When stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia was more than halved in distance because of a rider protest on Friday, race director Mauro Vegni vowed that "somebody will pay for this". After the stage, the race Twitter account announced who: the riders. The brief statement read: "The prizes of today' Stage will be donated from the organizers to a Medical Center committed in the fight against COVID-19."
Riders were unhappy with an additional 5km tacked onto an already long but flat 253km stage from Morbegno to Asti, overnight and reportedly came to a decision to protest the distance late Thursday.
On Friday morning, after riding 8km of a wet and cold neutral section, riders climbed back onto their team buses and relocated to Abbiategrasso where they started a truncated 124km stage.
Coming sandwiched in between the six-hour stage over the Stelvio on Thursday and another high mountain sufferfest with three ascents to Sestriere on Saturday, riders decided they'd had enough on stage 19.
"It wasn't about the weather conditions," EF Pro Cycling's Simon Clarke said after the stage, "it was about the distance and how hard this week's been. It just seemed unnecessary to race 260 plus kilometres of flat, so we tried to find a compromise whereby we could race and put on a spectacle, but not race unnecessarily long distances."
Despite the riders association (CPA) tweeting out thanks to the UCI jury and RCS Sport for acquiescing, saying "The health is the priority, especially in this COVID period. Reducing today's stage will not diminish the show, but will allow the immune defenses of the riders not to be put at greater risk", Vegni was fuming after the incident, saying he was "very upset about the way this happened".
The Giro director insisted that he had only learned of riders' concerns over the long transfers and potential for immune suppression amid the coronavirus pandemic by riding so long in cold, wet weather on the morning of the stage.
"It's an unacceptable decision, one that we've had to endure," Vegni told RAI. "Right now, we're thinking about getting to Milan but then somebody will pay for this."
If the donation of the stage prize money is allowed to go forward, stage winner Josef Černy (CCC Team) will be the one to pay the most, giving up at least €11,010 for first place with additional prizes for other classifications.
Together, the top 20 finishers would have been given €27,540, with maglia rosa Wilco Kelderman (Sunweb) netting €2,000 for the day in pink, and points, mountains and young riders classification leaders Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ), Ruben Guerreiro (EF Pro Cycling) and Jai Hindley (Sunweb) each losing out on €750 in addition to other prizes for most points, most time in the breakaway, the fighting spirit prize and the top teams.
The donation of the prize money didn't put any dents in CCC Team's celebration - the team is set to fold at the end of the season and had yet to win a Grand Tour stage since the Polish shoe maker took over from BMC as title sponsor.
"We support RCS’ decision to donate the prize money from stage 19 to the fight against COVID-19, especially as we are lucky to be even racing at this complicated time," said CCC Team boss Jim Ochowicz. "The most important thing for us is Josef Černy’s victory and we will celebrate that as a team. The decision to donate the prize money doesn’t detract from this special moment for the team."
At least the riders could celebrate one fact: the UCI did not fine a single rider or team director for any rule infractions during stage 19 – a first for the 2020 Giro d'Italia.
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