Mauro Vegni, the head of cycling at RCS Sport and so the de facto race director of the Giro d'Italia shook Nairo Quintana's hand on the final podium on Sunday, clearly happy that this year's race had ended on a high in Trieste.
The Giro d'Italia is always a three-week long soap opera, with moments of drama, emotion and beauty mixed with arguments polemics and heated discussion. It reflects Italian life near perfectly.
Vegni was born in Tuscany, grew up in Rome and has lived in Milan for nearly two decades. He is a true Italian and can often be seen locked in animated discussion with his loyal staff and the riders but is deeply proud of being in charge of the Giro d'Italia.
During the winter, Vegni was disappointed and felt almost offended that Vincenzo Nibali had decided not to defend his 2013 victory and focus instead on the Tour de France. But he wisely shifted his position at the start in Belfast, describing this year's race and the many young riders on the start list, as a Giro of renewal. The three weeks of racing proved that he was right, with the confirmation of Quintana's talents, the success of the Colombian riders and the emergence of Fabio Aru - Sardinia's first ever Grand Tour contender.
"I think the generation of riders who will fight for the yellow jersey at this year's Tour de France are close to the end of their best years, while the riders at the Giro d'Italia showed that they're the future of the sport," Vegni told Cyclingnews with pride.
"Someone said the race lacked as big-name star rider but I always said that was a Giro d'Italia for the future stars, for the talented young riders in the sport. The close racing, the changes in the classification and also the confirmation of an new Italian talent in Fabio Aru and other young Italian riders created a special atmosphere at the race and produced what I think was a great race."
"Quintana was second at the Tour last year and has won the Giro d'Italia this year. Results like that don’t happen by chance. Some riders win one Grand Tour but then are never able to repeat their success, I think Quintana will win several more Grand Tours in the years to come; he's special."
The great Grande Partenza
The Grand Partenza in Belfast and Dublin was widely considered a huge success and gave this year's Giro d'Italia an excellent push off.
It was arguably the high point of the race for RCS Sport. It put some much needed extra cash (reportedly 4.5 million euro) in RCS Sport's coffers after the scandal of the alleged missapropriation of funds from the company's accounts. It showed that RCS Sport can handle a complicated plane transfer back to Italy and so opened the door to possible other "international" starts in other European countries and cities and even as far away as the Middle East and the East coast of north America.
"It was great to see so many people want to join in the event and celebration, in Belfast and Ireland everything seemed to be pink and everybody was happy. It was a special moment," Vegni said.
"Even before this year's Grande Partenza we'd had a lot of requests for more starts outside of Italy and we're open to others. We won’t do one every other year, even if that's the case recently. We might start out of Italy for several years or we might stay in Italy for several years. It all depends on the project and special atmosphere we can build around the start location."
Vegni and RCS Sport seemed to have finally realised that the Giro d'Italia is far more than just a bike race.
"I've never thought," Vegni claimed. "I know that the Giro d'Italia is the 'file rouge' that ties everything together: the party atmosphere, the culture, traditions and beauty of a country. I think the Giro can be a way of promoting what we can call 'Made in Italy', everything that is special and admired about Italian culture, around the world."
The Italians also seemed to fall back in love with he Giro d'Italia this year after doping scandals left many of the tifosi angry and disappointed. This year huge number of people rode up the major climbs to see the riders close up or simply stood on the roadside to see the race go by.
"The thing that pleases me the most is that I saw far more people along the road side than I've seen for a number of years. That's a sign that people still love cycling and still love the Giro," Vegni said.
"I don't have any specific numbers but there seemed to be a lot of people. The crowds on the Zoncolan were amazing and the hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I emerged out of the last tunnel and saw the huge crowds."
The Stelvio-gate debate
Of course there were some difficult moments and mistakes were made during the three weeks of racing. Some were minor with little effect, others were huge and we so disasterous that they initially cast a shadow on Quintana's claims to be a deserved race leader.
The race directors made the rash decision to somehow "neutralise" the early part of the descent of the Stelvio on stage 16, in an belated attempt to protect the riders in the cold conditions, despite having sent the riders up the snow covered Gavia and Stelvio in the first place.
The confusion on the descent of the Stelvio meant that Quintana, Ryder Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland got away and gained several minutes on their overall rivals. That angered the teams who had stopped their riders and so lost time but the UCI refused to bend the rules and cut time from Quintana's lead.
"Do you want to know what really annoys me about the Stelvio stage? That the people who talked about the polemics and the rules, the race radio message and the time gain, have forgotten that the riders were heroic for riding in those conditions," Vegni said.
"People criticized the riders after what happened in Bari on the wet roads but they showed their professionality and courage by racing in the cold and the snow."
Despite Stelviogate and the tension in caused, Vegni made it clear the Giro d'Italia will continue to climb the highest roads of Italy.
"It's not because I want to be sadistic with the race route or that I don’t care about the riders. I think I've always shown that I care about the riders," he claimed.
"The fact is that a Grand Tour can’t have stages with climb that are all below 2000 metres. We were unlucky with the conditions last year and to some extent this year but we won’t give up on including the legendary high climbs. A Grand Tour without the great climbs isn’t a true Grand Tour."
Milan start and Turin finish for the 2015 Giro d'Italia?
It is almost certain that the 2015 Giro d'Italia will start and end in Italy, with Milan and Turin the leading candidates.
Milan hosts the Expo exhibition in the summer of 2015 between May and October and a Grand Partenza in Milan would be a perfect way to show off Vegni's 'Made in Italy' values of the Giro d'Italia. Turin is the European capital of sport in 2015 and so would be a suitable location for the finish. As ever funding and political will in Italy will play a huge part in deciding.
Vegni refused to reveal the start and finish cities or detals of the route of the 2015 Giro d'Italia. All he revealed is that the 98th edition of the Corsa Rosa will be virtually all o Italian roads.
"Turin is one of the candidates to host the end of the 2015 Giro d'Italia. It's not the only one because in 2015 there's also the Expo in Milan for example. We'll study all the offers and options in June and decide carefully. Everyone will have to be a little bit more patient but I'm sure it'll be another great Giro."
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