Did you see the big showcase Giro D’Italia stage in Milan yesterday? It was meant to be a big celebration for the Giro, commemorating the start of the first race from the city one hundred years ago. But what did we get? A bunch of whining cyclists soft-pedaling around for several hours at not much over 30km/h, ‘protesting’ at dangerous conditions. Oh don’t make me laugh.
Race director Angelo Zomengan took a very thinly disguised pot-shot at Lance Armstrong when he said “This circuit required explosive bursts. It required riders to get their butts up off the seats of their bikes, and some riders who are not so young anymore apparently don't feel like doing that. It seems that as some riders get older, their legs became shorter and their tongues longer.”
I couldn’t agree more. If I was Zomengan I would be heartily pissed at Armstrong. You pay a guy a hefty appearance fee (rumoured to be close to $2 million) and what does he do? He comes in and starts criticizing your race at what seems like every opportunity. If I were Zomengan I’d be demanding my money back.
Now I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m not the world’s biggest Armstrong fan. I know some are though, and fair play to them. Whatever makes you happy and all that. I just think it would be hard for anyone to be as big a fan as he seems to be of himself, and this is just another example of what comes across as his extraordinary arrogance. He’s said in the past that the rider is more important than the race. He was talking then about Le Tour, and what he really meant was that HE was more important than the race. You get the impression that he thinks exactly the same about the Giro. That would be an extraordinarily arrogant stance to take at any time, but during the centenary race it’s even more of an insult to the tradition of a great event. As Mario Cipollini said, it’s an insult to the tifosi, and an insult to the exploits of all the great Campionissimo’s of the past. Did those riders complain when they had to ride hundreds of kilometers over mountains on what were barely more than gravel paths? No they bloody well didn’t. They got on and did the job they were paid to do. And even though they were paid a pittance compared to the salaries of today’s pros, they still felt themselves to be privileged because compared to their friends working in the factories or in the fields, they were. Plus they were getting to ride their bikes… Think about that for a second.
Now I’ve never been one for all that macho nonsense. This isn’t about that at all. It’s about doing the job you are paid to do, presumably because you love it. If you don’t love riding your bike, don’t be a pro bike rider. If you’re not prepared to take the risks, don’t be a pro bike rider. If you’re not prepared for the possibility (however remote) that you could end up crashing sixty meters down a ravine like poor Pedro Horrillo, don’t be a pro bike rider.
Was there anything positive to take from yesterday’s farce? Well, just possibly. Just possibly the efforts of the handful of riders prepared to race in the closing kilometers deserve some applause. Chapeau to the feisty folly of Tommy Voekler for kicking it all off with another of his trademark doomed attacks. And chapeau too to the likes of Brad Wiggins for making the real racers suffer on his wheel as he wound up the pace. And chapeau most of all to the Columbia riders who once again showed the requisite spirit and exuberance of bike racing, doing their utmost to deliver Mark Cavendish into a position to do what he does best: win. Say what you like about ‘The Cock’, he does like to win, and he’s never afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve, for better or for worse. More than anything though, as he’s said numerous times in the past, he just loves to ride his bike. It’s something that some of the older members of the peloton would do well to remember.