Imbroglio: it’s not an Australian singer with that guilty pleasure ‘90s hit or the latest scent from Giorgio Armani, but the latest thing at the Giro d’Italia to make locals gesture manically, stub index fingers into polished coffee tables as they make their points, shout ‘Mamma mia!’ and perform other old-as-the-hills Italian stereotypes.
If you thought the Richie-Clarkey wheel change mate-gate was peak polemica, think again. Fifty kilometres from the finish of the 16th stage of the 2015 Giro d’Italia, approaching the feared Mortirolo, Alberto Contador suffered a mechanical mishap. Astana kept driving the pace, the Spaniard was distanced and all hell broke loose.
Should Astana have attacked the race leader Contador after a mechanical? Did they even know about his problem? Why was Katusha helping? Was some kind of Russian civil war playing out in north-east Italy? Disrespecting the maglia rosa seemed dead against the etiquette of cycling, as well as like a stolen line from a dodgy Mafia movie. (“You disrespect me, you disrespect my family, you disrespect my jersey.”)
Aside from all the questions thrown up, it emphasised the peculiarities of professional cycling’s unwritten ethical code. There seemed to be as much consternation about a team trying to win a race through minor bad etiquette than over a rider taking a load of drugs.
Back in cycling's old days, it was fine to put minutes into the bunch when up to one's eyeballs on dope, but heaven forfend anyone who should attack the leader when he’s stopped for a ‘natural break’ or had a puncture.
The reaction, from fans and retired riders alike, on Twitter suggested that old-school fairplay and sportsmanship is still valued. Whether right or wrong, it was gold for observers. Just when we all thought that Contador had an easy ride to Milan, the Spaniard actually had to spring into action to defend his jersey. The Giro is the gift that keeps on giving.
Ultimately, the perceived faux-pas didn’t change anything: soon Contador was up and past closest rival, Fabio “Many Facial Expressions” Aru, who melted away like a gelato left in the Italian sun.
Poor Alberto, I bet he’d never do anything like that. Apart from that one time on Port de Balès in the 2010 Tour when Andy Schleck’s chain came off and he realised he could win the race for the glory of his paymasters, Astana...
So, when asked for his opinion on his rival's actions at the finish, Contador replied: "I knew that the most likely scenario would be what happened. I'm not going to debate whether it was correct or not."
Best to not turn up the heat on the bubbling Giro imbroglio pot. Alberto Contador: a canny player on the bike and off it.
STAT’S THE WAY, UH HUH UH HUH
1 – If Steven Kruijswijk holds onto his slender Mountains competition lead, he’ll be the first Dutchman to ever win it at the Giro d’Italia.
21 – Number of top ten Giro d’Italia finishes Trek Factory Racing sprinter Giacomo Nizzolo has achieved without winning a stage.
The last time the maglia rosa had a mechanical at the foot of the climb and carved through the field? Pantani, 1999 Giro, Oropa.
Behind the scenes with Movistar on the day Nairo Quintana sealed 2014 Giro victory. In Spanish, but still a goodie.