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Giro d'Italia peloton supports Gazprom-RusVelo riders with wristband

Richard Carapaz sports a blue wristband supporting banned Gazprom-Rusvelo riders at the Giro d'Italia
Richard Carapaz sports a blue wristband supporting banned Gazprom-Rusvelo riders at the Giro d'Italia (Image credit: CPA)

Riders at the Giro d'Italia, including race leader Richard Carapaz (Ineos Grenadiers) and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana Qazaqstan), wore blue wristbands decorated with the word: "Why?" at the start of stage 16 of the race in support of Gazprom-RusVelo riders and staff who have been left in limbo after the team was suspended following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The Gazprom-RusVelo team was suspended on March 1 as part of a ban that included all teams flying the Russian or Belarusian flag. Russian athletes on other teams can race and Igor Makarov remains on the UCI Management Committee despite being sanctioned by the Canadian government.

Gazprom-RusVelo was registered in Switzerland with its operating base in Italy and sponsorship coming from Gazprom Germany, and its 21-rider roster included nine Russians and seven Italians. After losing an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the team has now been closed down, with everyone left without their salaries. The UCI has done little to help the riders and staff, carefully following the political line of the International Olympic Committee.

Most riders have been unable to find a new team because of the UCI limit on team sizes. The international governing body has apparently refused to lift the limit for the fear of affecting the fight to avoid relegation from the WorldTour.

"There are 53 families involved in this case: a total of 164 people, mostly Europeans, who overnight found themselves with no work, no salary, no present and no future in cycling without a logical reason," The CPA riders' association said in a statement when announcing the wristband protest. 

"Since the emergence of the problem, we have tried in every way to facilitate dialogue between the UCI and the team to find a solution, unfortunately without success. It was not possible to let these athletes continue to race in a neutral jersey or to give them the opportunity to join other teams, as we had requested," CPA president Gianni Bugno said.

"Like all of us, the 21 riders involved in this case are absolutely opposed to and uninvolved in the war, but they are directly paying the consequences of it and, if the UCI does not intervene now, they will be forced to stop racing forever.

"The group (peloton) is united in support of peace. At the Giro d'Italia, as in every other race, athletes of all nationalities stand side by side, challenging each other respectfully and loyally. Sport is apolitical and must remain impartial. Sport unites, it does not divide. Having said that, the right to work of these athletes has been denied for no reason and, as an association, we feel we must protect it"

Marco Canola and Christian Scaroni spoke out during a presentation by the CPA in Salò, where Bugno insisted a rider protest or strike was not the best way to push for a solution.

"This wristband will not help to solve the problem but can help people understand what we are going through," Canola said.

"I don't understand why colleagues shouldn't wear it, it's not a brand, it doesn't harm their sponsor. The situation is unsustainable. There are two of us here, the others are at home and are sick from desperation.

"It is not fair that we pay for a fault that is not ours. We want the UCI to give us answers, the ones we have received so far have been very vague. We tried the diplomatic route, without having any effect. If these are the leaders of cycling, they do not deserve to govern our beautiful sport, because they do not embody its values."

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Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.