It's Not Right, But It's OK

May 17 2009

old man reads paper during rider protest by Flickr user AmbrosianaPictures cc-by-sa-3.0That’s how I’d describe the rider reaction to today’s stage in Milan. Granted, the the 25 corners over 15k weren’t exactly easy, but it’s nothing pro riders can’t handle. I’ll agree the parked cars are a problem, but there are parked cars all over the Spring Classics, too. Would you rather see them on a lap race, or popping up at random between cobbles and bergs?

“Too dangerous” is riding the ECCC Men’s D field on the Beanpot Criterium in the rain. Riders at the pro level come up racing in far crazier courses without the aid of race radios. As the actual racing of the final two laps demonstrated, the Milan course was just fine, even with essentially fresh sprinters shoving, bumping, and taking all the usual risks.

Even if the course weren’t ok, I fail to see how the Heads of State couldn’t have tamed it a bit pre-race, as was done on the ’05 World Championships course in Madrid. Maybe in permit- and lawsuit-crazed America, a day-of-race course change would be out of the question. But if my limited interactions with local Mediterranean governments are any indication, the course could have been “officially” changed as quickly as marshals moved the barriers.

There’s no question in my mind that the primary logic for this protest was the terrifying descents of the past few days. And that’s a legitimate thing to protest, don’t get me wrong—especially after Pedro Horillo’s 60-meter plunge. And coming on the heels of Astana’s little caper yesterday, in which both Horner and Leipheimer went up the road over the final climb, I can imagine there were some tired legs.

After all, LPR had to drive the the chase over the climb, and other than Columbia-Highroad, every other team was cranking unsucessfully to bring Siutsou back. Combine that a few hundred meters of particularly gnarly cobblestones on my tired-ass legs, and yeah, I can see not wanting to cling onto the tail end of a 60kph crit for 3 hours, either.

So I’m not especially peeved at the riders—if the leaders of the three strongest teams in the race are on-board with a protest, you’d be insane to ride against it. I don’t really blame the organizers, either—their job is to put together an interesting race, and part of that is pushing, and sometimes exceeding, what the riders can handle. At any rate, protests are nothing new for the sport, especially at the Giro.

So for those who think we’ll need to cart out a life support machine to keep cycling alive in Italy, I say this: Milan sees a great finish every stinkin’ year, and can handle the occasional protest. I think Steven DeJongh approaches today’s stage with the right attitude—you simply can’t separate the Giro d’Italia from the soap opera that invariably surrounds it.

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