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Giro d’Italia abandons controversial descending competition

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Following criticism from riders, the UCI and others, the Giro d’Italia has abandoned plans to hold a new competition highlighting the best descenders in the peloton.

Race director Mauro Vegni said that organisers RCS Sport had cancelled the contest, which would have seen the riders timed on set segments over ten days.

“We did not want to instigate risk,” said Vegni, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport. “We are badly interpreted: security is the priority.”

On Monday INRNG tweeted details about the competition, which had been contained within the race rule book but not publicised. Daily prizes and an overall award were planned in conjunction with the sponsorship by tyre manufacturer Pirelli.

The quickest rider each day would have earned 500 euro, with he and others also awarded points counting towards an overall classification. The winner of the latter would have taken €5000, with the next two riders netting €3,000 and €2,000 respectively.

There was a chorus of disapproval on social media on Monday and Tuesday, with pro riders amongst the most vocal. Some cited the death of Wouter Weylandt in the 2011 Giro as a reason it should be abandoned.

The recent passing of young US rider Chad Young is another reminder of what can go wrong downhill.

On Tuesday UCI road commission chairman Tom Van Damme told CyclingTips that the UCI had asked the organisers to cancel the contest.

“Everybody knows that going down a descent can be very dangerous,” he said. “If on ten occasions, in ten different stages we do a special competition for the best descender, I think this is not the best idea. People will take risks. It will be probably the riders of the small teams who will take risks, but who can also put other ones in danger at a certain moment.

“And what will you do, for example, if at that moment it is raining or bad weather. Will it still go on? I think it is not the best idea. For me, it is simply the case that the UCI should forbid it. Safety for the riders is the most important thing, and that is already a reason to ask the Giro not to do it.”

Speaking on Tuesday, Vegni denied that the Giro organisers had sought to put the riders at risk.

“I’m sorry to have come out of this kind of controversy,” he said. “In our intentions we wanted to satisfy one of the fans’ requests, asking to know the skill of the best riders. But there was no stimulus and no incentive to risk.

“The wish of the Giro is to guarantee the maximum safety. This is first and foremost, and if there is a rider who does not feel that it is 100 percent guaranteed this is a priority for us.

“Our desire was to open up to the technology and the requests of the enthusiasts. We are ready to withdraw the prize just to put an end to any doubt about our good will, so there will be no ranking.”

La Gazzetta stated that the Giro organisers had also come under pressure from former race winner Gianni Bugno, now the president of the CPA riders’ association.

In addition to Vegni’s comments, RCS Sport also released a statement explaining its position.

“Regarding the discussion generated by the introduction of the best downhill rider prize at the Giro d’Italia the race direction, in conjunction with the sponsor, has made the following statement:

“The spirit of the initiative was to highlight an important skill which is an integral part of a cycle race without putting the riders’ safety in jeopardy. Rider safety is, and remains, the priority of the Giro and the race organisers.

“Comments have been made suggesting that this initiative could be potentially misunderstood and generate behaviours not in line with the safety principle. The race organisers have taken these comments on board and change an initiative that could be misinterpreted.

“Therefore the race organisers have decided to eliminate all such classification and prize money as per the race regulations, leaving the timekeeping of the descents purely as statistical data for the fans.”

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