Internal communique of the day for the UCI race jury at Giro d’Italia: Sunglasses ON until further notice. Non-respect of the regulation will result in any offender(s) being presented to the post race press conference for an hour of difficult questions.
Oh you have to love the consistency of the inconsistencies at the Giro d'Italia.
The commissaires cry the rules are the rules. And, yes, they are. But hello, guys and gals they aren't always applied by yourselves or, even more worryingly, interpreted with any identifiable logic.
When the race jury and the organisers themselves messed up with the Stelvio affair last year there was a collective shrug of the all powerful and knowing shoulders. Is it one rule for us and another for you mere riders?
You would have hoped they'd learned that this year controversies of any sort should be kept to an absolute minimum, but apparently not. The moment the decision was made by the chief commissaire's to affect the barrage on Richie Porte's wheel change a few kilometres from yesterday's finish the proverbial was always heading for the fan - and that's the spinning kind not the one with the big camera lens leaning over the barriers. Lets be clear, we wouldn't want confusion. Che casino.
Did I know the helping rule, or 12.1.040 as it’s known on the back of commissaire's packet of cigarettes? Well, I'd heard of it vaguely, probably from the Sicard/L'Avenir affair but having had non-regulation assistance from other teams when I was racing I thought it was one of those rules that was applied when it was blatantly the wrong move to make. It certainly wasn't implemented when I got a wheel from the Castorama team at the Dauphine in 1995.
There I was on the descent of Mont Ventoux, stood at the side of the road waiting forlornly for my team car to turn up. I wasn't expecting it anytime soon as I'd been pacing Luc Leblanc back to the front group, and with my job done I was dropped just near the summit.
I was about a minute off the GC guys when another group caught me so I was thinking we make it back to the action. Then I punctured the front wheel on the really rapid part about 4km below Chalet Reynard.
It's almost straight there but isn't quite and conducting a puncture there at 80kph, it's quite scary. I was less concerned by the bad luck and more relieved that I didn't lose any skin.
Guys came past alone, in little groups, a few team cars flew by and a neutral service wagon missed seeing me. After an age I was considering the chances of being wiped out by another rider if I rolled down at a reduced speed when a largish group appeared with the Castorama guys behind them. They screeched to a halt and gave me a wheel despite it being a bit of an emergency stop.
Because that group contained the guy leading the points competition and most of the sprinters they had there own personal commissaire on a motorbike to watch over them and he witnessed the wheel change and me making it back to that gruppetto with some help from the Castorama guys again. There wasn't any arrangement that I was aware of between our team and them to cover each other’s riders in an emergency so it wasn't like they had to and I didn't get any fine or warning. I had thanked them at the finish and took it as a good turn to be returned in due course, the kind of thing that makes crap situations slightly better.
Simon Clarke's offer of help wasn't ethically or morally questionable and is the kind of behaviour to be applauded. If there's any shame it's on the decision to punish friendship because any mechanical that close to the finish is always going to cost the victim time anyway. Adding to that misery is uncalled for.
Maybe it's time for full-time officials making the decisions and applying, or not, the regulations. If everyone wants more professionalism in the sport then that has to be one of the logical steps forward.
Of course, Porte at three-minutes changes the whole dynamics of his and Team Sky's race and obviously he has to take the initiative at some point, while Aru and Contador can control the situation without panicking. They don't have to react in the same way as they would have if the little Australian had been closer on GC.
Once the long time trial is done with then things will be a lot clearer for the GC places but with Contador's shoulder recovery going well the challenge won't be any easier for his opposition. Any suggestion that the race leader’s confidence has taken a knock because he was carrying an injury was dispelled when he attacked in the rain on the Imola finishing circuit. He's certainly not been affected by any wet conditions and he's staying out of trouble by always being in the right place at the right time. Unlike Rigorberto Uran, whose attention span seems to be wavering from day to day.
With Ilnur Zakarin's stage victory this Giro is looking sweet for all things Russian and Eastern European at the moment. Maybe Oleg's influence stretches further than we think, his threat to cut slackers' wages has even got Carlos Betancur racing.