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Vuelta a Espana

Astana under fire after teammate pushes Aru uphill

Team Astana is again the subject of controversy as Fabio Aru takes a late-race push from a teammate while Tom Dumoulin was attacking.

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ÁVILA, Spain (VN) — Team Astana is under fire after Fabio Aru, second overall, appeared to received a late-race push from teammate Luis León Sánchez in the Vuelta a España’s stage 19. Aru still lost three seconds at the finish north of Madrid and fell to six seconds behind Dutch race leader, Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) with one key mountain stage remaining.

Spaniard Sánchez pushed Aru just as Dumoulin attacked on a cobbled uphill with 1.5 kilometers remaining in stage 19. Aru struggled to follow regardless, but the helping hand could bring a fine or worse.

It is not clear if Sánchez gave Aru a Madison-style hang-sling or if he pushed him. The race and jury, however, are aware of the situation. “It’s not in our hands,” the race organization said. “The jury, already at their hotel, will have a look at the video and decide.” The jury has the video clip from YouTube to review.

The members could decide to fine Sánchez, Aru, or both. Or worse, it could rule as it did with their teammate Vincenzo Nibali, who was ejected after taking a long pull from the team car while chasing back from a crash in stage 2. The jury kicked him out after reviewing the video.

Aru came to the finish with blood on both elbows, his left backside, and under his ribcage on the right. He fell early in the stage with around 120 kilometers to race with teammates Diego Rosa and Alessandro Vanotti. The day’s stress showed when the 24-year-old Sardinian reached the finish line in the center of Ávila. He yelled at a journalist and shut himself in a team van at the finish. Instead of speaking, he had the team drive him directly to the hotel.

Team Giant-Alpecin had been pulling for Dumoulin when the crash occurred. Astana said a Katusha rider moved suddenly and caused the incident. Giant’s John Degenkolb crashed, and Dumoulin went into the ditch. “I was in the wheel of Degenkolb,” Dumoulin said. “I could just avoid it, just go into the ditch. My bike was broken, but I had nothing [injured].”

“For sure we are up against a very strong rider, and that final kilometer was suited to him,” Astana team manager Giuseppe Martinelli said of Dumoulin. “Also, let’s not forget that Fabio dropped everyone else to chase … He was dropped behind Dumoulin, but Purito [Joaquim Rodríguez], [Alejandro] Valverde, [Rafal] Majka were behind.”

Assuming the jury lets Aru continue, he only has tomorrow’s mountain stage to try to distance his rival. The race finishes in Madrid on Sunday with a flat sprinters’ stage.