Bradley Wiggins has called the rider protest on stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia 2020 a "shambles" and that the professional made more of a stand against racing 258km in the rain than they did against racism at the recent Tour de France.
The former Tour de France winner gave his opinion on British Eurosport's live coverage of the Italian Grand Tour, saying as a rider he would have gone along with the refusal to ride the opening half of the stage, but that being a retired pro has given him perspective on the situation, saying it's a privilege for the riders to be racing the Giro d'Italia.
"The whole thing is just a shambles. I think everyone ends up looking pretty stupid," Wiggins said. "Obviously, I'm talking from the perspective of someone four to five years into retiring. Let's make it clear, back when I was a rider I would've been the first to not want to race in the race.
"But from the other side of the fence, I realise just how much of a privilege it is to be a pro cyclist. The riders are very fortunate and they deserve it, in terms of how much they get paid these days, and also the current climate around the world at the moment, cycling is very romantic and it's a passion and escapism for many people from the strain and pressure of daily life.
"I think riders do have a responsibility to ride and that's why they're elite cyclists because it's doing something that normal people perceive themselves as being unable to do, something of this magnitude."
Wiggins says the whole episode shows the lack of unity amongst the riders, and that the CPA riders' union doesn't act like a union.
"I can see everybody's point. The rider's point – do we need a 258km stage the day after the Stelvio stage? The race organisers are happy to cut a day like [stage 20] down, which impacts on whether someone like Tao Geoghegan Hart can attack and win the race having dropped Wilco Kelderman yesterday – 'we don't want to cut this but we're happy to cut that'.
"The whole thing just shows the lack of unity, the lack of organisation and the lack of power the riders have as a group. The union doesn't act as a union – can we say 'willy waving contest' here?"
The 40-year-old elaborated on his point that being a professional cyclist is a privilege in today's world compared to other employment such as those working in healthcare and those who only ride their bikes for pleasure, adding the fact the Giro d'Italia is even able to take place this year should mean riders make the most of it.
"To ride your bike for 250km for six hours – if it's in the rain or not – it's a little bit disproportionate to what some people have to do, like the front line in the army, working in the NHS in the current climate.
"That's why I see this as a privilege. Lots of people sat in offices ride their bikes at weekends for passion and love for the sport, that's why people fall in love with this sport because of what these riders have to go through.
"We're lucky to have a Giro d’Italia this year. From that respect, make the most of it. We’ve seen what it’s like when there are no races."
Finally, Wiggins said the Giro peloton made more of a stand against racing stage 19 than they did against racism at the Tour de France, where some riders made a small gesture of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement by wearing "no to racism" masks while Kévin Reza, the only black rider in the race, rode alongside the yellow jersey at the front of the peloton.
"To add to that as well, they've made more of a stand today, more of a protest than they did for Kévin Reza and the stand against racism at the Tour de France. That's all I'll say on it," Wiggins concluded.
Adam Hansen, currently riding the Giro d'Italia for Lotto-Soudal and the riders' representative for the CPA union, clarified the situation from his point of view. "As many of you don't know there was a vote of 16 teams asked to shorten the stage due to many super early morning and long transfers (which we don't know about months before like everyone thinks we do, we find out only days before)," the 39-year-old said.
"Even though the choice to shorten the stage was not taken from those 16 teams, when I arrived the start line only had four riders there. The rest were under the tent out of the rain.
"They called me in and everyone in the tent was in favour to shorten the stage.
"Any rider wanting to start the race could have, but they all chose not to and remain under the tent until the official race time passed. So it was a collective, united choice."
The Giro d'Italia continues with stage 20, where the riders will climb the Sestriere three times before the final stage 21 time trial in Milan.
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