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No stopping that train: Polemics erupt again over ‘wait-or-race’ debate

BLOCKHAUS, Italy (VN) — An inopportune crash, everything on the line, and no one waits for the fallen; that’s the law of the jungle at the Giro d’Italia.

Sunday’s dramatic mountaintop finale descended into polemics yet again following a race-altering crash as the peloton roared toward the base of the Blockhaus summit.

The generally accepted maxim within the peloton is that when the “race is on,” there’s no stopping or waiting for anyone. And there was no denying the race was full-gas when Movistar powered toward Blockhaus to set up their man, Nairo Quintana.

But Sunday’s incident was different than other crashes that have triggered the “wait-or-race” debate — like when pink jersey Steven Kruijswijk plowed into a snow bank — because this time the crash involved a motorcycle stopped partially on the roadway.

Should Movistar and the other teams slowed the pace when they realized a crash took out at least two of the pre-race favorites, with Geraint Thomas (Sky) and Adam Yates (Orica-Scott) both on the ground? Orica sport director Matt White said yes.

“I think the decision Movistar made was a mistake,” White said. “Everyone was aware what happened in that crash. The best decision on a sporting front would have been to slow down for one or two minutes, and let everyone pick themselves up. There was no need to push the pace like they did.”

“I think the decision Movistar made was a mistake … There was no need to push the pace like they did.”
– Matt White

It was hard to find someone inside the Giro peloton who agreed with him, however.

Despite the non-sporting facet behind the crash — a motorcycle provoking the fall, instead of riders making a miscalculation or mistake — most riders and sport directors queried at the finish repeated that it impossible to stop the race at that point of the race.

“There are moments you do it, and moments you don’t,” said BMC Racing sport director Max Sciandri. “It was so deep into the race. It’s just like a big train; you cannot stop it. It takes time. OK, if it’s earlier in the stage, maybe, but it’s 1km before you hit the climb. It was so full-gas.”

Movistar defended its tactics, saying they were already playing their card much earlier in the race, and insisted they did not accelerate when they realized riders were on the ground.

“We were executing our tactics that we had started with 100km to go,” said Movistar sport director José Luis Arrieta. “The entire peloton was riding toward the climb. When the race is so advanced like that, at such a critical moment of the race, it’s hard to stop it.”

There’s no question that the incident took a big chunk of drama out of the 2017 Giro, which started with its best GC field in years. Sky’s Thomas lost 5:08, falling from second to 17th. Yates lost 4:39, and Mikel Landa sunk out of contention at 26:56 back. Wilco Kelderman, who clipped the motorcycle and knocked over Thomas, abandoned.

New race leader Quintana also brushed off suggestions that Movistar unfairly exploited the situation in the Giro’s first major climb.

“We were at the front of the race at that moment. We didn’t even know what happened behind us, and only later realized how bad it turned out,” Quintana said. “I am sorry for them, but the race was already unfolding. It’s hard to stop the race at that moment, to try to organize something. It’s a shame that something like that happened.”

Giro race director Mauro Vegni also expressed his regret for the incident, but said it’s simply part of the chaos of the race.

“Everyone knows that police motorbike shouldn’t have been there. It’s one of those incidents that can happen in the heat of the race,” Vegni said. “To stop the race at that moment? Impossible. It’s a real shame for the Giro to lose Thomas, Landa, Kelderman, Yates – it’s a big price to pay.”

Sky’s Landa, who limped across the line with a heavy blow to his hip, even suggested it was the riders’ own fault for taking too many risks.

“Who’s fault? It’s all of our faults,” he said. “We all want to be there at the front. It’s just not possible. … I couldn’t give more. I got up fast from the crash, but quickly realized I couldn’t pedal. I climbed as well as I could with one leg.”

Thomas, who came into the Giro as a big favorite, tried to take a philosophical view despite the devastating blow.

“It was race on then, we were racing anyway, it’s just unfortunate. It shouldn’t have happened, but that’s what happened, I don’t blame them, they were already riding a good while before that,” Thomas said. “I knew deep down there was no coming back from that. It was just a shame because that shouldn’t happen.”

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