“Farce”, “clown show”, “disgrace”.
These were just a few of the terms chosen by former riders, pundits and officials to describe the protest which on Sunday saw the ninth stage of the Giro d’Italia first neutralized by race organizers RCS, then turned into a “go-slow” by the riders, then finish with Mark Cavendish’s sprint win and accusations that those who had finally decided to race were guilty of “breaking rank”.
The Italians love a controversy and yesterday’s “polemica” was a peach. Here’s a sample of what was said:
Lance Armstrong (Astana)
“Unfortunately not the best day for the fans OR the riders. We (the peloton) collectively took the decision to neutralize most of the race due to the circuit. Tram tacks running same direction as the course, parked cars on the roads, etc. Anyhow, it lit up at the end…”
Mark Cavendish (Columbia-Highroad)
“I think that there was a race on and there were a lot of spectators who came out to see the stage. It was a special day, the ‘Milan Show’. There were some who didn’t want to race and others who did. In the end it worked out okay. The spectators got a good show and I am happy I won.”
Angelo Zomegnan (RCS, race organizer)
“Di Luca was manipulated by a group of riders who have become the teams’ means of fighting against the power of the race organizers. Yes, I’m talking about [Dario] Cioni and [Jens] Voigt. They’re the riders’ representatives on the UCI council. What happened in Milan was an attack on the race organizers.
“Over the last few days, there have been text messages going back and forth between the riders about the danger of the last few finishes. What happened in Milan was a pretext.
“Armstrong had sent me e-mails saying that the riders were having to take too many risks. He was instrumental in this protest. He came looking for me during the race. I spoke to [his team manager] Bruyneel, and everything seemed to be sorted. But there’s a certain age at which your legs start to get shorter and your tongue longer.”
Gazzetta dello Sport, editorial
“Without passion, cycling, sport and maybe life are nothing. And whoever brings their passion to within breathing distance of the riders of the Giro d’Italia has rights that were violated yesterday.
“The Milan circuit wasn’t a dangerous race. Anyone who rides a bike for a living knows that racing on the roads of the world is a complicated profession, but the overwhelming majority of the races on the calendar are at least if not more dangerous than yesterday’s. The riders have rights, too, and they’re sacrosanct, but you can’t rip the soul out of cycling.”
Il Giornale, editorial
“A slap in the face for Milan, a hundred years later. Here the Giro was born, and here the Giro gets stabbed in the back. A villainous ambush, on the day of big celebration. And behind it all, in front of the thousands of incredulous, stunned spectators, are the riders. If I still call them that. It’s purely out of convention, for ease of expression. Ideally, they’re no longer worthy of that name. They should go into hiding after the obscenity they committed yesterday.
“Dear diary, with utter disgust, I’ll sum up what happened yesterday: the mademoiselles of the peloton, incited by an old-age pensioner who goes by the name of Lance Armstrong, decide to race a non-race. The Texan slipper-seller, who’s clearly come to Italy for a holiday, has been sowing seeds for days. He fires up younger colleagues, writes provocative messages on his website, sends threatening messages to race organizer Zomegnan. He doesn’t like the finishes, he doesn’t like the descents, now he doesn’t even like the flat parts.
“It’s now clear to everyone how the decision to invite him to the Giro has become a terrible boomerang. Initially, he kept the media hype thumping, helping to fill the pink-tinted roads with people, but now he’s turning into a pain in the foot.
“Nice work: they already designed a course of a lifetime for him, tailored to his rehabilitation, abolishing all the real mountains so he doesn’t have to make any violent efforts, and now they even have to put up with his senile moods.”
Riders pass milan’s castle during their go-slow in stage 9 of the giro: riders pass milan’s castle during their go-slow in stage 9 of the giro AFP/Getty Images
Mario Cipollini (former rider)
“What happened yesterday is absurd. A total disgrace. Was the circuit dangerous? Not at all. It was a good circuit. If you want to be pedantic, there were two critical points, but only two: the first with tram-tracks, but going across the road, not in the same direction as the race, and the second an “S” bend at ‘Porta Venezia’. What, are we now saying that you can’t ride an “S” bend on a bike?
“I really hope that the riders didn’t see this as an opportunity to have two rest days, instead of one. Yep, because on that course, they had to lift their backside off the saddle and accelerate at regular intervals. And I’d really like to think that safety concerns were all that was behind the protest and not, in the shadows, someone manipulating the riders to other ends.”
Danilo Di Luca (LPR Brakes)
“We saw the course and decided that it wasn’t suitable, so we told the organizers and they neutralized the race. We thanked them. Then the sprinters started asking why us GC riders were going to be safe and not them. They said they didn’t want to sprint, so at that point we stopped to explain to the public why we weren’t going to race, and we apologized. Then, as always happens in cycling, someone went to the front and starting upping the pace and the stage ended in a sprint.
“Cipollini’s the last who should open his mouth. When Cipollini was racing, he was always the first to go to the front and act like the boss to get a stage cancelled, or to make everyone go slowly up a climb. I think he’s already forgotten when he was a rider.”
Marco Pinotti (Columbia-Highroad)
“On the TV, you don’t realize how dangerous certain courses are. At Mayrhofen (stage 6), the last few kilometres were extremely dangerous. And they were in Milan, too: if my son had been racing, I’d have told him not to race. This circuit was fine for 60 riders, not for 190. From the first lap, there were parked cars, with parking tickets, but not moved. We even went past a car going the wrong way.”
Michael Rogers (Columbia-Highroad)
“When we started the race, some cars were parked on the road side. We wanted to protect our health. It might have been boring for the spectators to watch for a while but at the end it was still a fantastic race. This was a group decision and a message to race organisers in general. They need to guarantee our safety. At the end of the day, no one wants to see us crashing.”
Marzio Bruseghin (Lampre-NGC)
“The fans got angry and called us slackers. That’s why we stopped: to explain. This happens in football, too: sometimes matches get suspended because the pitch is unfit for play. The biggest error was racing hard on the last two laps. But, at that point, there were only 40 riders and there was more safety.”
Filippo Pozzato (Katusha)
“After the first lap we were all a bit miffed. Lance then went to the front and said that, in his opinion, it wasn’t a circuit to race on. Then the GC guys all talked and they came to a decision…We were all united but I think it was the wrong decision in the end. The course should have been looked and discussed before the race. In the end it was all a big mess.”
Luca Mazzanti (Katusha)
“I saw that the big-name riders came to an agreement amongst themselves. We wanted to race.”
Gianni Savio (Diquigiovanni team manager)
“Cycling’s a masochistic sport. Even if you consider all the mitigating factors, the riders made a grave error.”