The toughest stage on this year’s Vuelta a Espana had promised drama and did not disappoint yesterday as race leader Alberto Contador and Britain’s Chris Froome battled it out on the final climb.
Yet even this was overshadowed by the extraordinary scenes when Russia’s Ivan Rovny and Gianluca Brambilla, of Italy, came to blows during the race and were disqualified.
Stage 16 featured four category-one climbs on the 160.5km run from San Martin del Rey Aurelio to La Farrapona and it was on an early breakaway up the slope of San Lorenzo that Rovny and Brambilla clashed.
Brambilla seemed to get annoyed when Rovny, a Tinkoff-Saxo team-mate of Contador, changed pace during the break. The Russian then tried to put his arm around Brambilla but he reacted angrily and lashed out. Rovny responded with a slap and the pair continued to ride in close proximity for nearly a minute, Brambilla, who is with Omega Pharma-Quick Step, holding his elbow out ready to fend Rovny off.
Soon after, the race commissaires’ car pulled alongside Brambilla and signalled his disqualification, but the visibly angry Italian waited for Rovny and remonstrated some more before eventually pulling out. Rovny raced on, but he soon received the signal from race officials.
Meanwhile, Contador claimed his first stage win at the top of La Farrapona to extend his overall lead, pulling away from Froome with one kilometre left to win by 15 seconds. The Spaniard now leads by one minute 36 seconds from Alejandro Valverde, with Froome three seconds further back in third place.
In the Tour of Britain, Australian Mark Renshaw beat Team Sky’s Ben Swift in a sprint finish to take stage two from Knowsley to Llandudno.
Renshaw, more used to life as Mark Cavendish’s lead-out man within the Omega Pharma-Quick Step squad, jumped clear to win comfortably as Swift paid the price for going too soon.
After the climb of the Great Orme created significant splits in the peloton, Movistar’s Alex Dowsett tried to break away as Sylvain Chavanel challenged. But Sir Bradley Wiggins, working for Swift, led a group of chasers back on to their wheel on the approach to the line. Swift then sprang forward but, with Cavendish not in contention, Renshaw covered the move and claimed the win.
“It was a great stage, a great victory, my first for the year with Omega Pharma-Quick Step,” Renshaw said. “I’ve had victories here before on the Tour of Britain and it’s good to do it again.”
The 31-year-old, winner of stage five of the Tour of Britain in 2011, took the yellow jersey from Marcel Kittel, who lost touch with the peloton on the Great Orme. Renshaw added: “We came here to work for Cav but he had a really bad crash yesterday and is just trying to recover, so he gave me a chance today.”
While Swift missed out, he could console himself with the points leaders’ jersey.
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