By VeloNews Interactive wire services, copyright AFP2001
Cyclists in the Giro d’Italia Friday arrived in Alba for the start of the 19th stage Friday, moving to put behind them the events that had led to the cancellation of Thursday’s 18th stage.
The riders arrived for the start just before at 1:00p.m. for the 163km run from Alba to Busto Arsizio with only Italian Marco Pantani, of the Mercatone Uno team, and Belgian Rik Verbrugghe of the Lotto outfit absent.
Both had already indicated they would withdraw for health reasons in decisions that had nothing to do with the events that had briefly put the entire Giro in danger on Wednesday and Thursday.
The 18th stage – an onerous 230km mountainous trek from Imperia to Sant’Anna di Vinadio – was cancelled as riders reacted furiously to the raids and searches by 200 anti-drugs police on Wednesday night that had kept some riders out of the hotel rooms until the early hours of Thursday morning.
Clearly the riders were in no condition to take on such a difficult stage but during meetings that lasted most of Thursday morning until late in the afternoon it looked as though the riders might also boycott stage 19 or possibly even the rest of the race.
In the end they were persuaded to return to the saddle Friday. “We feel bitter,” said Italian rider Dario Frigo Friday morning. “I feel sorry for the public that was out in force for the big stage (Thursday’s cancelled stage).”
Second-placed Frigo will have more reason than most to rue the cancellation of that stage as the mountainous route including five climbs – the highest 2511m – was his best chance to make up a 15-second gap on Lampre’s Gilberto Simoni, who currently holds the pink leader’s jersey.
Frigo said he would attend Tuesday’s emergency summit in Rome called by leading Italian sports officials notably Gianni Petrucci, president of the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI).