By Alasdair Fotheringham
VALDEZCARAY, Spain, Aug 21 (Reuters) – Alejandro Valverde accused Team Sky of a lack of respect on Tuesday after he crashed near the end of stage four to lose the overall lead in the Tour of Spain.
The British team denied they had caused the crash which meant the Movistar rider finished one minute 59 seconds down on stage winner Simon Clarke of Australia.
Joaquim Rodríguez moved into the overall lead after the summit finish at Valdezcaray, one second ahead of Sky rider Chris Froome of Britain, with Spain’s Alberto Contador in third five seconds adrift. Valverde is now ninth.
The Spaniard went to the Sky team bus after the finish to remonstrate about the crash, which happened as Sky launched an attack at the front of the pack before the final 14-km climb to Valdezcaray.
“I’m not cross because I lost the lead but because there was no respect,” Valverde, who was visibly annoyed, told reporters.
Team Sky’s director Nicolas Portal said he did not think his riders were responsible for Valverde’s fall. Portal said he had not seen Valverde was on the ground when he passed the crash in the team car a few seconds after it happened.
“We don’t do this to crash Valverde – we don’t like this, we don’t want this,” Portal said.
“I told our riders to continue, but not to go at full gas.”
Rodríguez claimed the leader’s jersey after countering a joint attack by Contador and Froome on the final climb, and said he did not think the crash was caused intentionally.
“In those circumstances each team does what they want, I’m not criticizing anybody,” the Katusha rider said. “At first we collaborated (in the mass attack), but once we’d heard that Alejandro had fallen I told the team to ease back.”
Stage winner Clarke’s victory came after the Orica-GreenEdge rider moved into a break of five early on a 160-km stage raced in temperatures again in the mid-thirties celsius.
Clarke outsprinted his most persistent rival, world time trial champion Tony Martin of Germany, to claim his first win as a professional at 26. Kazakh Assan Bazayev was third, 22 seconds back.
“It’s my first ever Grand Tour and I didn’t want to take it easy like everybody told me to, I wanted to see if there was any chance of me getting a win right from the start,” Clarke, who finished in four hours 30 minutes 26 seconds, said.
The Vuelta finishes on Sept. 9 in Madrid.