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Orica GreenEdge directeur sportif Neil Stephens has confirmed that the team had issues with the manoeuvre by Nacer Bouhanni inside the final 50 metres of Saturday’s stage of the race, a sideways swerve which forced Michael Matthews to back off on his sprint and may have cost him the win.
Matthews was the only rider able to close down Bouhanni after the FDJ.fr rider launched his sprint early, but when he pulled alongside him the Frenchman abruptly moved to his left and forced the Australian to also change his course and to freewheel.
Matthews finished very close to Bouhanni, but lost out on the chance to take what would have been his second stage victory of the race.
Although it was reported immediately after the finish that Matthews would not protest, the Orica GreenEdge team later confirmed that Stephens went to speak with the race judges about the manoeuvre. He confirmed that two of the commissaires had issues about what Bouhanni had done, but that things were deadlocked and the decision eventually went in the Frenchman’s favour.
“The race organisers had already asked the commissaires to review the finish when I arrived. I reviewed it with them and in my mind it confirmed our doubts,” said Stephens, explaining that seeing the sprint again convinced him that the FDJ rider had not behaved properly.
However the commissaires ultimately let the result stand. “They were split two against two as to what the decision should be. In the end they said it was a difficult decision but that they would award the stage to Bouhanni.
“That’s racing, it’s a difficult decision and we just have to respect the commissaires. We will just fight to win a stage another day.”
Matthews triumphed on stage three of the race and was looking to add another victory to his palmares. He was frustrated, but resolved to look forward rather than linger on the decision.
“The final worked out the way I wanted it to up until about 15-25metres to go,” he said.
“Mitch (Docker) gave me a good lead out to string the bunch so I didn’t get swamped, then Bouhanni hit out from about 200m and I got on his wheel.
“I went to come around him but unfortunately a small movement in the final when you are going that speed washes off a lot of speed. I had to stop pedalling when he gave the little flick, but that’s racing.”
While he sounds accepting of what happened, he confirmed that the team felt Bouhanni might have been relegated. UCI rules state that sprinters must hold their lines in the final gallop, but the Frenchman clearly didn’t do that.
“We wanted to see what the commissaires said,” stated Matthews. “We thought it was a bit touch and go but it’s their opinion that counts and we can only try.
“Unfortunately they made the decision, I was second place and we have to go with that.”
He will try again, but will have to wait until after Sunday. The ninth stage will take the riders to the top of the tough Aramon Valdelinares climb. While Matthews’ stage win earlier this week came on an uphill finish, it was far shorter than the first category ascent the peloton will face.
Matthews doesn’t have the high climbing ability to fight for the win on Sunday and will consequently look to seize his chance in a later stage.
View the closing kilometres, including the controversial sprint, in the video below (at 11mins):
Also see: Bouhanni takes his second Vuelta stage with verve and a swerve