The excitement for Stage 9 of the 2009 Giro d’Italia, with a 16km loop through Milan and total racing distance of 163km, was absent from todays racing, rather in the riders contraversial protest. Halfway through the stage, the riders stopped and Pink Jersey holder Di Luca grabbed a microphone and announced "The circuit is dangerous, we’ll be going slow".
Up until the final round, the bunch stayed together and on the flat circuit, vitually a homage in celebration of the 100 year old race and foundations in Milan, the pace was relaxed. Prior to the start the organisers announced that the stage would be neutralised – there would be no ‘bonus time’ for the top three finishers and that the classifications would not be changed. In the final stage, Mark Cavendish, with the slipstream help of team mate Mark Renshaw, had the power in the final stretch to take the line victory ahead of Quick Steps Allan Davis – complete with elbow shufflings and blocking.
The Milan Contraversy
The discontent of the riders was spurned by numerous crashes on racing courses which the riders have complained are too dangerous – Armstrong commented after his Cyclo Computer read over 110 Kilometres per hour top speed in Stage 6 "that’s 70 mph.? It’s Bike racing not Moto GP". Yesterdays dangerous crash by Rabobanks Pedro Horrillo in which he hurtled over a barrier and was seriously injured after a 70 metre fall, left an impression on the riders. On a positive note, Horrillo in no longer in an artifical coma and his condition is improving.
In particular, in the Milan route, the race organisers were unable to clear the 16km route of parked cars, yet another argument leading to the general protest. Australian rider Michael Rogers (currently third overall) commented after the race on Twitter: "Maybe on TV it didn’t look dangerous but believe me, IT WAS! No one wants to see a repeat of yesterdays disaster with Horillio."
Harsh Reaction to the Riders Actions
Race director Angelo Zomegnan reacted harshly "I do not share the riders’ decision, while I did accept the request to neutralise today’s stage. This latter decision was dictated by common sense, especially in light of what happed yesterday with Horrillo’s fall. We met the riders half way by adjusting the route and removing any obstacles. I find the decision they took to be out of line. In my view this is an excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta on someone’s part. But over the next few hours we, too, will be making some decisions".
His fury was had to conceal, "Evidently, they find this circuit dangerous. If this circuit is dangerous, then races like Amstel Gold and Li?ge-Bastogne-Li?ge should be canceled. In some ways the public has been cheated."
(Zomegnan also completely rejected rider criticism of poor finish line straights and courses from last years race.)
Italy’s Gazetta (Newspaper) has lashed out with strong criticism of the riders and has numerous quotes, including from racing legend, Mario Cipollini, "This is not cycling! I have never heard a downhill racer complain because the descent was on iced-over snow! Here an entire city was blocked, and a lot of spectators were treated to an unedifying spectacle"
Understanding for the Rider Actions
Michael Rogers shed some light into the riding conditions, "Funny that everyone is blaming the riders for our protest today. No one mentions the parked cars on the circuit, the on coming traffic,Tram tracks in the middle of corners, people walking onto the circuit. Don’t get me wrong folks, I love being here at the Giro. One of the best races."
While the racing was certainly not satisfying to watch, the riders were not completely alone in their protest, Astana Team Manager Johan Brunyeel has commented:
“The stop on the line was not a sign of protest. It was more of a respect towards the spectators. One way to explain what happened- That they were worried about their safety and security. The riders were worried and thought the spectators deserved an explanation of why they were going slowly. The riders all agreed to do this. All the big names were on the same page. I’m happy to see that a group of key players in our sport did something. And they showed that they have power. That’s what our sport has been missing."
"We have big players in our sport which are the UCI and national federations and the big organizers, mainly the Tour de France and RCS. And I think there is too little interaction with the other players in cycling – the cyclists, the teams – in asking their opinion when the course is designed and when other things happen. You just have to accept it because somebody tells you the way it is. And I just think this is a step in the right direction where riders and hopefully in the future teams could have a better and a stronger voice when it’s up to organizing our sport."
Racing or Politics?
Monday is the first rest day and the contraversy will hang like a shadow over the riders, inparticularly with the tough Italian press. On Tuesday the longest stage of the Giro from Cuneo to Pinerolo covers 262 kilometres (original route changed due to traffic problems). While there are valid arguements for and against the riders protest, it is a test of time as to whether riders can make an impact on race course design.