FELTRE, Italy (VN) — Rowdy fans tangled with riders Saturday in the final mountain stage of the Giro d’Italia in a pair of high-profile incidents with possible race-changing implications.
Podium contender Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) was docked 10 seconds after receiving pushes from fans and Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) was lucky he was not ejected from the race after he swatted a fan who knocked him off the bike.
“I’m sorry. It was a moment of pure adrenaline and it happened like that,” Lopez said. “I got knocked to the ground. This requires more respect for the riders.”
The incidents came at the end of Saturday’s five-climb stage across the Dolomites that saw Richard Carapaz (Movistar) all but wrap up the overall title.
Fans packed in around the final two passes on the edge of the Dolomites. With good weather and the GC still in the balance, spectators were lining the key climbs.
Two separate incidents spiced up a rather drawn out stage that did not have the expected GC shakeups that some expected.
The first incident came with about 11km to go when a fan pushed Roglic up a portion of the climb. The Slovenian made no effort to try to bat away the assistance, perhaps not enough for the race jury not to dock him a 10-second penalty.
“Regarding the supporters, I only can say that’s impossible to control everything and everyone. Many Slovenian cycling fans gave support to the Giro d’Italia and cheered for me,” Roglic said. “We’ll see at the finish tomorrow whether I still have the legs or not. I gave 110 percent until the finish line and I can be satisfied. This was a real queen stage.”
The time penalty will make Sunday’s final time trial that much more challenging for Roglic, who was knocked from third to fourth in Saturday’s stage.
Movistar climber Mikel Landa bounded ahead of Roglic after finishing second in the stage. With the penalty, Roglic will need to take back 23 seconds to Landa to finish third.
“The truth is I finished right at the limit today, but we’ll fight to try to keep this third place. I hope so,” Landa said of a possible podium spot. “I will give everything I have. I would have to say that Roglic is still the ‘virtual’ podium but I will give everything I have.”
Sunday’s 17km time trial will favor Roglic against Landa, and the Slovenian even has a chance to bounce ahead of second-place Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) if he has a great ride.
“People should cheer, be enthusiastic, don’t touch the riders, please,” said Jumbo-Visma sport director Addy Engels. “The podium is within reach, but things have to go right. It’s not already done. He has to go all out, if his legs are OK, then it’s in reach. We still have to do it.”
In an even more spectacular incident, a fan knocked Lopez to the ground just as the Colombian was opening up an attack with about 5km to go.
The white jersey holder lost his temper and shoved the fan and knocked his cap off of the spectator’s head. Lopez, who once beat back a band of thieves who were trying to steal his bike when he was a teenaged racer, later apologized for his outburst.
“It’s very unsafe. It’s happened a lot in the Giro, in the Tour, we deserve more respect,” Lopez said. “I understand that there is a lot of emotion, but we are making huge efforts and then they come up and they knock you to the ground. What happens if you break something and have to go home?”
Race juries have disqualified riders in the past for punching fans or interacting in a negative way with spectators, but the Giro jury did not cite the Lopez incident in its stage report Saturday.
Astana boss Giuseppe Martinelli said the fan deserved what he got from Lopez.
“Some kind of punishment would be totally unfair after he was the one who was knocked down and lost time. If he’s punished it’d be the end of cycling as a sport,” Martinelli said. “I think it’s normal that he reacted as he did. He was on the way to winning the stage. I’m only sorry that he didn’t give the spectator some more punishment — he deserved it for what he did.”
The incident was the latest hiccup for Lopez, who came into the Giro hoping for outright victory. He suffered crashes and other ill-timed mechanicals during the Giro and enters Sunday’s finale sixth overall at 7:18 back.
Lopez’s aggravation was softened a bit by the stage victory from Astana teammate Pello Bilbao and the fact he still holds the white jersey.
“We’re happy. We wanted the victory today, and we got it with Pello,” Lopez said. “If for not what had happened, I would have been there, too. I had the legs to fight for the win. I lost a little, but I will give everything in the time trial. I will give it my best to try to bring the white jersey home.”
Lopez, too, will have a fight on his hand to defend white. He leads Russian Pavel Sivakov (Ineos) by 1:53 in the young rider’s classification.