Bjarne Riis’ decision to boot Stuart O’Grady and Andy Schleck off the Vuelta was a reasonable one, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

Was it Saxo Bank team manager Bjarne Riis' embittered feelings towards those leaving him, or the bitter sweet mood of the aforementioned that led to the ejection of Andy Schleck and Stuart O'Grady before the tenth stage of the Vuelta? Or was it simply a team rule broken and a penalty enforced?

That Schleck the younger and O'Grady were drinking the night of the first rest day is not under dispute.

"I acknowledge I have broken a rule on the team by going out for a drink after dinner," admitted Schleck to Cyclingnews, "and for that reason Bjarne has decided to send myself and Stuart O'Grady home."

Exactly how much they had to drink is unknown, although it is common knowledge O'Grady does have a penchant for yeast-based products and a capacity to handle a schooner or three.

But the quantity consumed by the pair Monday evening is perhaps less relevant than the fact that both defied a team rule Riis has long held in place.

Under the Statute of Saxo Bank, I'm unsure as to whether drinking on tour constitutes immediate expulsion – I imagine it does, even though Schleck's comments suggest otherwise: "I'm responsible for my actions and even though I think it is too harsh a decision, I respect that Bjarne is the boss and he needs to do what he thinks is the best," he said.

After a stage win, a glass of champagne at the dinner table is certainly par for the course – but not when the team has yet to realise said victory and team leader, Schleck's older brother Fränk, is lying 13th on GC and come Madrid, doesn't look like standing on the podium. Now with the loss of Andy, that's looking all the more probable.

No doubt, professional cycling is a highly stressful occupation; under strict orders and equally exacting diets and training regimes for 10 months of the year, athletes need to free themselves and let loose once in a while, which usually happens during the off-season.

However, as 1998 Vuelta a España champion-turned-cycling commentator Sean Kelly noted, that shouldn't happen at a bike race, let alone a Grand Tour.

"When you consider the situation of Saxo Bank, with the two Schlecks leaving and Stuart O'Grady moving on to the new Luxembourg team, and the Schlecks trying to convince [Fabian] Cancellara to move also even though he still has a contract for another year, it always gets a bit delicate and you have to be careful what you do," Kelly warned.

"In a three-week tour and in cycling [especially], you do not go out for a couple of drinks in the middle of the race – it is not allowed and you have to obey the rules of the team, and I think it's a very big mistake by the two riders."

I'm sure Riis took a little pleasure in exercising his right to expel Schleck and O'Grady in what is likely to be their final race for Saxo Bank, but it must be said such situations are as much an embarrassment to the team as it is to the individuals involved.

In an essay discussing the impact of business on sport, venerated rugby league coach and sports journalist Roy Masters said: "No matter how ill-equipped they are for the job, athletes are pressured to be role models by the vested interests that surround them – sports, TV rights holders and sponsors.

"Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, if someone can run fast, jump high, dunk a ball or hit a six over the stadium clock, we believe they should be revered and emulated, knowing that none of these physical skills have much use off the field."

A growing concern of mine is that just two out of the nine individuals Australian selectors determined a fortnight ago to comprise our squad for the upcoming world road championships will make it to the second week of the Vuelta, the all-important form finder before the Worlds: Allan Davis and Matthew Goss.

According to chief selector Shayne Bannan, Davis and Goss are supposed to be our "second-tier leaders".

Gerrans, after struggling with a virus, pulled out of the Vuelta a few days ago as part of Team Sky's en masse withdrawal following the death of one of their soigneurs, Txema Gonzalez.

Baden Cooke, Mathew Hayman, Michael Rogers and Wesley Sulzberger chose not to race.

"My initial goal was to go and try and win a world championship," said Gerrans. "To be honest, I really have to reassess my aspirations at the worlds. I actually know how critical the Tour of Spain is to that preparation."

Conversely, the four pre-race favourites – Philippe Gilbert, Filippo Pozzato, Oscar Freire and Fabian Cancellara – are all still in the Vuelta, sharpening their claws before the main event.

Which leaves Cadel Evans as our clear top-drawer leader. Let's hope he's travelling along nicely, and staying off the booze.