Three-time Grand Tour winner Vincenzo Nibali has apologised after he was disqualified from Spain's Vuelta for being towed by his team car during Sunday's second stage.
However, the 2014 Tour de France winner also hinted that such actions are common in the peloton and that the punishment to throw him off the three-week tour instead of a fine and time penalty was harsh.
“For all that has happened, I truly apologise publicly to everyone who has been angered or ashamed by my actions,” the Italian wrote on his official Facebook page.
“What happened in the Vuelta happens in any race and this does not mean that I have not made a mistake that shouldn't be punished. The just sanction is the one the judges decide.”
Nibali had been one of a number of riders involved in a crash 30 kilometres from the finish of the 158.7km ride from Alhaurin de la Torre to Caminito del Rey and was cut adrift from the peloton as a result.
Television footage emerged soon after the end of the stage showing Nibali accelerating rapidly alongside his team car as he attempted to make it back towards the pack.
“Some 150 metres for which many are prepared to throw mud, no one points out that he had fallen or been attacked. He is pursuing 18 riders that are pushing hard at the front,” Nibali continued.
“No, gentleman of cycling, the race is the race and no one waits for you. In cycling, there are many episodes like this and even more so after a crash.
“In the end, I had thought about a fine to pay and a penalty as is common to leave you out of (contention in) the general classification.
“I would have also accepted a 10 minute penalty. After all this, I will not be the first nor the last.”
Director general of the Vuelta, Javier Guillen, described Nibali's actions as “bad for cycling, for the rider and the Vuelta.”
Nibali is one of only six riders to have won all three Grand Tours, but was also embroiled in controversy at the Tour de France last month as he clashed with the winner Chris Froome on a number of occasions.
Froome declared Nibali “unsportsmanlike” for an attack as he suffered a mechanical problem on the 19th stage.
However, Froome was disqualified in similar circumstances from the Giro d'Italia in 2010 for holding onto a motorbike.
Astana have also been involved in a string of doping scandals in recent years that has seen their licence to ride on the WorldTour come under scrutiny by the sport's governing body the UCI.– AFP