Sunday, May 17, 2009

Stage 9, Part II: A Protest Ruins Milan Stage

MILAN, 17 May 2009 – It was supposed to be a show circuit in the heart of Milan, with a high-speed challenge between Petacchi, Cavendish and the other sprinters, to celebrate the city from which, on 13 May 1909, the first ever Giro d’Italia departed. Instead, the ninth stage of this year’s Giro was witness to an unexpected, clamorous and controversial occurrence during the race itself. Shortly after the start, the race directors announced that today’s stage would not count towards the GC and that the bonus seconds would not be awarded to the first three finishers. Hence any breakaways at the end would have no influence on the overall standings. “Today’s stage”, they stated, “is considered a homage to the City of Milan, which gave birth to the Giro d’Italia in 1909”. All classifications will, therefore, remain unaltered, since today’s placings were taken into consideration solely for the prize-giving ceremony.

NEUTRALIZED — With emotions still running high after the rather difficult stages of the last few days, which included yesterday’s horrendous 80 metre flight into a ravine by Spanish rider Pedro Horrillo (who awoke this morning from artificial coma), the decision to neutralise the stage was taken in order to avoid risks on a circuit considered dangerous by the riders. However, with 6 laps to go, the peloton, which was already proceeding at reduced speed, stopped at the finish line and pink jersey holder Danilo Di Luca (who is also vice chairman of the riders’ association) took the microphone (above): “We apologise to the public, but today we do not feel like risking, because the circuit is too dangerous. We shall continue the stage, but we don’t want to race at full speed”.

“EXCUSATIO” — The riders’ decision fuelled a storm of controversy. Race director Angelo Zomegnan stated: “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 (“He who excuses himself, accuses himself”, ed.) on someone’s part. But over the next few hours we, too, will be making some decisions”.

A CHOIR OF CRITICISM — Criticism of the riders has been arriving from all quarters, including from their own sports directors. For Alberto Volpi (Barloworld), “This was a serious mistake, as the riders had already obtained neutralisation of the stage”. According to Mario Cipollini, consultant for ISD-Neri, “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”. Fabio Bordonali, team manager of Di Luca and Petacchi’s LPR-Farnese, declared that he and his associates “knew nothing about it”. For Amedeo Colombo, chairman of the Italian rider's association, “The route was perfectly safe”, while Agostino Omini, honorary vice chairman of the Union Cycliste Internationale, referred to the incident as “A disgrace”. 40 km from the finish, the group began to inject some pace into the race, no doubt with an eye on the likely sprint finish (which was to take place despite the neutralisation) and an ear on the controversy that will inevitably follow independent of the final result.

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