MILANO, Italy (VN) ─ The 159 riders who crossed the finish line Sunday at the Giro d’Italia looked battered, bruised and tired. There was universal agreement that the 94th Giro was hard, not only on the bike with eight summit finishes, but off the bike as well. Long transfers and a hyper-demanding parcours had riders grumbling that the Giro was simply too difficult.

Speaking to VeloNews and two other journalists Sunday in Milano, Giro race director Angelo Zomegnan defended the difficulty of the Giro.

“They can stay at home if they prefer,” Zomegnan said Sunday. “Why is the Giro too hard? The last week, we had two young riders who won ─ Ulissi and Capecchi ─ and they did the first two hours at 50kph. Maybe it’s not hard enough.”

Riders, however, say that this year’s Giro crossed the line. Eight summit finishes, underscored by brutal stages more than 200km each day packed in across the Dolomites, left the peloton in the survival mode. The brutal distances also seemed to take the life out of racing because riders were cautious about attacking one day and then paying the price for it the next.

“There are a lot of tired riders in this Giro,” said Michael Barry (Sky). “This Giro was hard, not only on the course, but after the stages, too. We had a lot of hours of transfers.”

Stage winner David Millar (Garmin-Cervelo) said this year’s Giro was “too much” and suggested that riders need to become better organized to be able to have a stronger voice.

“I think it is too much, I don’ think it makes for good racing. i think the organizers need to take a step back and a look at what they are doing. It’s not helping us, it’s not the direction that modern cycling should be going in in my opinion,” Millar said. “We as a peloton, it’s our responsibility to do something. It’s one thing to just complain to the press. We actually need to group together and actually try to get one collective voice to speak to the UCI and the race organizers.”

Zomegnan, however, is not immune to grumbling from the peloton and said he would listen to constructive criticism. He pointed out that this year’s Giro, which coincided with the 150th anniversary of the unification of modern Italy, prompted him to design a course that brought the Giro to 17 of Italy’s 20 regions. That made local politicians happy, but it made for long transfers. The official race distance was 3,265km, but most teams drove more than 6,000km getting from stage to stage.

“There are a lot of things to change. We have a lot of obligations. It was the 150th Italian celebration, we had to go to a lot of regions – 17 ─ too much. We obliged the riders in the caravan to go in the car. On the sporting side, I have nothing to regret,” he said.

The Giro had, said Zomegnan, “the best rider in the world (Contador); more than 11 million people, and impressive audience around the Giro.”

Zomegnan also took the opportunity to criticize the UCI for pulling the plug on the Monte Crostis climb and descent just hours before the stage, calling it a “political decision.”

“(Crostis) was not my decision. The decision came from the UCI and they know nothing about it. It was a political decision,” Zomegnan said. “The UCI man comes, he takes three Garibaldi (Giro road books) and he goes back to his office. And he stayed in his office. The Crostis would not have changed the story of the Giro. The true worry is that these people are making these decisions without knowing anything. We cannot put into their hands our destiny. It’s unbelievable.”

Zomegnan also said he was satisfied with the victory of Alberto Contador, saying the Spanish climber is good for cycling despite his unresolved doping case. He also said he was hopeful the Giro would conclude without a positive doping case.

“I am happy to see Contador to win. It’s good for all of cycling, not just the Giro. The people are interested in him. He is not boring,” Zomegnan said. “I think we can agree to have a positive case in July 2010 and we will arrive in September 2011 before knowing the decision about the case. That is the problem. Sportive justice was always faster than the ordinary justice. Now we are on the other side … I hope in one week when we see all the results, the Giro will be clean. Right now, I cannot say because I have no reference. I hope fans can believe.”