Giro d'Italia stage in Bari neutralised for rider safety

Both Giro d’Italia organisers and the head of the Professional Riders Association (CPA), Gianni Bugno, have defended the decision to neutralise the stage 4 with one lap to go for the general classification riders, with times for the overall classification taken eight kilometres from the finish. No time bonuses were awarded on the stage.

The extremely slippery road surfaces on the stage - caused by heavy, if intermittent, rainfall during Tuesday’s short, flat stage from Giovinazzo to Bari - rendered racing very dangerous.

"We decided with [Luca] Paolini (Katusha) to do a couple of laps and then see what would happen," Giro director Mauro Vegni told Italian television. Poalini's veteran status made him an unofficial spokesman for the peloton as they approached the finishing circuit, drawing alongside the race director’s car to update him on the peloton’s decisions.

"We could have risked a lot of riders going home early, we have to think of the riders’ safety first, three quarters of the peloton could have crashed."

The collective decision then grew in the peloton for a slower than usual pace on eight of the the nine laps through Bari that followed. Only the final lap was raced flat out - and then only for the sprinters.

But although markedly steadier than usual, the peloton’s speed was by no means the funeral procession-like rate of progress that sometimes happens when riders are unhappy at dangerous conditions in bike races. Nor, unlike, in other Grand Tour protests, did the whole issue spiral out of control.

In the Giro 2009, the conditions in Milan were such that it led to the riders briefly stopping on the finish line in protest before continuing the stage, whilst in the Vuelta a España in 1999 team directors angry at their riders having to tackle a risky rainsoaked descent through the hilly Montjuic park on several laps of a finishing circuit first delayed the start by 45 minutes as they held a lengthy meeting over what to do.

The Vuelta peloton finally rode through the rain at a snails pace whilst - when organisers realised the speed was so slow that the tv coverage would be ruined - the number of laps to be covered of the finishing circuit reduced from ten to seven. However, the bunch then stopped completely after the fourth lap with several riders dismounting and placing their bikes across the front of the pack to stop others from getting through. Finally Italians Fabio Roscioli and Massimiliano Lelli wormed their way through the unofficial picket line and ‘broke away’, with Roscioli ‘winning’ the stage.

The 2014 Giro ‘semi-neutralisation’ of stage four was a much simpler affair, and afterwards was defended by Gianni Bugno - president of the riders association (CPA) and a former Giro winner himself.

"With the rain, it was certainly very slippery and could have created problems for the general classification," Bugno told a small group of reporters.

"I think it was the right decision to neutralise the race for the last lap. The last lap was the one where it rained the most."

"I think having circuits like this is fine, and in fact you can actually limit the damage on them."

"When you’ve got a circuit like this and you know what the situation is, you can decide to neutralise the race with a lap to go or race until the end. But if it’s a normal road stage and you come across the same problem, it’s a lot harder to neutralise the race before the finish."

Bugno pointed out that even if the stage had not been neutralised, riders would have still ridden more slowly than usual because if they went any harder they would have fallen.

Asked if the stage was a further justification for the continuing use of race radios - already used in WorldTour races but not at lower levels - Bugno said "The question of radio earpieces has always been one of our initiatives. We’ve always been in favour of radios because of their usefulness in terms of safety."

Whilst several stages were altered because of poor weather in the Giro in 2013, this year the finishing circuit of the Montjuic Park in the Volta a Catalunya’s stage seven was also shortened because of heavy rain and the risks of crashes. The Tour of Romandie’s first mass start stage was also considerably reduced in length, from 200 kilometres to 88.9 kilometres, because of snow on the Simplon pass.

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Alasdair Fotheringham

Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 bar one, as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. As well as working for Cyclingnews, he has also written for The IndependentThe GuardianProCycling, The Express and Reuters.