The 196 riders left in this year’s Giro d’Italia – despite the multiple crashes of the opening three days of the race, only two have abandoned to date – will this morning wake up in Italy, presumably a little later than usual, for what many view as a badly-timed rest day before racing resumes with a Team Time Trial tomorrow.
While race organisers will point towards the huge crowds that greeted the Giro during its three days in the Netherlands as proof of the success of staging the departure there, it seems that many riders have been less than impressed with the route.
Narrow, twisting roads cluttered with street furniture contributed to a series of crashes that have resulted in three different riders donning the maglia rosa at the end of the same number of stages, and have dealt a blow to the hopes of several contenders for the overall win.
And while the flight disruption that had been threatened as a result of the continuing volcanic ash cloud originating in Iceland failed to materialise, several riders expressed a mixture of bemusement and anger last night on the social networking site, Twitter, that once they had landed in Italy, they were forced to attend a sit-down meal involving all teams that began at 11.30pm. Not all made it through to dessert.
“I have seen a lot in my time but this takes the biscuit,” tweeted the British rider Charly Wegelius of Pharma-Lotto, adding shortly afterwards, “We are eating in a tent at airport at midnight while hundreds of people gawp at us and take photos. Remarkable spectacle.”
Like Wegelius, HTC-Columbia’s Marco Pinotti provided photographic evidence of the bizarre midnight feast, saying: “Landed in Cuneo airport at 23.15, then "special" dinner, 30' for pasta and don’t know how long for the meat,” adding that he and his team-mates had left before that course arrived.
World Champion Cadel Evans was distinctly unimpressed not only with the timing of the first rest day of the race, but also the late hour at which the his BMC Racing team finally got to their hotel, tweeting: “Key to a 3 week stage race? Recovery... that explains why we're (Liquigas, Garmin, Bmc) nearly at our hotel at 1230am...?”
Earlier in the day, Evans had lost the race leader’s pink jersey to Astana’s Alexandre Vinokourov after being caught behind the crash that left almost the entire Team Sky squad on the tarmac 10 kilometres from the end of the stage in Middelburg.
While it was reported in some quarters of the media that Evans had blamed Team Sky for the crash in the immediate aftermath of the stage, the world road champion took was more circumspect on his website, saying: “Rode at the front for 205km avoiding splits in the crosswind and crashes, to come around a corner 10km from the finish to find a whole team had managed to drop themselves. It would not have been a big deal but I got taken out from behind. You try and do everything right but sometimes it's still not enough.”
For Team Sky, it was the second day running that their plans had been disrupted by a crash inside the closing kilometers, with a spill on the tricky run-in to Utrecht on Sunday putting paid to Bradley Wiggins’ chances of staying in the maglia rosa he had claimed in such imperious fashion during the previous day’s time trial in Amsterdam.
Race coach Rod Ellingworth, quoted on the Team Sky website, confirmed that there had been no serious injuries in yesterday’s crash, and explained what had happened: "Up until the closing stages everyone in the team had ridden really well. We had seven riders in that front group and I think the crash came down to a tricky corner tightening up on them.”
He continued: "From what I understand, Mat Hayman was the first man down and that caused a domino effect behind. No-one could do anything about it and the whole incident was really unfortunate.
"Bradley was probably the worst affected - he's given himself a right old whack - and CJ [Sutton] might have to have stitches in his leg, but they are all OK considering and thankfully there's nothing more serious to report."
Looking forward to the Giro returning to home soil, Ellingworth said: "Once we get off the plane we'll get checked into our hotel” – after that meal, presumably – “and see how the lads are feeling. On Tuesday we have a training session planned but we will assess the situation in the morning and take things from there.”
"As for the team time trial on Wednesday, it's a similar story. We will keep things flexible and see what happens," he concluded.
That team time trial could see another Briton, David Millar, claim the race leader’s jersey, which would make him only the third Briton to wear it after Wiggins and Mark Cavendish last year. Millar finished in the first group yesterday behind stage winner Wouter Weylandt of Quick Step, and lies third in the General Classification behind Vinokourov and Team Saxo Bank’s Australian rider, Richie Porte.
On paper, Millar’s Garmin-Transitions outfit should be one of the favourites to clinch the team time trial, but their hopes of doing so received a blow yesterday with Christian Vande Velde abandoning with a fractured clavicle – coincidentally, injury had also forced him to pull out of last year’s Giro on Stage 3.
With the 32.5 kilometre route featuring a steady gain in height of 250 metres throughout its course, Vande Velde, only the second rider to abandon this year’s Giro, joining Martin Kohler of BMC Racing who had crashed on Stage 2.
With more than 20 riders within 30 seconds of Vinokourov in the General Classification, there’s every chance that we’ll see another rider in pink by the start of Thursday’s Stage 5 from Novara to Novi Ligure.
So the Labour MPs who personally experienced anti-semitic abuse were making it up?
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