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By Andrew Hood
With rain clouds threatening to dampen Wednesday’s mountainous fourth stage at the Mallorca Challenge, overnight leader Filippe Gilbert (FDJeux) wasn’t sounding too optimistic about his chances of defending his jersey.
“It’s going to be too wet and dangerous. It’s not worth crashing to try to stay with the lead group in this mountainous stage,” Gilbert told VeloNews before the stage. “I already won a stage. That was the main goal for this race, along with getting ready for Milan-San Remo. I will take it easy today.”
Flash forward four emotional hours and Gilbert was right in the thick of things, not only to protect his jersey but to win another stage.
Gilbert collided with José Rojas (Caisse d’Epargne), who was surging past the Belgian’s right shoulder, and sent Tuesday’s stage winner crashing spectacularly into the barriers. The race leader looked around, didn’t see anyone else coming through, and rode across the line, raising a fist in victory. Sebastian Langeveld (Rabobank) settled for second with Maarten Wynants (QuickStep) taking third.
It seemed that Gilbert had elbowed Rojas directly into the barriers. But the race jury ruled that the race leader, who also won the opening stage in Palma de Mallorca, didn’t stray from his line. Instead, it said that Rojas, who ended up with a broken right clavicle and severe cuts to his right hand, didn’t have enough room to take his sprint up the right side of the road.
To add insult to injury, Rojas lost more than four minutes and fell out of second place in the overall classification. Because the Mallorca Challenge is a series of one-day races and not a stage race, the rule negating time losses due to crashes in the final sprints does not apply.
The day’s action, however, was overshadowed by an angry attack by Alberto Contador (Astana), who learned during the stage that his team was being left out of the Tour de France and other events sponsored by ASO.
Contador was reeled in with 8km to go to set up the sprint.
The 13th Mallorca Challenge concludes Thursday with the hilly 147.3km fifth stage from Magaluf to Palmanova.
Contador is on the start list, but it’s uncertain if he will race.