By Andrew Hood
Lance Armstrong defended Sunday’s rider protest and called for stronger representation among the peloton to protect its interests.
Speaking in a seven-minute video posted on his personal web page late Monday night during the Giro d’Italia’s first rest day, Armstrong described his role in helping forge the controversial rider protest in Sunday’s ninth stage.
“Immediately, the riders expressed some interest in neutralizing the stage,” he said, referring to parked cars, tram tracks, traffic islands, dividers, cones and on-coming traffic on the Milan circuit. “We didn’t feel the conditions were safe.”
After one lap on the 16-lap circuit course in downtown Milan, seven-time Tour de France champion offered to play peacemaker. He rode back to the UCI official’s car and a compromise was quickly hammered out: the time would be neutralized but there would be a sprint in the end.
Riders stopped with six laps to go, when race leader Danilo Di Luca (LPR) took a microphone to explain why the pack was riding at a parade’s pace and apologized to thousands of fans lining the course.
The stage soon turned acrimonious, however, as organizers and commentators blasted the peloton’s collective decision to neutralize the stage.
“We’re sorry about that, it wasn’t an ideal outcome, no one was happy about that,” Armstrong continued in the video message. “It’s an unfortunate situation, an accumulation of days and days of frustration and I think fear on a lot of people’s parts and then this war of words and this war of power afterwards that we have to avoid.”
Armstrong also used the video as a platform to promote stronger rider unity in the diverse professional peloton.
“We absolutely have to have a fully independent rider’s organization that represents our interest,” Armstrong said. “Without that organization that represents our voices as a unified front, not as a splintered front, we will have this problem forever.”
In conclusion, Armstrong said Astana is looking ahead toward the upcoming decisive stages when he expects Levi Leipheimer to make a strong play for the maglia rosa.
“What’s done is done. It was not the best circumstance in Milan, but we’re all committed to racing this Giro all out and we as a team are committed to getting Levi the pink jersey that he so deserves,” he said. “The first third of the race has been pretty much as expected, and as far as the team goes, we’re in a great position.”
Armstrong’s video is available at www.LiveStrong.com.