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Touchpaper: La Vuelta achieves nothing by disqualifying Vincenzo Nibali

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Photographs: BrakeThrough Media

So, Vincenzo Nibali has been expelled from La Vuelta for taking the most blatant ride imaginable on the door of the Astana team car.
The crime is clear, but is the penalty just? And has it been applied equally? The commissaires have come down hard against the Italian, but is the decision in the best interest of the race?
Nibali was one of the main attractions: one of just six riders in history to win all three Grand Tours, Vuelta champion in 2010 and a qualified member of the “Fab Four” so beloved of race promoters.
His use of the Astana car during a chase back to the peloton after the huge crash en route to Caminito del Rey, however, has earned him a disqualification, despite a plea for a 10-minute penalty from Astana.
The jury has responded with a resounding no, and sent the Italian home.
Few will shed tears for the Kazakh squad, one that came close to losing its WorldTour licence earlier this season for EPO positives from the Iglinsky brothers and three steroid positives from members of the Continental team. 
But is La Vuelta better off without Nibali? Might a punishment that effectively ended his GC challenge – the aforesaid 10-minute penalty – have left the race in better shape? 
Are we to assume also that Nibali was the only rider who had motorised assistance in the frantic scramble back to the safety of the peloton after the awful crash that brought down scores of riders, including Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo) and Nibali’s team-mate Paolo Tiralongo, who suffered facial injuries?
Riders being towed is a fact of life in the peloton, whether it be surfing the convoy, availing themselves of a sticky bottle or the more blatant hitching of a ride on the team car’s wing mirror or door pillar. The race achieves nothing by getting rid of the Italian champion: it only serves as a reminder that they can’t take laughable liberties.
In the matter of ‘surfing’, teams will regularly offer a bumper to a rider from a rival outfit in the spirit of ‘what goes around…’, hoping one of their number receives similar largesse in future.
Nibali’s disqualification at least resolves Astana’s leadership issues. Fabio Aru is now likely to enjoy the team’s undivided support to Madrid, with Mikel Landa rumoured to be Sky-bound next season.
Nibali will long for the season to end and perhaps to begin a search for another team. After standing by Astana during their licence troubles, they have abandoned him twice on the second stage of the last two Grand Tours. His body language as he waited for a replacement bike, and statements to La Gazzetta dello Sport after the stage, do not suggest faith in the aphorism “third time lucky”. 
His disqualification is fair, but harsh. La Vuelta will be poorer without him. Nibali is a fine rider, if one whose grab for a lifeline while fighting a seemingly unstoppable tide of misfortune has cost him dear.

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