Tag Archives: giro

Tone-deaf UCI fails its fans; Porte and Clarke should hold their heads high

The UCI’s decision to penalise Richie Porte and Simon Clarke two minutes, punishment for Clarke’s sporting decision to give Porte his front wheel after the Sky leader had punctured, is a disgrace.

The penalty has effectively ended Porte’s chances of winning the Giro.

It has probably wrecked this Giro: for the second year in a row the winner will be decided by incompetent officialdom amidst confusion and controversy.

Yet it is no exaggeration to say that acts like Clarke’s are the embodiment of how Australians are raised to understand sportsmanship. It is part of our national sporting folklore that helping a rival who has suffered bad luck is one of the most noble things you can do on a sporting arena.

Events like John Landy’s 1956 decision to stop to help a fallen Ron Clarke in the Australian mile championships are iconic in our sporting culture. It is literally cast in bronze near the site of Melbourne’s former Olympic Park athletics track, a couple of drop punts from the MCG.

Australian sportsmanship can be problematic: witness the reaction to our cricketers and sledging. Yet acts like Landy’s represent us as we would like to be, more than perhaps we truly are. We are taught from a young age to aspire to respect our rivals and mates.

Many Australians will see Simon Clarke’s act of kindness to his friend as fitting squarely within the best of sportsmanship, as we understand it, having been raised to view these kinds of selfless acts as defining marks of character and sporting goodwill.

Many cycling fans will agree. The Giro d’Italia’s official Twitter account posted photos of the event with the admiring caption, in English, “This is cycling. This is the best sport in the world.”

First, the admiration...
First, the admiration…

 

 

https://twitter.com/giroditalia/status/600704412940685312/photo/1

Hours later the same account was announcing the penalties with a terse press release.

Then, the slap in the face.
Then, the slap in the face.

It is yet another baffling decision from professional cycling’s idiot bureaucracy.

Let’s be clear: low-level cheating is endemic in professional cycling. Watch a race for five minutes and you will see riders hanging onto team cars, being dragged along by a ‘sticky bottle’. You’ll see riders drafting off team cars to get back to the peloton; riders drafting camera motorbikes as they attack; teams routinely offer bottles and food to riders from other teams.

The UCI ignores all of this unless riders blatantly (and you have to be more blatant than Rafal Majka winking at the camera as he drafted a moto in last year’s Tour de France) abuse the rules.

At Paris-Roubaix recently, a big group of riders charged under a closing railway barrier, desperate to save a few seconds but putting their lives at risk. The UCI refused to act on its own rules, bleating about not being able to identify all the riders and mumbling that it wouldn’t be fair to punish only the ones it could identify.

It’s quite clear that the UCI frequently excuses and endorses low-level cheating, bending its own rules.

That’s long before we get to the more ‘serious’ cheating: doping, rumours of motorised bikes, race-fixing, which the UCI has a long and shameful history, perhaps now ending, of ignoring and shovelling under the carpet.

And yet it chooses to throw the rule book at two riders who have done something that the entire sporting world, including the race’s own PR team, agrees demonstrates great sportsmanship and admirable character.

A fine, perhaps, if it is determined to actually start enforcing its own rules right now, but a two-minute penalty?

The penalties show that the UCI remains determined in its officious, tone-deaf administration, completely isolated from the values it should be encouraging, from the wishes of its fans, and from the deeper sporting tradition it inhabits.

The decision is a disgrace to the UCI. Long live cycling.

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A Giro for a new era

Nairo Quintana was a deserving winner of the Giro d’Italia, but this Giro also told a broader story of the new generation of cycling’s elite pushing through and surpassing the old.

Quintana himself, at 24 also the winner of the best young rider classification, is arguably the most precocious GC rider of his generation.

A victory in the Giro seems like such a natural progression after his 2nd place in the 2013 Tour de France that it’s easy to take it for granted, but he had to shrug off a poor first half of the race, illness, and controversy over the way he took the maglia rosa from his compatriot Rigoberto Uran on Stage 16.

Fortunately the strength of Quintana’s rides in the Stage 19 time trial and the Stage 20 climb of Monte Zoncolan silenced any grumbles over the legitimacy of his victory. For perhaps the first time in his life, he was head and shoulders above his rivals.

On the really steep gradients Quintana is a virtuoso, all smoothness and light. Whatever emotion his stony face hides instead flows through his pedals. The contrast to Chris Froome, a man whose style is effective but has all the grace of a man fighting an octopus, is stark. It is a great shame that we’ll have to wait another year to see them resume their Tour de France rivalry.

But this Giro was about more than Quintana.

Cycling’s older generation is slipping inexorably out of the top echelon.

The Giro's jersey winners are all under 25 years old.
The Giro’s jersey winners are all under 25 years old.

Of all the men who won stages at this Giro, only two are over 30: Michael Rogers (34) and Pieter Weening (33).

The average age of the stage winners was just under 26.

Of the top 10 on general classification, seven were aged under 30.

Rafal Majka (24), Fabio Aru (23) and Wilco Kelderman (23) are all young enough to compete for the best young rider’s jersey.

Rigoberto Uran, Pierre Rolland and Robert Kiserlovski are all 27. Still young, but no longer considered emerging riders, they are beginning to deliver on promise shown over a number of seasons as professionals.

Of course we can’t forget the performances of Michael Matthews (23), Marcel Kittel (26) and Nacer Bouhanni (23). Double stage winner Diego Ulissi is 24.

King of the Mountains winner Julian Arredondo is 25.

That’s a huge amount of success for a lot of young riders.

Of the others in the top ten overall, Cadel Evans is the oldest at 37. Ryder Hesjedal is 33, and Domenico Pozzovivo is 31.

Evans’ stellar career is clearly winding down (albeit I think he has a couple of good seasons and some more wins left in him); Hesjedal seems to be rediscovering his form from a couple of years ago (his effort to hold Quintana’s wheel on the stage to Val Martello was outstanding); and Pozzovivo showed flashes of brilliance but suffered from a lack of consistency.

Meanwhile, the old guard of Italian cycling, Ivan Basso and Michele Scarponi, had forgettable races. Basso finished 15th, but was rarely in contention when it mattered, and eventually finished 32 minutes behind Quintana.

Scarponi had a horror Giro after starting the race as designated leader, withdrawing after stage 16. He was never a factor in the race, but his Astana team was saved disappointment by his understudy Aru.

Of the other older riders who would have been considered amongst the favourites not many years ago, Michael Rogers was 18th (although two stage wins was an incredible achievement); Damiano Cunego was 19th; Samuel Sanchez 24th.

Yes, this was definitely a Giro for the new era. The riders who lit up the race are (with some obvious exceptions) almost all of the post-Puerto era, untainted by controversy.

These are the names we’ll be following for the next few years at the top level of professional cycling. Note them down.

Stage Winner Age
1 Orica-GreenEdge
2 Kittel 26
3 Kittel 26
4 Bouhanni 23
5 Ulissi 24
6 Matthews 23
7 Bouhanni 23
8 Ulissi 24
9 Weening 33
10 Bouhanni 23
11 Rogers 34
12 Uran 27
13 Canola 25
14 Battaglin 24
15 Aru 23
16 Quintana 24
17 Pirazzi 27
18 Arredondo 25
19 Quintana 24
20 Rogers 34
21 Mezgec 25
Average 25.85