The revolution wasn’t televised, it was on Telegram. The Association of Professional Cyclists (CPA) representatives for each of the competing teams at the Giro d’Italia use the platform as a sounding board throughout the race, and on Thursday evening, the group chat was focused on the following day’s interminable stage 19 from Morbegno to Asti.
It created a rare moment of unity amongst teams but also sparked one of the biggest polemica of the Corsa Rosa, with the race director Mauro Vegni, a string of team managers and directeurs sportif all criticising the riders.
Stage 19 was originally slated to be 253km in length, but on Thursday evening, RCS Sport announced that the final distance would be 258km, as the race needed to be rerouted around a collapsed bridge in Candia Lomellina near the finish.
It’s unclear if this minor alteration triggered the riders’ decision to seek the shortening of the stage or simply strengthened their resolve, but by Friday morning, the CPA delegate for the Giro – the former professional Cristian Salvato – had been asked to discuss reducing its distance with RCS Sport.
Although the conditions on Friday were not sufficient to trigger the Extreme Weather Protocol, riders expressed concern at the effects of racing such a long stage beneath persistent rain, particularly as it came so late in the Giro, between two mountain stages and during a pandemic.
“There’s a CPA group on Telegram and every team has a representative in this group, and they were apparently talking about it yesterday to shorten the stage by 100km,” Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal) told Cyclingnews in Asti on Friday.
“Then I think the CPA delegate [Cristian Salvato – ed.] had to talk to the organisers, and they didn’t find an agreement, I think.”
Salvato appeared on RAI’s Processo alla Tappa programme after Friday’s finish in Asti, where he explained the process that led to the CPA seeking the reduction of the stage distance.
“It all started last night when some riders started to contact me because I’m the CPA delegate, asking me if the stage could be shortened. I pointed out it was very late and that everyone knew the Giro would be raced in October and that we all knew the weather conditions,” Salvato said.
“But they explained how they arrived late in their hotels last night, then they had to set off very early this morning, after doing 600km and 15,000m of climbing in three days. They asked me to try to avoid lots of hours in the rain. It was 11C and raining at the start. That’s cold.”
Until minutes before the race, however, and despite those representations, it appears that most riders were under the impression that the stage would take place as planned.
All were dressed and prepared for racing for six hours or more beneath constant rain.
“I ate for 260km, I was dressed for 260km but then we came to the start, and with two minutes to go, and there were only 25 riders,” De Gendt said. “Then they told me in my radio to come to the coffee tent at the podium.”
The 133 remaining riders in the Giro gruppo thus huddled from the persistent rain beneath a canopy while ad hoc discussions took place with race director Mauro Vegni and the UCI commissaires on the event.
“I was just standing there, but I agree with the decision to shorten the stage,” said De Gendt, whose teammate Adam Hansen was prominent in the discussions, albeit due to his seniority and his longstanding involvement with the CPA rather than specifically as a representative of Lotto Soudal.
“He spoke, because he’s one of the oldest and in a lot of races, he’s the person organisers talk to, but it’s not that we [Lotto Soudal] decided to shorten the race, it was most of the bunch,” De Gendt said.
“Adam is in the CPA group and he said that 85 per cent of the teams that were in that group wanted to shorten the stage. That’s 17 teams who said yes to shortening, so that’s most of the bunch. It’s not only one or two riders who wanted to complain. It’s really a lot of teams who said that it was maybe not a good decision to do 260km in the rain between a lot of hard mountain stages.”
Ineos a dissenting voice
The stage was eventually shortened to 124km, with the peloton travelling by bus to the new start town of Abbiategrasso, with parking for 20 team buses and 100 team vehicles arranged on the hoof thanks to the local contacts of the Giro’s assistant director Stefano Allocchio.
The shortened stage was won by Josef Černy (CCC), who attacked from a breakaway that included Simon Clarke (EF Pro Cycling).
“We’ve had some epic seven-hour days this week and to have another one in the rain was going to be quite extreme, so everyone got together and made a decision. That’s just what happened,” Clarke said after placing fourth in Asti.
“It wasn’t about the weather conditions, it was about the distance and how hard this week’s been. It just seemed unnecessary to race 260 plus kilometres of flat, so we tried to find a compromise whereby we could race and put on a spectacle, but not race unnecessarily long distances.”
Clarke’s words were echoed by Wilco Kelderman (Team Sunweb), who admitted that he was glad his first day in the maglia rosa had been shorter than anticipated.
“This morning was super cold and rainy, it was a super long stage. It was also risky for your health with coronavirus and it was already a tough week,” said Kelderman. “Everyone was behind shortening the stage because it was really cold.”
There were some dissenting voices, however, especially amongst team management.
Ineos directeur sportif Matteo Tosatto confirmed that his team had been one of the few squads who had voted to race stage 19 in its entirety. Tao Geoghegan Hart lies third overall, just 15 seconds behind Kelderman.
“Our guys were lined up to start. We wanted to do the stage,” said Tosatto. “I understand the stage is long, but my riders wanted to race and we’re on the side of our riders.”
Speaking to RAI, Vincenzo Nibali (Trek-Segafredo) admitted to a degree of confusion about the reasoning behind the shortening of the stage, noting that he was only informed about the idea when he signed for the start in Morbegno. Nibali was careful to sit on the fence rather than take sides.
“Nobody had talked to me before. A decision was taken but I don’t know the real reason why,” he said.
“I was told it was a decision taken by the CPA. It was a strange decision, it’s difficult to say if it was right or not. We’ve raced in more extreme conditions. I don’t think a Telegram chat is the right place to discuss such important matters and take decisions like that.”
The anger of Mauro Vegni, meanwhile, was evident in every interview he gave throughout the day.
It hadn’t abated by the finish in Asti, where the race director stated that no prize money would be awarded for the shortened stage. On Friday evening, RCS Sport announced that the prize money would instead be “donated from the organizers to a Medical Center committed in the fight against COVID-19.”