Today's Giro d'Italia stage in Milan was supposed to be a showcase event - a criterium circuit lined with the city's race fans all out to watch the pros in action, and to celebrate the Giro's centenary.
Just prior to the stage start, the organisers announced that there would be no time gaps awarded and no time bonuses given, leaving the way free for the sprinters to strut their stuff. The stage was set.
However, things didn't quite go to plan as the riders decided to make a protest and take it very easy around the tight city centre circuit. The race conditions were made worse by parked cars at the side of the road, effectively funnelling the riders into a narrow ribbon.
Race leader and vice president of the Italian riders' association, Danilo Di Luca, said that they'd carry on but would not race.
"We're sorry for the public but the circuit isn't safe," Di Luca said. "We don't want to risk anything."
The riders concerns were justified and come after two days of incidents. During yesterday's stage, Spanish rider Pedro Horrillo crashed badly and tumbled down the side of a mountain sustaining horrific injuries. He was airlifted to hospital and only came out of a coma this morning.
After the previous day's stage (Friday), many riders had aired their disgust at the slippery descent into the finish town - none more so that Lance Armstrong who commented via his Twitter feed: "I've seen it all now. 25 mile fast decent to the finish. In the pissing rain. Makes no sense. The boys in the bunch are livid."
RACE DIRECTOR NOT HAPPY
Giro d'Italia race director Angelo Zomegnan was less than sympathetic to the riders' pooping of his party.
?I think that when a race starts it has to finish," Zomegnan said. "People stop when they don?t know where they?re going.
?Before the race started we agreed with them to neutralise the times to avoid more adrenaline in the sprint. It was a good decision, especially after what happened yesterday but I was the first to cancel all the celebrations at he finish in Bergamo.
"If this circuit is dangerous then the Amstel Gold Race and Ghent-Wevelgem should be cancelled too. They?ve betrayed the public and I hope that they start to race seriously soon.
"It?s true there were other technical finishes in Mayrhofen and Chiavenna but we changes the road and took our roundabouts.
"If they don?t want to race we?ll take some decisions this evening," Zomegnan concluded tersely.
CIPOLLINI: "THERE ARE BIGGER PROBLEMS THAT NEED SORTING OUT"
Former professional rider Mario Cipollini was at the roadside in Milan, and spoke to Italian TV about the protest.
"I don?t know details of why the riders are protesting but they?ve had some difficult finishes so far in the race," Cipollini said.
"I?m not a rider anymore, I?m a tifoso and in Milan, and the tifosi deserved to see a spectacular day of racing. I think they could have protested differently, without being so aggressive. I think there are bigger problems that need to be sorted out."
"I?ve raced in the centre of Milan several times and the road seems okay. The last kilometre is also straight, so I can?t see the reason to protest today. I know there was a nasty accident yesterday and safety is important but it?s not respectful to protest like that at the centenary Giro."
Full stage report and photos later today
|Giro d'Italia 2009 links|
Stage eight: Siutsou makes it two in a row for Columbia-Highroad
Stage seven: Boasson Hagen takes treacherous stage
Stage six: Scarponi wins longest stage with big break
Stage five: Menchov wins mountain battle as Di Luca grabs the pink jersey
Stage four: Di Luca denies Soler on the line; Lovkvist takes pink jersey
Stage three: Cavendish loses pink jersey after being caught behind late crash
Stage two: Petacchi denies Cavendish the stage win
Stage one: Cavendish in pink as Columbia prove their point to Garmin
Cavendish cool before Milan sprint
No sympathy for Armstrong from Giro boss
Boasson Hagen celebrates his birthday early
Cavendish overjoyed for Boasson Hagen
Armstrong 'livid' at dangerous Giro stage
Astana riders wear faded kit in protest over unpaid wages
Armstrong sees Leipheimer in pink
Giro news round-up: 14 May
Wiggins: 'I can't keep smashing away on the climbs'
Wiggins eyes top 20 finish overall
Armstrong after Giro stage 5: 'That was hard'
Cavendish looking for Giro revenge
Armstrong happy with stage four performance
Lovkvist will fight to keep Giro lead
Giro could be last race for Armstrong's team
Vande Velde crashes out of Giro
Petacchi claims he didn't know of Cavendish crash
Cavendish struggles to find consolation in pink jersey
Petacchi: I've been working out how to beat Cav
I'm wearing pink on behalf of the team, says Cavendish
Wiggins ready to win Giro team time trial
Friday, May 8: Giro news round-up
Cavendish out to topple Garmin in Giro team time trial
Team time trial start times
Cycling Weekly's Giro d'Italia top ten prediction
Brits in Venice for Giro presentation
Armstrong overshadows overall favourites at Giro presentation
Armstrong confident of finding new sponsor for Astana
Armstrong working to save Astana team
Wiggins in top form for Giro
Garmin Slipstream kitted out for Giro opener
Dan Lloyd gets late Giro call-up
Armstrong's special Giro bikes unveiled
Daniel Lloyd overlooked for Giro ride
Cummings and Thomas not selected for Giro d'Italia
Cavendish tests Giro form at Tour of Romandie
David Millar confirms he's riding in 2009 Giro
Bennati to take on Cavendish in Giro 2009 sprints
2009 Giro d'Italia to start in Venice
Evans and Silence-Lotto disagree on Giro 2009 ride
Armstrong to ride 2009 Giro
Tuttosport reveals 2009 Giro d'Italia route
Dolce & Gabbana design new Giro jersey
2009 Giro d'Italia guide and features
Find the pink jersey competition
Giro d'Italia 2009: The Big Preview
British riders to have led the grand tours
CW's Giro top ten prediction
Brits in the Giro 2009
Brits in the Tours: From Robinson to Cavendish
CW Classic: the 1987 Giro d'Italia
2008 Giro d'Italia archive
Giro d'Italia 2008 coverage index - race reports, photos, results
From rule Britannia to cruel Britannia
Giro 2008: The final word on this year's race
Brits at the 2008 Giro: photo special
Five days to go, what's in store?
Giro d'Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 27)
Giro d'Italia 2008: Rest day review (May 19)
Giro d'Italia 2008 preview
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