If you’ve been following along, the Giro d’Italia, like most other events this year, has been rocked with uncertainty. What racing has been done has been thrilling and beautiful, as we have come to expect from what is the favourite Grand Tour of the hardcore cycling community at large, but, as coronavirus cases rise and teams start dropping like flies, pressure on the race organiser (RCS Sport) and, more broadly, on the world governing body of cycling (UCI) is rising to cancel the event, along with subsequent events scheduled for the near future.
An official letter was sent by the EF Pro Cycling team to the UCI, requesting a cancellation of the event and stating “it must be expected that further illness will result,” referring to the spate of positive tests that have already come to light after the first rest day on Monday. The letter continues; “it would be better for the Giro and the UCI World Tour… [if] this be done in a systematic, holistic way versus a chaotic withdrawal on a team by team basis.” The request was rejected by the UCI, who reportedly stated that “we now face a challenge to finish the season and this can be achieved by continuing this spirit of collaboration and unity in professional cycling. With these measures, we trust in everyone’s cooperation in the common goal of continuing our sport in the safest possible conditions.”
It appears that the UCI is dead set on its continuation, no doubt due to the significant loss in revenue that has befallen the sport due to the rampant virus, but Johnathan Vaughters, boss of EF Pro Cycling, is left monumentally frustrated by the rejection of EF’s request and announcement of plans to continue as normal. The official request from Vaughters’ team made reference to a “clearly compromised bubble,” something undeniable at this point with the loss of two major teams already, and more surely to come. Vaughters, in his response to the UCI’s rejection, said that “the response doesn’t really address our suggestion. It doesn’t actually even take note of the suggestion to end the race early… The UCI response doesn’t read as if they took our concerns very seriously.”
The frustration is understandable but, of course, the situation is complex. The risk versus reward factor is hard to estimate, but what is certain is that there is a growing sense of unease among the riders of the peloton. Belgian rider Thomas De Gendt, of team Lotto Soudal, expressed that he and his team-mates are “starting to feel unsafe” at the Giro. A team meeting was held with his six other teammates about whether to continue or the exit the race before things get any worse. For the time-being, they have elected to continue, as have the UCI. For the time being, the race will do the same. As a Brit, I naturally favour the “keep calm and carry on” approach, but the more questions arise surrounding the safety of the event, the harder it will be to do so. For now, it would be best to appreciate the beauty of the country of Italy and the fantastic racing we’ve seen from the likes of Joao Almeida and Peter Sagan. If it ends early, it ends early. Let’s hope the UCI do what is in the best interests of their staff and riders, whatever that may be.