Yesterday after a race which alternated between dull and fairly dull the 100th Giro d’Italia finally ignited. However even after some great performances from Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin and Thibault Pinot the main talking point was an incident which happened just before the main action on Blockhaus was about to start.
A police motorbikes, of all things, had inexplicably stopped on the road causing one of the riders in the speeding peloton, presumably only seeing it at the last moment, to clip it, swerve, then go hurtling into the middle of the bunch. The resulting crash caused a number of riders considered to be in with a shout of a good GC result to lose large amounts of time and put them out of contention. The episode left a sour taste in many peoples mouths as they would like to see races decided by riders racing bikes not cops on motorcycles. There were also questions raised over what, if anything, should have happened immediately after the incident.
The most important point to come out of this, and something everyone can agree with, is that it shouldn’t have happened. The motorbike should not have been stationary on the course. If the rider needed to stop they should have found somewhere safe to do so. It is yet another example that the UCI aren’t dealing with a problem that has been causing riders serious injury and to so tragically lose their lives. Throughout the Giro and most other races there seem to be to many motos on the course and they are STILL far to close to the riders. There needs to be a clear set of rules written and applied.
The contention which arose from the crash was over the question of whether the race should have been neutralised immediately after so many riders went down and who should have stopped things if so. The question was asked because there are no written rules governing a situation like this either.
Here are the arguments in favour of the race getting stopped by the race commissaire:
- There was no breakaway at the time things happened so it would presumably have been easier for things to restart without anyone gaining or losing time.
- There were three GC contenders that went down so the sporting integrity of the race was at stake.
- The accident was caused by an outside influence, it wasn’t a racing incident.
On the first point I don’t think the decision of the commissaire should be influenced by how easy it will be to enforce.
On the second, where do you stop? If an A-list GC rider goes down or B-list or further down the pecking order? More importantly it’s not down to the commissaire to decide on who is a race favourite and who is not. Every rider should be treated equally and fairly. And when it comes to fairness, what is good for one rider is bad for another. If the race had been stopped for Yates, Landa and Thomas then Movistar would have felt themselves to have been penalised. They were in the middle of executing their plan to propel Quintana to the stage victory. If they had to stop the plan would be trashed. If everyone doesn’t benefit from a neutralisation then you might as well race on.
The third argument holds some weight but I believe because the race was on and everyone was so close to the finish then things should have continued. If it was further out then I think yes it could have been stopped but that just wasn’t the case yesterday.
So should Movistar have slowed things down?
The crash yesterday reminds me of two incidents at the 2011 Tour de France. During stage 7 Bradley Wiggins crashed out and the race carried on regardless and two days later Alexandre Vinokourov and Jurgen van den Broeck both had to abandon after a mass crash but the peloton eased the pace so everyone could sort themselves out. What was the difference between the two? Both incidents had GC favourites go down. In stage 7 there were only 40 km left and the sprinters teams were still trying to chase down the break and the crash on stage 9 happened with half the stage to go.
Did Movistar fail to do the gentlemanly thing? Yesterday the crash was so close to the end that Movistar decided to keep on going, they were in charge of the race with the best rider of the day. Bike riding is tough and they weren’t effected by bad luck on the day but that could be because they were making their own good luck.
Would they have stopped if the pink jersey or Nibali had gone down? Perhaps so, they might not see the three GC men who were delayed as good enough reasons to spoil their day.
Of the three who went down I think it is Yates who lost out the most. He was in good form and could perhaps have had a top 5 finish. He is still young though and now has a good opportunity to add a stage to his palmares.
Landa has seemed slightly out of sorts so far but now, if he recovers, can take it easy for a few days and also go for a stage in the final week.
Geraint Thomas though could have lost out the most. Had the crash not have occurred he might have come to realise that Grand Tour racing is not his thing and gone back to what he is best at, one day classics. Now the question of “what if?” may be inside his head and he might give the three week tours one more year, by which point his Roubaix boat may have sailed.
There was one final question that needed to be asked at the end of the stage. Should the interview have been neutralised? Definitely, yes.