By Andrew Hood
It seems no one was happy 24 hours before the start of the 2007 Giro d’Italia.
As if this week’s startling admissions by defending champion Ivan Basso weren’t enough to cast a pall over the season’s first grand tour, riders were complaining first about the narrow and dangerous roads for Saturday’s team time trial, and then about being ferried out to an aircraft carrier for an opening ceremony in front of about 200 sailors and VIPs.
“I expected more from the Giro d’Italia,” said Argentine sprinter J.J. Haedo, who’s making his grand-tour debut with Team CSC. “We’ve been waiting for hours to come here — not the best way to start the race.”
With the 90th Giro set to begin with Saturday’s 25.6km team time trial on a challenging course between the Caprera and Maddelena islands off the sparkling coast of Italy’s Sardinia island, riders were hoping things go better than they did for Friday’s unique opening ceremony.
Rather than being held in some stadium or as part of some kitschy show, as so many of these things are, Giro officials had the notion of hauling the entire 198-rider peloton, a few dozen sport directors, another gaggle of VIPs and a retinue of grumbling journalists to the deck of Italy’s only aircraft carrier.
What might have looked good in meetings over cappuccinos turned into a long afternoon under a hot Sardinian sun.
Riders converged in Palau, a port city along Sardinia’s northern coast, then took a ferry to the carrier. From there they were transferred to the flight deck and paraded in front of a smattering of VIPs, the carrier’s crew and grumpy scribes who had been waiting there for two hours.
Another three-dozen riders, including pre-race favorites Danilo Di Luca and Stefano Garzelli, were forced to wait nearly another hour as ferries returned to fetch them.
There was even more grousing about Saturday’s team time trial stage between the two islands. Its narrow roads, blustery crosswinds and up-and-down route had riders saying it’s not an ideal way to start the Giro.
“It’s a terrible course. It’s the most dangerous thing they could do. Maybe there are two kilometers that are flat — the rest is just up and down,” said Discovery Channel’s George Hincapie.
“With nine guys, it will be hard to keep it together. It’s crazy. We rode it three times. It’s super windy. It’s really scary. I don’t get scared much on the bike, but riding around yesterday on the course, it was really scary.”
Reigning world time trial champion Fabian Cancellara was also unhappy with the challenging parcours.
“We were hoping to win the stage and I could take the jersey, but we’re not going to risk a crash. It’s very dangerous for a team-time-trial course,” Cancellara said. “It’s not a team-time-trial course, but it’s part of the game. We do what we can, but it’s not a nice course at all.”
Not everyone was disturbed by the day’s proceedings. Australian pocket rocket Robbie McEwen shrugged off suggestions that the TTT course was unduly difficult, but of course, he won’t see the route until he rides it for the first time in the race.
“It depends on how you race it,” McEwen said. “It’s like anything – you have to stay upright on the bike.”
Start order for 2007 Giro d’Italia team time trial
16h00: Saunier Duval
16h10: Acqua e Sapone
16h35: Credit Agricole
16h50: Caisse d’Epargne
16h55: Bouygues Telecom
17h00: Quick Step
17h05: Discovery Channel
17h15: Francaise des Jeux.