Many of the big name sprinters at the Giro d'Italia will have packed their bags and flown home by the time stage 13 starts on Friday, but does it devalue the red jersey competition?
Greipel won three stages, including Thursday’s stage to Bibione, near Venice in northeast Italy. He leads the points classification and holds the red jersey by 169 points over Giacomo Nizzolo (Trek-Segafredo) with 138.
Australian sprinter Caleb Ewan (Orica-GreenEdge) will not have a chance to make up points to wear the red jersey because he also has plans to leave. For them, and riders like Marcel Kittel (Etixx–Quick Step) who abandoned on Sunday in the red jersey, the Giro travels too many mountainous roads in the next nine days to make it worthwhile carrying on.
Quitting while in the lead is something that would be unimaginable for a sprinter to do in the Tour de France if he had the equivalent green jersey and the Giro organiser isn’t best pleased with the situation.
“What can I say? I’m not happy,” cycling director of organiser RCS Sport, Mauro Vegni told Cycling Weekly.
“I respect them. Greipel gave a lot to this race, but to see a rider with one of the jerseys pull out is sad. There are still two to three [sprint] stages left, but the other Grand Tours are not that much easier. The red jersey is as big as the [Tour’s] green jersey. We brought in the red jersey [a few years ago when it changed points system] to give the sprinters something to fight for and win.”
Unlike Kittel, who left quietly without much fuss, Greipel said in advance that he would leave and faced questions on his decision.
“I understand the concern, but before coming to the Giro we decided to leave after stage 12,” Greipel said. “The sports directors agreed with this. I understand how the fans feel, but I can tell you that I’ve fought hard and it was hard for me to continue. I’m a human, not a machine.
“The next week, it doesn’t suit me as a sprinter. The Giro is the Giro and the Tour is the Tour, and I have to make decisions in my life. It’s not easy.”
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“There are certain sprinters that do want to stay around for [the red jersey], but the top guys like Greipel and Kittel, they want to go for the Tour de France stages, which is obviously a bigger race than here,” Ewan explained. “They saw the profiles of the Giro, and saw the good sprint opportunities and so they would’ve come here as a preparation race.”
Ewan placed second today, his closest yet to winning a stage. He refused to say if he would go home, but indicated he likely would. “The plan was for me to only stay to stage 12,” he said. “I’m still young, so maybe it’s better to stop before I dig myself too much into a hole.”
With Greipel out, Italy’s Nizzolo will automatically inherited the red jersey for stage 13 starting in Palmanova tomorrow.
“You should ask the ones going home [why they do], but I’m staying,” Nizzolo said. “It’s not just that the Italians stay, it’s more about one’s racing programme. If they have in mind to also race the Tour de France or not. Staying here, it becomes hard to do the two Grand Tours at a high level.”
Nizzolo added that he considers the red jersey as important as the Tour’s green jersey. “I think it is,” he said. “We will continue to try to win it, it’s big for our team.”