ORVIETO, Italy (VN) – Giro d’Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan strongly defended the use of the strade bianche white roads in the face of criticism from some riders who suggest that dirt roads don’t belong in stage racing.
Zomegnan told VeloNews that stages over the white gravel roads of Tuscany are not only safe, but said they’re an essential part of the drama of the Giro and provide a backdrop that sets professional cyclists apart from the every-day fan.
“Maybe they (the critics) don’t know what cycling is. We have to put the riders on a platform so they can show the world they are worthy of being called professionals and champions,” Zomegnan said. “We have to put them in a situation to be able to do something that normal person cannot do, to let them demonstrate the difference between a cyclo-tourist and a champion.”
A handful of riders publicly wondered about the appropriateness of the white roads, especially in light of the tragic death of Wouter Weylandt just two days ago.
Marco Pinotti (HTC-Columbia) posted comments on his Twitter page suggesting that the downhill sections off today’s third category climb were too dangerous, writing: “Most of them were almost downhill and way too dangerous than last year, in my opinion, a bit too much.”
Stage winner and race leader Pieter Weening (Rabobank) said he wanted to be at the front end of the action in today’s stage not only to have a chance to win because it would be safer to be ahead of the race instead eating dust behind big groups of riders.
“I cannot complain now because I won the stage, but when you see it (the profile) in the race book, you think maybe it’s going to be a tough one and you have to be alert all the time,” Weening said. “For sure it was dangerous. On the dirt roads today, they were good, but it’s always risky.”
The most striking comments came from Danilo Di Luca, who is back in the Giro following his racing ban, telling RAI TV: “The Giro d’Italia is a road race, so we should race on the road.”
Zomegnan hesitated before replying: “You have to remember Danilo Di Luca tried to attack on the same type of roads on the Colle delle Fenestre to try to win the 2005 Giro. Maybe that was a long time ago for him, I don’t know.”
Zomegnan said the white roads will not necessarily be part of every Giro, but assured they will return from time to time.
“We have the spring classic now that has quickly become one of the most popular one-day races of the year,” he said. “We will look at the route from year to year. Maybe next year it won’t be part of the Giro, but it won’t be because of any other reason. Last year, the white roads were part of an epic day at the Giro. This year we were missing Cadel Evans, Alexander Vinokourov. Maybe we have some riders who don’t know very well their jobs.”
Handling the Weylandt crisis
Zomegnan also thanked the larger Giro community for the strong support and compassion shown in the wake of Wouter Weylandt’s death in a crash in stage.
Zomegnan said his experiences as a journalist during the 1995 Tour de France, when Fabio Casartelli died in a crash, shaped his reaction on how to handle the crisis.
“I made sure that everything was done in a correct way. It was a tragic day for cycling. We made sure the family was taken care of. We listened to the concerns of the team. We did everything possible in what was a very difficult situation,” he said. “I remember in the 1995 Tour. Richard Virenque didn’t know what had happened when he was on the podium. When the doctors told me of the gravity of the situation, we immediately turned off the music, cancelled the podium, everything to respect the situation.”