Giro stage turns into farce after rider protest

BY MARK MEADOWS
Last updated 08:46 18/05/2009

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This morning's (NZ time) ninth stage of the Giro d'Italia through Milan did not count towards the general classification because of a rider protest over safety.

Spain's Pedro Horrillo Munoz was seriously hurt after falling down a ravine on Sunday's (NZ time) stage, prompting riders to decide the fast 163km city centre course was too dangerous.

The risks from parked cars contributed to their decision.

"We did not believe today's route was very safe for our health," race leader Danilo di Luca told reporters.

"Because of this we asked and obtained an annulment of the ninth stage times from the course directors. We apologise to the public, we hope they can understand our wishes. We move forward."

The riders still cycled the Milan course but in a leisurely fashion, chatting to each other and waving to the crowds.

The peleton stopped at one point to address the public, leading to an angry response from the thousands of fans who lined the route.

LPR's Di Luca, flanked by seven-times Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong, tried his best to explain the decision after he was handed a microphone.

EMBARRASSED ORGANISERS

The riders then finished the route with Britain's Mark Cavendish of Team Columbia, who wore the pink jersey after the first day, winning the stage.

"It's always going to be dangerous in a city. Hopefully we gave the public a good show anyway," he told Rai television.

Team Katusha's Filippo Pozzato was more explicit and said riders had been too hasty to effectively cancel the stage.

"We have stood together, all united but in the end I think it was the wrong decision because you need to talk before the event. In my opinion we've made a mess," the Italian said.

Embarrassed organisers did not announce the times would not count until after the stage had started, putting a brave face on the situation.

"Today's stage is to pay homage to the city of Milan, which gave birth to the Giro d'Italia way back in 1909," a statement said.

The Giro is celebrating its centenary this year.

Rabobank's Horrillo, who fell 60 metres after crashing on the eighth stage and had to be winched into a helicopter, is out of an induced coma and has moved his limbs.

His condition remains serious, with broken bones and head trauma, but doctors hope he can make a full recovery.

On Saturday (NZ time), Armstrong complained that the downhill finish to stage seven was too dangerous in heavy rain.

Tonight (NZ time) is a rest day with the 262km 10th stage from Cuneo to Pinerolo due to take place on Wednesday (NZ time). The world's second biggest stage race finishes on May 31 in Rome.

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-Reuters

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