A man nicknamed the Prince was perhaps never likely to submit meekly to the orders of more powerful forces, and Gianni Savio responded defiantly to pink jersey Cadel Evans’ attempt to persuade his Androni-Venezuela team to call off their work on the front of the peloton on stage 11 of the Giro d’Italia in Savona.
Having missed the day’s early break, Androni were busily cutting down the escapees’ advantage when a crash with a little over 70 kilometres to go saw BMC’s Steve Morabito – currently lying fifth overall – among the fallers. Although the six Androni riders on the front briefly slackened their pace while the extent of the crash was established, they soon returned to work at the head of the bunch, to the annoyance of Evans.
The maglia rosa duly intervened in person, remonstrating with Androni’s Marco Frapporti, but his arguments were batted away. Morabito did, however, rejoin the bunch shortly afterwards, while Savio’s men eventually brought the race back together in time for the final climb of Naso di Gatto.
Savio appeared on RAI television’s post-race analysis show Processo alla Tappa to explain what precisely had transpired and he waved away the notion that there had been some manner of misapprehension between Evans and his riders.
“We’re not the vassals of anybody, least of all of Cadel Evans,” Savio said. “I have every respect for him but today there was fair play. When we were on the front and there was a crash, I told my riders on the radio to slow down and the images speak for themselves – they slowed down. After making sure that everybody was back in the race, we told our riders to go again.”
Contrary to the slogan coined by the marketing department, the Giro d’Italia is not just the fight for pink: each and every day, there are multiple races within a race. While Evans and the overall contenders were looking simply to survive the stage to Savona with an eye to Thursday’s time trial, for Androni-Venezuela, the day represented an opportunity for stage victory, and they had closed the break’s lead to two minutes when Morabito was caught up in the crash.
“Today Cadel Evans and other riders came up to my riders and said that they had decided to let the breakaway go,” Savio said. “They can decide what they want but we’re riding our own race.”
Although Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) ultimately won the stage with a late attack on the descent into Savona, Savio insisted that his team’s display in the finale had justified their decision to peg back the break.
“We wanted to take responsibility and bring our leader Franco Pellizzotti back into contention and then launch him on the final climb,” Savio said. “And Franco did attack on the climb, he was third over the top.”
Evans’ request for Androni-Venezuela to relent while Morabito latched back on seemed at odds with the actions of the BMC team on the road to Montecassino last week in the wake of the mass crash at the foot of the final climb. Rather than slow down, on that occasion Daniel Oss and Morabito propelled a small group featuring Evans clear of the field, allowing the Australian to gain 53 seconds on his overall rivals in unexpected circumstances.
In his post-stage press conference in Savona, Evans looked to differentiate between the two scenarios. “When there is a break and there’s a gap of two minutes and it doesn’t affect the result of the race, of course I ask the riders to slow down,” he said. But if you’re approaching the finish with the pink jersey and you know slowing down would mean a different kind of result, then it’s a different situation.”
Predictably, Savio did not see the distinction in quite the same way – “There wasn’t fair play from BMC at Montecassino,” he said – and his theme of defiance was picked up Pellizotti after the stage. “Small teams like us try to show ourselves every day. We took up the honour of driving the peloton,” Pellizotti said. “We’re not afraid of the big teams.”
Or, as Savio put it once more in the makeshift television studio, warming to the phrase: “We’re not the vassals of anybody. We don’t take orders from anybody.”