident was just one of several moments of chaos and desperation on the side of cycling’s most famous mountain.

‘Let’s apply the rules fairly’
Unzué also took issue with the jury decision in the wake of Thursday’s stage that resulted in Froome keeping his yellow jersey.

“If we have rules, we have to apply them fairly,” Unzué said. “Not for some riders, and an exemption for others, not in some races, and later, yes, in other races. It has to be equal, for all riders, for all teams, for all racers.”

Unzue’s comments came as controversial continues to broil over how the race jury decided to equalize times on the Ventoux summit Thursday. More than a few teams have grumbled that the decision to keep Froome in yellow was not the best call to make.

The provisional results put Adam Yates (Orica – BikeExchange) into yellow, and Quintana third at 14 seconds back. A revision then put Froome back into yellow, with Quintana fourth at 1:01. A third and final revision helped Quintana, slotting him into third at 54 seconds. Unzué wasn’t satisfied, and joined a quiet chorus of people who insist the real times at the time should have been registered.

“It should have been very simple,” said Unzué. “Just like what’s happened in other races. That’s simply part of the sport. I don’t understand why there are exceptions for some, and then they impose the rules to the letter of the law for others.

“The worse thing about all this isn’t what happened, but the precedent that they’ve established. What’s going to happen the next time? Do you have to stop when the leader crashes? But not for others? Will it happen in every race? Or just the Tour?” Unzué continued.

“Sure, conditions were exceptional, but there are crashes every day. That is part of cycling. You crash, you get up, you carry on. By what criteria will they judge what is exceptional? We need to know that the judges have a clear vision of how they will apply the rules.”