Monday, October 26, 2020

A dark day for pro cycling

 Pro cycling gives itself another black eye?

Friday, October 23rd's stage of the Giro d'Italia may soon be forgotten but it may well have set a precedent nobody will cherish. No doping scandal, but to Zio Lorenzo it's possibly worse.

What happened? The riders threatened to go on-strike rather than ride Stage 19, 250 almost totally flat kilometers from Morbegno to Asti. Why? A list of excuses was presented, none of which made a lot of sense.

"Too long! Too cold! Too wet! We're tired! There's a pandemic out there!" whined various riders, led by a guy riding his last Grand Tour and possibly his last ever pro bike race. A guy who brags about riding consecutive GT's year after year after year. Sure he's tired! 

But why Stage 19? This route passed the shores of Lake Como where the year-round microclimate allows tropical plants to thrive, across the Po plain and into the Monferrato hills, passing close by our Piedmont Cycling Resort. Start time was set for 10:20 AM with a finish forecast for 4:45 PM based on 40 kph average speed, easily done by the pro peloton on this flat route, even in the rain.

Not only that, Stage 20, the grueling 5-star tappone set for the following day - 198 kilometers with over 5000 meters of elevation gain from Alba over the fearsome Colle dell Agnello, Col d'Izoard, Montgenevre with a finish at Sestriere had already been neutered by the French authorities' blocking passage into France. 

All the riders had to do before the finale, a16 km flat chrono stage on Sunday was ride to Sestriere via the much easier approach from the west followed by two relatively easy ascents via the Cesana climb. Was it just a bunch of whiny children not wanting to ride in the rain?

Many theories have been presented, one of the best pieces on this fiasco we've seen so far is this one. Today's pro cyclists have no problem receiving the respect and the paychecks in a sport loved by fans for amazing exploits and epics.  Many riders seemed surprised to hear about the protest and strike threat when they showed up to the race start dressed and fueled for the conditions they faced, despite claims of unanimous opposition to riding the full distance.

Think about the snowy climb of Passo Gavia in 1988 or more recently the epic scenes from ten years ago in Tuscany where heroes and legends were created when the weather was awful. Isn't dealing with awful weather part of cycling? Isn't getting wet and chilled and "catching your death" the stuff of old wives tales? The same pandemic was raging when you signed onto the race back in Palermo!!!

Will pro cycling continue to be popular if no new legends or heroes are created? The same pro cyclists who have no problem being paid and respected for exploits like these seem no longer to have any interest in creating new ones - when the going gets tough they want to climb into the bus! 

Sure, there's a weather protocol for that nowadays, but NONE of them were breached by this stage - it was just a chilly, wet day, something that stage racers have to endure and some would say an integral part of the sport? Don't like this? They have races on velodromes for you, plenty of those are indoors so weather is never an issue!

Speaking of a bus, a lot of grumbling has been noted about transfers between the various stages of this Giro despite the fact most of those are not in cramped trains or airplanes, where the riders would be crammed together possibly spreading the Coronavirus. Instead they're in 5-star private luxury coaches provided by their teams, complete with showers, WIFI and espresso makers.

With highest of high-tech clothing, bikes with disc brakes and modern nutrition wizardry, 250 flat kilometers in the rain is too much to ask? What's next: "It's too steep! It's too hard! It's too hot! It's too long!"?

If a three week Grand Tour is too much for you, especially in a sport where these days all you have to do is pedal the bike and wipe your own bottom after visiting the toilet, perhaps you're in the wrong sport?

Update: This whiny screed from the riders union was published after this blog post. Seems that this was the final acting out from tired, cranky riders, some of whom admitted on Italian TV to not have even looked at the Stage 19 details until Stage 18 was completed. I believe the proposed routes for La Corsa Rosa 2020 were published at least one year before but they only decide to complain the morning of the stage? 

Possibly even worse, a Boulder, CO based cycling newsletter came out with this obnoxious quote: Giro boss Mauro Vegni, impersonating a low-level mafioso wannabe, angrily told the media that “someone will pay.” regarding the fiasco.

My hopes that this will soon be forgotten seem to be wishful thinking between the "CYA" actions and insults being tossed around. Pro cycling deserves better than this and needs some adults in control. Are there any out there?

And now this?

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