By Kristy Scrymgeour
All hell broke loose in the Giro della Toscana Femminile on Friday night as dark and dangerous conditions caused riders to race neutral to keep things safe. Leading the way in the protest was Australian Olivia Gollan, who was voted in by riders earlier this year to be the first President of the Women’s CPA (Professional Cyclists Association), an organization that represents the rights of the riders. Gollan, who is participating in the race for Nürnberger told Cyclingnews on Saturday that the night time criterium was "pitch black with 13 corners in 3 kilometres as well as many other obstacles such as garbage bins on the road and just too dangerous for us a week before World Championships."
Unfortunately for Gollan, the decision by the riders as a whole came only ten minutes before the start of the race, creating a rather chaotic turn of events, which in retrospect, Gollan said, should have been handled a little bit better.
As the race started the majority of the peloton had agreed to ride the race neutral to keep everybody safe with the plan to give the win to somebody down on GC so that the time bonus points didn’t affect the race proper. However with four laps remaining, Mexican rider Clemilda Fernandes Silva (UC. Chirio Forno D'Asolo) attacked, going against the plan of the peloton. With the bunch looking to Gollan for what to do next, Gollan rode up to the girl to try to talk to her. Fernandes Silva explained that she had been offered money to attack.
Gollan was told to return to the peloton by the Commisaire and a new plan emerged out of the bunch and that was to stop riding all together. In unison the peloton stopped riding as they hit the finish line with three laps to go. Fernades Silva kept riding despite continual pressure from the rest of the riders. Eventually all riders continued the race at a slow pace, as they needed to finish to be able to start the next day.
On the finish line Katia Longhin (SC. Michela Fanini Record Box), also a member of the CPA and instrumental in organising the protest, was told she wasn’t allowed to continue by Brunello Fanini, who is the President of the race organization and owner of the Michela Fanini team. Longhin did not complete the criterium and was not allowed to start the following day. This morning race, organisers also told Gollan that she would not be allowed to start either. This caused more upset in the peloton with many more girls wanting to pull out.
Gollan spoke from the stage telling riders that they should continue to race, especially since today was the actually memorial day ride for Michela Fanini, who died tragically at 21 years of age having already won the Giro d’Italia Femminile and an Italian Championship. "We had made our point," Gollan explained. "I didn’t mind that I wasn’t racing but I wanted to make sure that the memorial still went ahead. It was an emotional time for everybody involved."
With many riders in tears on the start line, the race continued, but Gollan said the whole incident was disappointing. "Maybe we did the wrong thing, maybe we did the right thing, I don’t know. I’m aware that I probably did things in the wrong way and I totally respected the jury’s decision to pull me out of the race, but I think we still have a problem here. If I as the President of the CPA can’t take control of a situation like this and try to do the right thing for everyone and make things safe for the riders, it means that the CPA means nothing. The conditions of the race last night were so dangerous. It is rude and disrespectful to our sport to make us race under those conditions. It is something we need to deal with after the World Championships.
"On a good note," Gollan added, "I know we had the support of all the riders and the team directors. The girls even gave me all the prize money last night to go towards the Amy Safe Foundation."