The morning after Paolo Bettini's controversial side sprint, Baden Cooke's crash and the maglia rosa's subsequent relegation from Giro d'Italia stage four, the issue continues to polarize. According to Quick.Step manager Lefévère, Cooke hit Bettini's back wheel and that's what caused the crash.
"OK, it is a matter which can be discussed," Lefévère told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad. "It is a rule that a rider shouldn't deviate from his line, but on the other hand the rider in the lead determines the line he takes. When Paolo was still a metre away from barriers, he changed gears and his back wheel skipped a second. Just at that moment, Cooke let go of his handlebars, probably to push Bettini, and he fell."
On Belgian Sporza, an otherwise very diplomatic Patrick Lefévère continued expressing his rage: "We lost two stages in two days time! On Tuesday Bettini had to hit the brakes for Di Luca, and nothing was said. If Bettini wouldn't have slowed down in that last corner, he also would have ended up against the fence. We thought about complaining, but in the end we were happy to take the pink jersey. And complaining against Di Luca, in Italy? That's something Bettini really didn't want to do," the Belgian said.
"I do think it's pretty poor that the UCI doesn't even have the equipment to freeze the images," he remarked. "They can forward and rewind, but no freezing. An appeal? No, that would be in vain. At least we can say that we are the victims of being the good guys in both these stages."
Paolo Bettini initially threatened to quit the race but told the press he then changed his mind because of the team. "I've decided to stay out of respect to my team-mates and sponsors," he said. "I'm an honest person and if someone would crash because of me I'd the first to admit it. I'm convinced I didn't do anything wrong today."
Il Grillo maintains his innocence. "I went early in the sprint and rightfully chose my line on the left of the road. Like everybody else sprinting on a road that goes slightly uphill, I deviated a little on my line. I checked under my legs one last time and then jumped. My gear wouldn't go into the last sprocket and so my back wheel jumped to the left a bit, but I didn't do anything to make Cooke crash."
However, the Australian rider sees it differently, as did the race jury, which relegated the Italian Olympic champion. Immediately after the stage yesterday, Cooke told Cyclingnews that at the time of the crash, he was "absolutely cruising. Dropped it down the gears, ran at him, just about to blow his helmet off as I went past him...and he's just turned left and put me in the barrier. I had it won, I was just about to throw my hands in the air. Instead I did five somersaults down the road!" (See full report.)
The overall reporting of the affair in the Italian media, according to Cyclingnews correspondent Tim Maloney, seems unsympathetic to Bettini's explanation, as the overhead view shows the Australian was moving up quickly and was likely to win the stage. Also, the Italian's protestation at the finish and then performance in the post-stage ceremonies - where he was 30 minutes late and then emptied out his bottle of bubbly - did not earn him any new fans or respect.