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Organizers planned for stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia to run for a total of 258 kilometers, but the Giro peloton instead rode 124 kilometers on Friday after the stage was shortened due to a rider protest.
At the beginning of the day, when the Giro peloton was due to be on the start line, riders were instead taking shelter under tents. A combination of the seven-hour transfer after stage 18 and the horrendous weather in the stage 19 start town of Morbegno made for some discontent in the peloton.
The conversation about the stage started when the race organizers announced an additional 5km due to a bridge collapse. CPA union representative Adam Hansen along with a few of the other teams raised concerns about such a long stage in the final three days of the race, coupled with long transfers and early starts.
Starting a few minutes late and riding in heavy rain, the peloton completed the opening 8km of the original route in Morbegno before halting. The race was then moved to Abbiategrasso, 135 km into the original route, with riders boarding team buses to make the trip.
Mauro Vegni, the race director, was furious about the protest by the riders to shorten the stage. He went so far as to threaten legal action against the riders for standing up for their own well being, saying that “there has been no real respect shown to everyone involved on the rest of the stage. We think that there will be consequences because of the behavior of the riders today. I don’t think there really are excuses for them not to do it today. Whoever brought these proposals needs to show proof it was discussed last night otherwise I will get lawyers involved.”
Adam Hansen pointed out in a now-deleted Tweet that a shorten stage 19 was proposed the evening of stage 18 but was rejected by the race.
This is not the first instance of discontent at the Giro. Riders and team managers were worried earlier in the race about the compliance of the race to the UCI’s COVID-19 protocols. After the first rest day, there were more positive tests among the riders, staff, and police motorbikes involved with the e-Giro than in the whole country of Australia that day, causing two teams to leave the race completely. On stage 4, a helicopter blew barriers into two riders.
Before stage 10 it was announced that seventeen of the police accompanying the E-bike Giro that finishes an hour before the pros race had tested positive for COVID-19. Thomas de Gendt of Lotto Soudal told Sporza prior to the stage 12 start that there was unease in the peloton regarding rider safety.
“The Giro is going in the wrong direction. The riders have discussed for 20 minutes whether or not to start the stage today because we started to feel insecure.”
Even before the first rest-day round of testing Jos van Emden of Jumbo-Visma raised concerns about the teams being placed in the same hotels as the race’s police and neutral support, neither of which are required to follow the same UCI protocols as the teams.
During stage 19 retired riders and riders not participating in the Giro backed the decision to shorten the stage, including Alex Howes (EF), Luke Rowe (Ineos Grenadiers), and former riders Bernhard Eisel and Phil Gaimon.
Am I crazy or was it crazy to think that riders are not human & capable of saying, “this is too much”
— Alex Howes (@alex_howes) October 23, 2020
Great move by the riders at the giro! Stage 19 of the race and they propose a 260km day. For those saying ‘their soft’ or ‘it’s their job’ I bet havnt raced a bike at the top level! Don’t take the piss 👊🏻
— Luke Rowe (@LukeRowe1990) October 23, 2020
I know you want to see some racing, but since the last rest day, the riders had super hard and extremely long stages+transfers over 3hrs a day. Breakfast 🚌 – 7hrs 🚴🏼♀️ 🏔+🚌 in the 3rd week of GT. Riders are tired-they are exhausted and it’s not a normal year. #respecttheriders
— Bernhard Eisel (@EiselBernhard) October 23, 2020
You don't get onto those teams without being hilariously tough, losing skin, breaking bones, training through crazy conditions. You've watched them in all kinds of pain and you can tell that they love it because they're nuts that way. When those folks draw a line, trust them.
— Phil Gaimon (@philgaimon) October 23, 2020
After the stage had ended Vegni continued to fume at the riders’ protest stating that “someone will pay” for the shortening of the stage. Vegni also said, “there will be consequences because of the behaviour of the riders today. The stage was announced a year ago, they knew it was going to happen in October and a rainy day in October is quite a usual thing.”
While it is true that the riders would have known about the length of the stage since the announcement of the route, they would not have known about the long transfers before and after the previous stages and the worsening of the pandemic. On top of the length of the stage and the weather, no one could have anticipated the fatigue that has accompanied the compact season taking place so late in the year. In a statement to Eurosport, an anonymous rider said, “6:30am starts last four days, seven-hour stages, transfers. To be honest, this is only because everybody is on their knees. I’ve never seen a Tour where people are this broken.”
When the dust had somewhat settled Hansen posted a final statement on the issue on his twitter.
— Adam #Vegan Hansen (@HansenAdam) October 23, 2020