DINGXI, China — There has been no shortage of drama surrounding Continental team Adria Mobil in the lead-up to Tuesday’s well-deserved rest day following the first nine days of the 13-stage, 2,027-kilometer Tour of Qinghai Lake.
On Monday, Slovenian Marko Kump captured his fourth win in nine days — Adria Mobil’s fifth overall including Primoz Roglic’s win on stage 5. However, Kump’s victory was bittersweet as the 26-year-old former Tinkoff-Saxo rider was still nursing an earlier punch to the face from Italian Mattia Gavazzi (Amore & Vita-Selle SMP), who had outsprinted Kump the day before to claim stage 8.
Chief commissaire John McDonnell relegated Gavazzi due to the mid-race altercation between the two lead riders, which was initiated by Gavazzi after both he and Kump exchanged words following the second category 2 climb.
“Mattia [Gavazzi] is not good sportsman,” Adria Mobil sports director, Bostjan Mervar, said. “There were words exchanged on the road and Mattia hit Marko [Kump], but Marko stayed cool and dropped back to the chief commissaire to tell him what happened.
“The chief commissaire said he would send Mattia home, but I said to him it’s okay, we must cool down and let them finish the race.”
Gavazzi’s relegation to the back of the peloton lifted Ukrainian Andriy Kulyk (Kolss-BDC) to second and Italian Marco Zanotti (Parkhotel-Valkenburg) to third.
“Today our strategy at the start of the stage was to fight for the yellow jersey, not a stage win,” Kump told VeloNews after the stage. “I was attacking on the two categorized climbs and when I heard from other riders that Gavazzi was saying that he was ashamed for cycling and for the green jersey because I am a sprinter and I am attacking on the climbs and because I don’t have a biological passport.
“I then came to him and told him to stop saying that because I’ve never been suspended, and he has been suspended two times,” the current points leader explained. “That’s when he came to me and punched me in the face and other riders saw it.”
The 32-year-old Gavazzi has previously served a two-and-a-half year a suspension from cycling after testing positive for cocaine following the prologue of the 2010 Settimana Lombarda, two days before winning stage 2. The son of Pierino Gavazzi, who won Milano-Sanremo in 1980, was given a six-year suspension, but was given a reduced sentence for his cooperation with the investigation.
This was not the first time Gavazzi was caught with cocaine in his system. In 2004, he served a 14-month sentence after testing positive for the illicit drug. Gavazzi again made headlines in 2013 when he was disqualified from the Giro d’Italia for being caught taking repeated tows from team vehicles in the finale of stage 16.
Following the assault, Kump immediately distanced himself from Gavazzi before dropping back to the commissaire to lodge a complaint.
“I went back to the commissaire’s car and explained what had happened,” Kump said. “Afterwards Gavazzi came back and apologised. He said he did the wrong thing, and we said OK.”
Troubles initially began for the Slovenian Continental team on the final 500 meters of stage 5, when 36-year-old Croatian Radoslav Rogina took a wrong turn with a 100-meter lead due to a directional error from a race official. Instead of winning the stage and claiming the yellow jersey, Rogina, who was nine seconds down on Ukrainian Oleksandr Polivoda (Kolss-BDC), finished 18 seconds back on new race leader and 2012 winner Hossein Alizadeh (RTS-Santic) of Iran.
Adria Mobil disputed the result, and after further review chief commissaire McDonnell allowed Rogina to finish with the same time as Alizadeh, who finished second to Roglič, but held on to a five-second lead due to bonus seconds.
Then on stage 7, Adria Mobil, along with Kolss-BDC and Synergy-Baku claimed that Southeast rider Giorgio Cecchinel was seen holding on to the team car during a solo chase that bridged a five-minute gap. Kump also claimed to have seen Gavazzi holding on to his team car earlier in that same stage.
“It was already two days ago when we were the last group after the first climb,” recalled Kump. “That’s when it started. He came to that group and we pretty much all saw him holding the car and I told him that’s not fair to other riders that are trying to compete by the rules.”
While Gavazzi’s alleged use of the team car is frustrating, Kump admits it’s the reckless accusations hurled by Gavazzi that he finds most concerning.
“How would you feel if you know you were clean and did nothing wrong in your career and someone like him who has a history of suspensions was saying you were cheating?” Kump questioned. “That’s not fair.”
“It’s not just about me you know,” he continued. “It’s also about other riders. Who is he to tell us how to race? It’s f—king racing and we should race how we want. I told him afterwards that today was one of the last days where we could ride for general classification, and we will not make it easy for Alizadeh to leave here with the yellow jersey.”
After 203km, Kump crossed the line just ahead of Gavazzi, who claimed he suffered a mechanical while in the process of overtaking Kump at the finish of stage 9 on the streets of Dingxi, China.
“I dropped my chain in the sprint in the finale when I was about to pass Marko,” Gavazzi claimed, having picked up two stages at last year’s race. “I would have won, but now next day.”
According to Gavazzi, the entire incident has been blown out of proportion.
“Yes, Marko and I had issues in the race, but no problems after the race,” Gavazzi told VeloNews. “Marko and I speak afterwards and are sorry.
“His team is nervous for general classification and these type of things are normal in a bike race.”
The 13-stage, 2,027-kilometer Asia Tour race continues with a 100km circuit race in Tianshui on Wednesday. Alizadeh will be trying to defend his continually shrinking lead over Rogina, who gained bonus time by finishing behind Kulyk on the second intermediate sprint.
“Today was a hard day,” admitted Kump, who firmly believes the race will now come down to a battle for bonus seconds in the race’s final four stages. “Our strategy was not a stage win, but rather to gain seconds for Rogina.
“We were attacking from the beginning and when we came to the last part of the race and saw it was going to be a bunch sprint we started pulling,” he concluded. “We got one second, now it’s a two-second gap.
“We won today and are looking forward to a rest day, then we will fight all the way to the finish to take the yellow jersey.”
Aaron S. Lee is a cycling and triathlon columnist for Eurosport and a guest contributor to VeloNews