Stage 16 of La Vuelta a España should be remembered for Alberto Contador asserting his dominance in red as he blew Chris Froome away in the uphill battle at La Farrapona.
Instead it will most likely to be remembered for the fisticuff antics of Gianluca Brambilla and Ivan Rovny and the farcically slow response of Vuelta commissaires to the incident.
Brambilla and Rovny were in the breakaway at the 40-kilometre mark when Brambilla appeared to pull on Rovny’s saddle. Some blows and elbowing were exchanged resulting in a wrecked pair of sunglasses. It’s clear Brambilla was the instigator but what provoked this outburst is unclear, apart from a suggestion he was unhappy with Rovny’s pace-making.
The two settled down and continued riding for another 40 minutes before Brambilla and Rovny were disqualified by race officials.
We can look at this incident in two ways. On the one hand it’s not a good look to have a fight break out in the middle of a UCI World Tour race. This is not exactly ice hockey. In recent years sporting codes have gone to varying lengths to clean up violence in their sports as it sets a poor example to impressionable youngsters.
Then there’s the wider societal problem of domestic violence to deal with. The recent, albeit belated, sacking of NFL Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice after video emerged of him punching his then fiancé Janay Palmer unconscious in an elevator is a case in point.
On the other hand the altercation between Brambilla and Rovny doesn’t compare to a vicious assault in an elevator. Their display of aggression was more comical than anything else. The idea of one-armed boxing on bicycles is ridiculous in itself, which explains why it never got a foothold as a serious sport. Their antics could be compared to the jostling and shirt-fronting in AFL that umpires turn a blind eye too. No harm done, except to Rovny’s sunnies.
However, physical altercations between cyclists are clearly unacceptable under the rules. We can’t have puncheur punch-ups or riots among the rouleurs. But why did the commissaires allow Brambilla and Rovny to ride on for another 40 minutes before handing down a decision to disqualify the pair?
The choice here was simple, either issue an immediate disqualification or let them ride to the finish and face a post-race hearing. Being disqualified with just 15 kilometres to go is a bit rough. No wonder Brambilla looked upset. What were the commissaires doing in all that time, conducting numerous inquiries and reviews and the Spanish equivalent of a Royal Commission?
My quibble is not with the decision, on balance disqualification was the right thing to do. Brambilla was a goose for lashing out at Rovny in the way he did. And with more cameras around than a Big Brother house there’s no way he’d get away it, especially in the breakaway. He knew there’d be consequences. My quibble is with the time officials took to arrive at the decision.
Governing bodies take pains to punish conduct that may bring their sport into disrepute. Even ‘eating in a way that damages the image of cycling’ can attract a fine, as Sylvain Chavanel found out in last year’s Tour de France.
Fisticuffs in the peloton are a bad look for the sport but indecision by officials is inexcusable. Justice delayed is justice denied and can only bring disrepute on to the commissaires themselves.