UCI asks Giro organisers to drop controversial descending competition

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UCI road commission president Tom Van Damme has expanded upon a tweet he posted earlier on Tuesday, expressing serious concerns about the new best descender competition planned for the Giro d’Italia.

In a phone conversation with CyclingTips, the Belgian indicated that the UCI has already approached organisers RCS Sport in order to indicate that the governing body will oppose such a contest.

“I had a message from [UCI president] Brian Cookson this morning and he agrees with my concerns,” he said. “We already talked with the Giro administration. They are looking at it. Probably they will also find a rule to defend it. But again, already the safety of the riders themselves is for me a reason to ask RCS not to do it.

“And if you look at the reactions on the social media all over the world, I think that common sense is saying, ‘okay, this is not the best idea. Let’s get rid of it.’”

Van Damme suggested that Cookson has himself contacted RCS Sport with the same message. “The safety of the riders is the most important thing. And putting them in danger in such a way is not the best way to promote cycling.”

On Monday INRNG tweeted details about the competition, which had been contained within the race rule book but not publicised. RCS Sport has picked 10 timed sections between stages 8 to 20, and said that it would give the fastest rider through each sector 500 euro.

The sectors in question are Monte Sant’Angelo on stage eight, located at km. 100.7, Chieti (stage 9, km. 91.2), Monte Fumaiolo (stage 11, km. 135.8), Colla di Casaglia (stage 12, km. 63.4), Selvino (stage 15, km. 170.8), Passo dello Stelvio (stage 16, km. 143.5), Passo del Tonale (stage 17, km. 60.2), Passo Pordoi (stage 18, km. 26.0), Sella Chianzutan (stage 19, km. 104.7) and Monte Grappa (stage 20, km. 122.7).

In addition to the cash prize on each day, the quickest five riders would be awarded points counting towards an overall classification. The winner would receive €5000, with the next two riders taking home €3,000 and €2,000 respectively.

Van Damme’s response came early on Tuesday.

Expanding later on that, he is clear that he considers the Pirelli-sponsored competition foolhardy. “For me it is an unacceptable idea. Everybody is aware that cycling is a dangerous sport and that we all have to commit to make it as safe as possible. Organisers, teams, riders, federations – everybody is making an effort to make it more safe, with the UCI in front. And then it is really a pity that at such a moment, the Giro is giving such – in my view – a wrong signal.”

In an echo of his concerns, a number of professional riders expressed their opposition to the idea on social media on Monday and Tuesday. 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.

“Everybody knows that going down a descent can be very dangerous,” states Van Damme. “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.”

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