BARI, Italy (VN) — Race, go slow, or stop? Intermittent rain showers made the roads slick in the Giro d’Italia’s fourth stage on Tuesday. The race teetered back and forth and confusion reigned en route to Bari.
“I had the pink jersey and obviously, everyone was coming to me to see what we should do,” race leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) said. “There were a lot of ideas. I thought the best thing to do was to neutralize it until the circuit, to see what we should do.”
For the first part of the stage, team leaders rode up alongside the 23-year-old Matthews. They asked him, “What do you think?”
Matthews had never raced in this part of southern Italy and was unsure of what to do. However, he said that it was best to wait to decide until the circuits began, with 73 kilometers left in the 121km route. But already, on the point-to-point section from Giovinazzo to Bari, he felt his tires sliding on the pavement.
On television, the Italian grand tour appeared to lose some of its pink luster. The city, provincial, and regional governments paid a lot to have cyclists racing down their streets, not arguing.
“Orica heard that they had to stop completely,” Manuel Quinziato of BMC Racing said. “I was telling them, ‘No, come on, let’s race!’”
“Michael Matthews was confused,” Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) said. “He lost something in the translation, but later understood what we were going to do.”
Race director Mauro Vegni heard the cyclists’ concerns and tried to find the best solution to save face.
Instead of racing until the last of eight circuits, he decided to neutralize the race with one to go and not offer bonus points or seconds. The sprinters were free to race ahead for the stage win.
“It was important to neutralize the final lap,” Quinziato said. “The GC teams could protect their leaders until that point and let the sprinters who were brave enough to go.”
The clouds cleared briefly, but returned and dumped some of the heaviest rain over the final 9km. Riders fell everywhere in the tight turns of the final circuit.
“The way it turned out, there was a crash on the last lap,” Matthews said. “It could’ve been a lot more if we all had raced. At least only five or six guys crashed, not 100.”
Eventual stage winner Nacer Bouhanni (FDJ.fr) had to brake to avoid a crash and re-accelerate to reach the front.
“Maybe I’m too old or just wise, but I saw how slick it was and braked,” Petacchi said. “It’s too bad for the public and for me, this stage suited me.”
Had Petacchi won at 40 years old, he would have been the oldest stage winner in Giro history. As it was, the young and the brave ruled on Bari’s streets.
Bernhard Eisel (Sky) wrote on Twitter that race organizer RCS Sport created a show for the public. “At least I learned that the sprinters don’t count. They have to risk their lives!”
Vegni did not see it that way. He said it was a group decision to go ahead and let the sprinters try for the stage win.
“We owed it to the people and to the Giro to race,” Quinziato said. “We took the right decision. Racing has its risks, but we reduced them.”