American Peter Stetina has added his weight to objections against to the Giro d'Italia's new "Premio Miglior Discesista" classification for best descender. The Trek-Segafredo rider suffered a nearly career-ending crash in the 2015 Vuelta al Pais Vasco two years ago, and knows first hand what it's like to become 'collateral damage' in a fight that he never entered into.
The stage included the descent of the Alto del Vivero, a category 2 climb, and a sprint in Bilbao. Stetina's group was hurtling toward the finish when, with 500m to go, they came upon a series of waist-high posts invisible to the approaching bunch. Stetina ran right into it, shattering his kneecap and tibia and severing his patellar tendon.
One can understand why Stetina might be outraged about a competition that could increase the level of danger in the Giro d'Italia.
"This news really disturbs me," Stetina wrote to the North American riders union (ANAPRC) executive director Michael Carcaise, adding that he hoped the CPA riders organisation would pressure RCS Sport to remove it.
Stetina called the competition a "short sighted move from someone who doesn't understand racing".
"Have they considered that myself or my colleagues could become collateral of an idiot racer's bad choices in chasing this prize?"
Stetina used the example of the 2015 Tour de France, where, on stage 16, Warren Barguil attempted a risky inside pass on Geraint Thomas during a descent, but was unable to hold his line. The Frenchman ran into Thomas, forcing him off the road where he crashed into a utility pole. Luckily he was able to continue the race, but Stetina fears that similar risky moves could cause massive crashes for riders behind who haven't chosen to race for the prize.
"There are many more variables besides one guy descending a mountain at his limit. A rider will have to pull dangerous manoeuvres around others, in the name of seconds, putting both at peril," Stetina said. "So now I am entered in this competition without a choice!
"Professional athletes are entertainers, and fans love to witness their seemingly superhuman capabilities. But they are human. They are husbands, sons, fathers, brothers, and friends. They are capable of making mistakes. Let's not set up competitions where those mistakes can have fatal consequences. We witnessed this in 2011 (Wouter Weylandt) at this very race and the organizers should have the decency to honour his memory with safer protocol, not by glorifying dangerous risk taking," Stetina concluded.
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