Giro d’Italia leader Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEdge) has defended the decision to partly neutralise stage four of the race as weather conditions turned the finishing circuit into the tarmacked equivalent of an outdoor skating rink.
Matthews post-stage description of the Italian roads as "icy" might not have been meteorologically accurate but it hit the nail on the head when it came to the degree of slipperiness of the Bari city-centre roads on Tuesday afternoon.
As Matthews pointed out, in parts of Australia (and in Ireland, where the heavy rain was also a source of complaint for many Giro riders) the roads are more often subject to wet weather than in drier southern Italy.
That means that occasional sudden downpours like on Tuesday in the Bari area render normally dusty roads (where the tarmac does not get ‘washed’ as often by rain and is dirtier) far more dangerous.
There was one point during the race when Matthews, BMC’s Manuel Quinziato and Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Alessandro Petacchi were having a visibly tense on-the-bike discussion about what should happen. But as Matthews diplomatically pointed out "I had the pink jersey so it was up to me to organise things and there were a lot of different ideas kicking around."
"I thought the best way to do it was to neutralise it until we got to the course [8.5 kilometre finishing circuit in Bari, tackled nine times] then see if it was safe to race."
"However, when we got to the course, conditions were still really bad, it was icy out there, so it was best to neutralize the race [for the gc riders]."
"That way the sprinters could still do their sprints and there was no time bonus. But if the race had gone to plan” - and had been raced normally “instead of five or six riders down, there could have been 100 guys down."
Riding for the first time in southern Italy, Matthews pointed out that "From what I was experiencing the first five to ten kilometres we were sliding on the straight roads. When it comes to maybe 15 corners in a lap of eight kilometres, it was always going to be really difficult to have a clearcut race. And with all the gc riders not wanting to lose time on the finish line and the sprinters wanting to win the stage it was not possible to have a clearcut race."
Exclusive video with Matthews shot before the stage start.
"There have been a lot of races recently when it’s not been safe to race but the riders’ don’t have a say."
"So it’s nice that the commissaires respected our decision and everyone’s safe and we can do the next three weeks with all the skin on our bodies which is the main goal at the end of the day."
As for Wednesday and Thursday’s summit finishes, Matthews says they will be much more his territory than the flatter stages the race has seen so far.
"It’s possible I will lose the jersey," Matthews said. "But coming into this Giro these two stages were my two goals. I will be going 110 percent to win them and to keep the jersey for the team."
"I’m probably in my best climbing form than my best sprinting form, so it’s probably more suited for me than other rider. So tomorrow and the day after are my main goals."