The inaugural Giro di Padania got off to a turbulent start on Tuesday, when protesters attempted to block the race at Mondovì. The incident followed an earlier demonstration at the start in Paesana, while road signs related to the race had been removed overnight.
La Repubblica and Gazzetta dello Sport report that protesters from the Rifondazione Comunista party and trade union movement CGIL (Italian General Confederation of Labour) sat on the road at Mondovì to halt the race’s passage. The route of the race had already been diverted from the centre of the town in order to reduce the possibility of it being interrupted by protests.
The demonstrators were protesting the Lega Nord political party’s close involvement in the organisation of the race, as well as the recent austerity measures passed by the Italian government, of which Lega Nord is a coalition partner. A nationwide general strike called by the CGIL also took place on Tuesday.
When the race arrived in Mondovì, the three early breakaways Federico Rocchetti (De Rosa Flaminia), Simone Campagnaro (D'Angelo & Antenucci) and Pawel Bernas (Poland) succeeded in passing unhindered, but the main peloton was briefly halted by the protest. Gazzetta dello Sport said that “strong words” and even some pushes were exchanged between riders and protesters.
Police broke up the demonstration shortly afterwards, although La Repubblica reports that a policeman was struck by a race car and taken to hospital.
The stage continued unimpeded thereafter, with Sacha Modolo (Colnago-CSF Inox) taking victory in the sprint ahead of Elia Viviani (Liquigas-Cannondale) in Laigueglia.
A backdrop of protest
The Giro di Padania has attracted a considerable degree of controversy in Italy since it was launched at the beginning of the summer. “Padania” is not a regional entity, but rather a name coined by the Lega Nord to refer to a section of northern Italy, from the Po valley northwards, which it hopes will gain autonomy from the south of the country.
Lega Nord senator Michelino Davico is heavily involved in the organisation of the Giro di Padania, and the leader’s jersey is green, the colour of the Lega Nord party.
The race start in Paesana was also an implicitly symbolic one – the Piedmontese town is close to the source of the Po, where every September the Lega Nord holds a ceremony that sees a vial of water drawn from the river and then brought across northern Italy to Venice, where it is poured into the lagoon. The Giro di Padania finishes in Montecchio Maggiore near Venice on Saturday.
Rifondazione Comunista secretary Paolo Ferrero, who was among the protesters at Mondovì on Tuesday, wrote to Italian president Giorgio Napolitano to call for the race’s cancellation last week. He noted that “Padania exists only in the propaganda and secessionist proposals of the Lega Nord” and decried the political overtones of the race.
Italian champion Giovanni Visconti (Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli), who was born in Turin but grew up in Sicily, is among those taking part in the race. Before the start, he told Tuttosport that he was focused on the race itself rather than the furor surrounding it.
“I’m not making a political statement, but I say to those who govern us to let racism and intransigence aside. North or South don’t exist except on a map,” Visconti said. “I was born in Turin and I’ve lived in Palermo. From my Sicily, I then moved to Tuscany, where I found a second family in order to be a rider. I’m deeply Italian, and I’m proud of it.”
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Barry Ryan is Head of Features at Cyclingnews. He has covered professional cycling since 2010, reporting from the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and events from Argentina to Japan. His writing has appeared in The Independent, Procycling and Cycling Plus. He is the author of The Ascent: Sean Kelly, Stephen Roche and the Rise of Irish Cycling’s Golden Generation, published by Gill Books.