Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Giro d'Italia, Stage 9: Milan

What a stage it was in beautiful ...

Or more accurately, what a stage it wasn't, as the riders decided the course was too dangerous for racing and instead rode together at a reduced speed. The situation was far more complex and interesting than it first appears though. According to Lance Armstrong's video message posted on his blog (http://www.livestrong.com/lance-armstrong/blog/), here's what happened:

1. The riders are immediately unhappy while riding the circuit through Milan, encountering parked cars, oncoming traffic, tram tracks running parallel to the riders' course, and extremely tight curves.

2. Riders talk about not racing, but Lance Armstrong decides they need an official ruling. So he takes the initiative and drops back to talk to the race commissar.

3. The commissar agrees to nullify the General Classification rankings for the day. Those who want to race for the stage win, can. But those who don't need not worry about loosing their place in the overall Giro standings.

4. Lance tells the news to the rest of the peleton. They all stays in a pack and ride at a reduced speed.

5. At the return to the start line after one of the circuits, the peleton stops and the Pink Jersey wearer, Danilo Di Luca, takes a microphone, explains the situation to the Milanese public, and apologizes for the lack of a good race.

6. Riding resumes and eventually Mark Cavendish wins the stage.

Now I know there are those out there who will automatically call the riders whiny and lazy, recalling the "good old days" when Giro stages went on from early in the morning until late at night. Well, you know what ... I'm tired of that knee jerk reaction. I thought what happened was actually kind of cool.

I mean look, riders were worried for their own safety, which was completely understandable after the crash of Horillo Munoz the day before. So they did something about it. But rather than simply stopping, Lance Armstrong consulted the race commissar and everyone did the right thing. Then ... and this is the best part ... Di Luca actually stops the race for a moment, personally explains the situation to the public, and apologizes! Can you imagine that happening in baseball or football? No press conference, no prepared statement ... simply a direct message to the people. But that fits the culture of bicycling. Spectators aren't kept in seats; they're right there on the streets or hanging out of their windows. It's personal, you talk directly to them.

Besides, looking at it from a sporting perspective alone, too much danger on a course doesn't make for a very good race. It prevents the riders from racing at their full potential. So a balance needs to be reached between thrilling technical courses and courses that are unnecessarily dangerous.

Stage 9 in Milan was a day out of balance. But on a purely human level, it was a great day for people speaking their minds and doing the right thing.

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