Stage 9 of the Vuelta a España may have been a snoozer until the speedy bunch sprint, but Deceuninck-Quick-Step boss Patrick Lefevere added some spice to an otherwise quiet day Thursday.
The veteran manager reacted angrily to race commissaries’ decision to relegate sprinter Sam Bennett from the standings of Thursday’s stage after the Irishman was first across the line.
“What a bullshit,” Lefevere wrote with fury on Twitter.
For up to an hour after the stage finished, officials poured over replays that picked out a series of shoulder barges that Bennett had launched at Trek-Segafredo’s Emīls Liepinš in the final kilometer of the run into Aguilar del Campoo. Race footage reveals Bennett twice throwing a shoulder at Liepinš as the Latvian attempted to cheekily hop onto the wheel of the Deceuninck-Quick-Step lead-out man Michael Morkøv in advance of the bunch sprint.
The jury finally decided to relegate Bennett in the standings, awarding Pascal Ackermann the stage after the German crossed the line in second place.
“He was in his lead out and the Trek rider wanted to pull him out of it,” Lefevere tweeted. “But we know already a longtime the incompetence of the UCI VAR [Video Assisted Referee].”
The relegation was not the first high-profile incident of Deceuninck-Quick-Step falling foul of the race jury the season. Julian Alaphilippe was docked 20 seconds and pushed out of the yellow jersey for a late feed at the Tour de France this summer, an incident that incurred similar wrath from ever-vocal Lefevere.
However, this time, Lefevere’s tweets drew a response as Trek-Segafredo sports director Luca Guercilena traded tweets with the Belgian.
“I reply as well, as you mention Trek-Segafredo rider,” Guercilena wrote. “To be clear first he was put off Ackerman[n’s] wheel by your lead out, then Bennett try to put him down two times in a totally incorrect and useless way. TV images are clear enough. No VAR needed at all.”
I reply as well as you mention @TrekSegafredo rider. To be clear first he was put off Ackerman wheel by your lead out, then Bennet try to put him down two times in a totally incorrect and useless way. Tv images are clear enough. No VAR needed at all https://t.co/kDsLhGKk1v
— Luca Guercilena (@l_guercilena) October 29, 2020
Bennett had attempted to justify his move after the sprint, claiming it as self-defense.
“I had to come from behind at speed,” the Irishman said. “It was a big fight, we had some guys nearly put us in the barriers trying to take the wheel which was a bit sketchy but we stayed upright.”
Nonetheless, Lefevere and Guercilena descended into an irate spat as the Quick-Step boss fell back to palmarès-pushing.
“How many sprints has [Liepinš] won Luca Guercilena?” Lefevere tweeted. “Where was your leadout?”
Guercelina appeared to have the last word.
“Does a rider need wins to be respected? He won 5 mass sprint just to tell. Does a sprinter absolutely need a lead out to win? It surprises me as you teach me and all working with you that a sprinter should always sprint, clearly respecting the rules.”
Promoted stage-winner Pascal Ackermann of course praised the jury’s decision.
“It’s not exactly the way I wanted to win, but I think the decision was right,” Ackermann said. “If there is no room to move in, you don’t go. I sympathize with Sam, but we just need to race and sprint safer.”
The sprinters may well have the opportunity to resolve their differences on another mostly-flat stage into Suances Friday.