CAMINITO DEL REY, Spain (AFP) - The 2014 Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali was disqualified from Spain's Vuelta on Sunday (Aug 23) for being towed by his team car while Colombian Esteban Chaves claimed the second stage and overall lead.
Italy's Nibali, a three-time Grand Tour winner, had been one of a number of riders caught up in a crash 30km from the finish line of the 158.7km ride from Alhaurin de la Torre to Caminito del Rey.
Having been distanced from the peloton, he managed to make up the lost ground only to lose over a minute on general classification rivals Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome and Alejandro Valverde on the final category three climb to the finish.
However, television footage emerged soon after the end of the stage showing Nibali accelerating rapidly alongside his Astana team car as he attempted to make it back.
"We have been informed by the decision of the technical judge," said Vuelta director-general Javier Guillen. "The act carried out by the rider is bad for cycling, for the rider, for the Vuelta and its image because we lose one of the favourites."
Astana have been embroiled in a string of controversies over failed doping tests in recent years and nearly had their WorldTour licence for this year revoked by the sport's governing body the UCI.
"We have spoken with the judges and their decision was clear to disqualify Nibali," said Astana sport director Stefano Zanini. "We asked for leniency, asking for a time sanction but not to disqualify him.
"The judges decided that an action of this type creates a precedent for other riders."
Nibali was also involved in a series of clashes with Froome at the Tour de France last month, with the Sky rider declaring the Italian "unsportsmanlike" for an attack as Froome suffered a mechanical problem.
Froome was disqualified in similar circumstances from the Giro d'Italia in 2010 for holding onto a motorbike.
Chaves edged out Dutchman Tom Dumoulin in a sprint finish to win Sunday's stage in a time of 3hr 57min 15sec ahead of Ireland's Nicholas Roche in third. Tour de France champion Froome lost four seconds to Nairo Quintana on the run.
"It is my first win in a three-week tour. It's incredible," said Chaves. "I hope to hold onto the red jersey (the overall leader) for as long as possible."
Froome is attempting to become only the third man to win the Tour de France and the Vuelta in the same year.
However, it was Quintana who took an early lead in the battle for the general classification victory as he came in one place ahead of Froome in sixth just 36 seconds behind the leaders.
"I tried to go from far out. It was a climb for explosive riders, I tried but the heat affected me," said Quintana. "I saw that Chaves was stronger than those of us in the breakaway, he is a very smart rider and I am happy that one of my compatriots won."