Former Giro d’Italia chief Michele Acquarone has spoken about the controversy of Tuesday’s 16th stage of the race, saying that he believes clearer decisions should have been made at the time and that it is very difficult to correct the situation at this point in time.
The stage to Val Martello Martelltal was marked by drama due to the attack by Nairo Quintana (Movistar), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin Sharp), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and others on the descent of the Stelvio. The trio later pushed on from their group and Quintana took the stage plus the Maglia Rosa.
Both Rolland and Hesjedal moved up in the overall standings and ended the day fourth and ninth overall, advancing their prospects of being on the final podium on Sunday.
The controversy arose as both race radio and the race’s Twitter account indicated that the pace would either be strictly regulated or neutralised on the descent. Riders were instructed not to pass motorbikes waving red flags, but the driver of the motorbike ahead of the Quintana group said that the Colombian had indeed passed while the flag was being waved.
Acquarone told Cycling Tips on Wednesday morning that organisers and commissaires need to be clear in their decisions and then implement what has been stated. “What happened on the stage is quite crazy. If you say every group has to stay behind a red flag, you have to stay there. You cannot move,” he said. “If you move, you are disqualified or something. You have to be clear in the moment.”
The subject led to strong comments from riders and teams on Tuesday, and the atmosphere of discontent was continued Wednesday morning when representatives from the various teams held a meeting prior to the start in Sarnonico.
The riders subsequently started stage seventeen, but the teams indicated that a statement would be issued later in the day. According to Spanish journalist Carlos Arribas, the teams want the organisers of the Giro d’Italia to deduct 55 seconds off Quintana’s lead; if this isn’t done, he suggests that further actions will be taken.
Acquarone was sacked by RCS Sport last autumn as a result of an investigation into missing finances. He has not been publically accused by the company of being involved in the matter and is taking an unfair dismissal case against RCS Sport, saying that his reputation has been badly damaged by how they handled the matter. He insists he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
He told CyclingTips that he isn’t on the race and therefore doesn’t have the full picture, but expressed concerns about how things look from the outside and the way things have been handled.
Once area he highlighted was a statement yesterday evening by the organisation stating that race radio “provided an inaccurate interpretation of the indications stipulated by the directors.”
Acquarone argued that there is no sense in passing the buck hours after the radio communication was issued by the teams. “Radio Corsa is the same as the organisation. You cannot say, ‘I say something but Radio Corsa said something different.’ That doesn’t sound so good,” he said. “If they say something different, you have to say, ‘no it is wrong.’ You have to say it like that.
“You have to say, “for the first 500 metres, you say under the red flags and then you can go.” But you need to be clear.
“For sure it was not clear, and when rules are not clear of course it is a big mess. Now we have a new pink jersey. Probably Quintana would be in the same position, in the pink jersey, because he was really good on the last climb. But it is a very important race and it cannot be [decided] like that.
“It is a big mess now. I don’t want to be in the shoes of the judge, the UCI or RCS. It is going to be tough because whatever you do now, you do it wrong. You have to react at the right time. Now it is too late.
“You cannot say, ‘yesterday we were just kidding.’ If the situation was not clear – and that’s from what I read, because I am just reading, I’m not at the race – then it is really bad. It is bad for the Giro. That is what I feel so strongly about it. It is bad for the Giro for sure.”
“There are no clear rules now”:
In addition to the question about whether or not the Quintana group played fair, some riders also highlighted what they believe were unreasonably difficult conditions on yesterday’s stage. Writing in his online diary on StickyBottle.com, Philip Deignan argued that the available contingency plan should have been used.
“All last week, the race organisers had said they had an alternative route chosen for if the conditions were bad but they didn’t change it this morning even though today is up there with the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in,” he wrote.
“You wouldn’t put a dog out in the conditions we raced in today. I think the Giro likes the spectacular photos of guys riding in between walls of snow but sometimes you wonder why we, as riders, do it.
“No other sport would put up with the crap we have to go through.”
During last year’s race similarly severe conditions led to the organisers to cancel the nineteenth stage, which was due to go over the Stelvio. Acquarone said that this decision was taken after discussions with various parties.
“I remember last year it was really bad because we had more or less the same problems because it was cold, snow. You wait for one year for this queen stage and then the weather is bad for you.
“Last year what we did was quite easy – we were talking a lot with the teams and with their management, as well as Lucc Eisenga of AIGCP [the teams’ association]. It was one person representing the organisation, one person from the teams, one person from the riders. If three of them agree that we can ride, we ride. If the three of us don’t agree that we can ride, we don’t ride.
“That is so easy. Of course everybody would like to ride because of the fans, the sponsors, because of everything. But if it is not safe enough, you don’t ride. So last year we were together on that. There was a lot of speaking with the teams and the riders. We said on the Galibier we can ride and we did. Then [on stage 19], we said, okay, we cannot ride.
“There are no clear rules now. There are no people who can decide for all the others, no real opinion leaders. Probably what happened yesterday is the organisation just decided to start, because they felt the conditions were good enough.
“But personally I don’t know what were the feeling of the teams and the feelings of the riders. If it was the case that they agreed to do it simply because they had to do it, or if they wanted to ride. That is very important – if you are not there, you don’t know.”
Bringing out the red flags was a way for the organisers to try to cope with the situation and to ensure that things were not as dangerous as they might have been. In this regard, the suggestion that Quintana passed a red flag is something that Acquarone said should have been made more clear.
If rules were indeed broken, he said that the rider should have been made fully aware of that, and possibly penalised.
“Does the red flag mean that he must stay behind a motorcycle? Or was it just a warning, and if he wants to take a risk, he can do it? It is not clear,” he said. “If it was not clear [yesterday], of course there is a big mess. For sure Movistar and Omega Pharma have problems. I really don’t know they can manage it now, because everything you do, you do it wrong. Yesterday was the time to act.
“If you say, ‘okay, I am going to take off two minutes from Quintana now,’ you could do it. But Quintana will be really upset about that, and Movistar, and all their fans. Of course they will, because it was not clear.
“You cannot just do it now. Yesterday was the right time to do it.
“The most important thing is to be clear, really really clear at the time. Probably they were not clear, although I am speaking now just as a fan. I wasn’t there and if you are not there you cannot clearly understand what is going on.
“But I am thinking what every fan is thinking – what a mess. I am sorry for the Giro.”