The whispers began in the hour after the stage, and when Team Sky's Dave Brailsford and Dario Cioni arrived at the race permanence in Forlì and marched straight to the commissaires' meeting room, it was clear that this was no mere rumour.
By the time the Sky delegation left 20 minutes later, all that was lacking was final confirmation that Richie Porte had indeed been docked two minutes for accepting a wheel change from Orica-GreenEdge's Simon Clarke following his puncture in the finale of stage 10 of the Giro d'Italia.
The race jury, led by president Ingo Rees of Germany, left the permanence immediately after Brailsford, but without speaking to reporters, leaving them instead to circle Giro director Mauro Vegni on the steps outside. Pending the official communique from the commisaires, however, Vegni was understandably unwilling to go on the record with a statement on the matter.
A resourceful reporter from Gazzetta dello Sport took it upon himself to jog to the Giro press office's mobile administrative centre – a pink bus parked outside the press centre – in a bid to speed up the process, and he returned a couple of moments later proudly flourishing a freshly printed sheet of A4 paper and thrust it dramatically into Vegni's hand.
After reading the document, which simply listed Porte and Clarke's names, their offence and their sanction – "Art. 12.1.040. Non regulation assistance to a rider from another team, stage races. 200 CHF fine and 2' penalty" – Vegni gave his reaction to the news.
"Obviously as the director of the Giro d'Italia, I have to say that I'm sorry about this because it's a further burden for a rider who hoped to do something important at this Giro, but this doesn't mean that he can't still do that,” Vegni said. "But clearly there was little to be done, rules are rules, and I think rules have to be respected for the credibility of this sport and, in this case, the credibility of the Giro d'Italia."
The two-minute penalty – in addition to the 47 seconds he lost on the road – means that Porte drops from third overall at 22 seconds to 12th overall, some 3:09 off the pink jersey of Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Vegni has worked at RCS for 21 years and has been involved in race organisation for even longer, and he could not recall a similar incident at the Giro. "I think it was a mistake made by the riders in absolute good faith. Perhaps if somebody had reminded them of the rules it wouldn't have happened but that's talking with the benefit of hindsight," he said. "Off the top of my head I can't remember anything like it."
Polemica is a staple of the Giro, but Vegni dismissed the theory floated by one reporter that rival teams had alerted the commissaires to Porte's infraction, pointing out that photographs of the incident were already circulating on the internet. Indeed, Porte himself had retweeted photographs of the front wheel change by way of thanking Clarke for his help. "Within three minutes there were pictures circulating on the internet of the rider Clarke giving him a wheel," he said.
Vegni said that RCS Sport had had no input or influence on the decision of the commissaires, and his only recommendation was that they inform Sky's management in person rather simply by press release. "I just told the president of the commissaires to alert them first, rather than have them find out via a cold statement."
At no point, however, did Brailsford and Sky have the possibility of appealing the decision or negotiation on the severity of Porte's sanction, though Vegni said that they had expressed their disappointment at the verdict during the meeting.
"They maintained the penalty was unfair but that's the rule and the commissaires have put out a communique where the rule is outlined clearly," Vegni said. "For the first offence, it's two minutes, for the second it's five, for the third it's ten and I believe for a fourth offence, the penalty is expulsion. So it's not like they can say: 'We'll give you a discount, we'll give you 1:30.'
"I hope they [Sky] reflect on this matter and they realise that there has been no injustice here: a rule that has existed for a long time was applied to an incident in the race. I hope that when things calm down later this evening they'll realise that the rule had to be applied."
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