Brambilla, Rovny chucked from Vuelta after fisticuffs in breakaway group

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There was plenty of drama and many battles during stage 16 of the Vuelta a España, yet one particular incident was rather different to the rest. Ivan Rovny (Tinkoff Saxo) and Gianluca Brambilla (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) had made it into the day’s 13 man break but their cooperation evaporated entirely on the penultimate climb of the day.

With less than 40 kilometres remaining, a disagreement between the Russian and the Italian broke out over Brambilla’s perception that Rovny was not doing enough work. Brambilla appeared to reach forward and pull Rovny’s jersey, although the exact details are obscured by the TV camera’s position.

Rovny then swiped backwards, then extended his left arm and clasped the Omega Pharma-Quick Step rider by the shoulder. Brambilla struck him with his right hand, making contact with his face. Rovny came back alongside him, ducked, then struck out and hit him in the face; Brambilla quickly did likewise.

Rovny dropped back to the team car to get new eyewear but was spoken to by race commissaires. He continued on, as did Brambilla; the latter then answered an attack by Alessandro De Marchi with approximately 38 kilometres left.

The two moved clear and were later joined by Wout Poels (Omega Pharma-QuickStep). Rovny remained in the group behind.

With 15.3 kilometres remaining the incident moved centre stage again when the red commissaires’ car moved up alongside Brambilla in the break and spoke to him. His reaction made it clear that he had been disqualified; he sat upright, extended his arms in exasperation, then became very animated in speaking to his team car.

He appeared to be explaining what happened to his DS, re-enacting the fight with gestures, then looked resigned and started shaking his head from side to side. He made a symbolic ‘heart’ to the TV cameras with his hands, patted his chest, kissed his fingertips and then slumped back down onto his bars, looking thoroughly miserable.

Rovny had gone back in the Contador group, sitting behind the Sky riders who were leading the pace under the 15 kilometre to go banner. It was initially unclear if he too would be asked to leave the race, but this instruction was given soon afterwards and he too sat up.

The fisticuffs didn’t go down well with the race judges and both riders were on their way home.

Responding later via Twitter, Brambilla said that he regretted what had occurred. “I’m sorry. This situation shouldn’t have happened. For my part in it, I apologize to #OPQS, race organisers and the fans. #sadday” he stated.

Tinkoff Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkoff disagreed with the decision to eject the riders. “I dont think that Brambilla should be disqualified from #LaVuelta , it is too much,” he said via Twitter, apparently unaware that his own rider was also out. “Penalty would be enough, pity and sorry @PatLefevere”

He later commented again. “To eject out of #LaVuelta both boxers Rovny and Brambilla is definitely bad decision, I don’t mind when boys are fighting, as in hockey. SHOW”

The delay in taking action over the fight was something which was queried by those watching the race. Brambilla had helped the three man break – of which his team-mate Poels was also a member – gain time and go on to fight for the stage win. Had De Marchi not been caught by Alberto Contador (Tinkoff Saxo) and Chris Froome (Sky), he would have taken the victory.

Meanwhile Rovny had helped his team leader Alberto Contador to get back up to the other race favourites after he changed his bike. Both riders’ actions therefore had an effect on the race, leading to questions about why it took approximately half an hour for commissaires to decide to instruct them to stop.

Of the two, Rovny’s expulsion will likely have the bigger effect. His team leader Alberto Contador is leading the race and will now be a rider short in his bid to defend the red jersey. Omega Pharma-QuickStep also had a contender in Rigoberto Uran, but he lost considerable time on stage 16 due to illness and is no longer in the running.

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