Saturday, 25 June 2011

Giro boss Zomegnan for the boot?

Rumours are afoot that Giro d'Italia director Angelo Zomegnan faces mutiny from within the ranks following the UCI's controversial decision to make last-minute alterations to his 2011 Giro route. Zomegnan has been credited with revitalising the Grand Tour after its popularity declined to such an extent that many cyclists and fans began to question whether it should even be a Grand Tour. It had, gradually, become boring.

The ex-journalist began his quest to inject new life into what was once the jewel of Italian cycling in 2004, introducing new and challenging stages that tested riders to the limits. His efforts paid off - the 2010 Giro was hailed by many as one of the best ever.

However, the 2011 event was not such a success. In an attempt to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, Zomegnan tried to route the stages so as to visit as many regions of the nation as he possibly could. While this was to the benefit of Italian fans, of whom many got to see one of their most beloved national events for the first time, it was not popular among riders who complained bitterly about the long distances to be travelled between the finish and start lines of stages. Teams had also complained for some years that the race placed unreasonable demands upon them and put them in danger, which saw the UCI decide with just hours' notice to remove Zomegnan's planned climb and frankly terrifying descent of Monte Crostis, one of the highest mountains in the Dolemites, following the tragic death of Belgian Wouter Weylandts in Stage 3.

Zomegnan's management style has earned him few friends - he's known to be both confrontational and quick to anger. His reaction to the UCI's decision is proof of this: "...they know nothing about it," he said. "It was a political decision. The UCI man comes, he takes three Garibaldi and he goes back to his office and he stayed in his office...the true worry is that these people are making these decisions without knowing anything. We cannot put into their hands our destiny."

Attempts to route the Giro so as to visit as many regions as possible in 2011 were not popular with riders who disliked the travelling between some stages.
However, he is not a man who cannot admit he has made a mistake. "There are a lot of things to change for 2012, we have a lot of obligations," he allows. "It was the 150th Italian celebration, we had to go to a lot of regions, seventeen, too much."

There are obvious parallels between Zomagnan and Henri Desgrange. Both were journalists, both passionate about cycling, both with management styles best termed challenging for those beneath them, both have sought to push riders to the very limits - Desgrange once said that his ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider made it to the end, and it was he, of course, who created the greatest cycling event of them all. When asked to comment on rider's criticism of the difficult stages he brought in, Zomegnan replied: "They can stay at home if the prefer." Perhaps he can equal Desgrange's achievement?

If the rumours of secretive meetings between Zomegnan and Giro rights holder RCS MediaGroup are true, he may not be around to organise the race in 2012. This would be a great pity - this year, he got it wrong but he can learn from that and get it back on track.

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