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FORLÌ, Italy (VN) — Australian Orica-GreenEdge team went out of its way to help Team Sky’s Australian captain Richie Porte as the Giro d’Italia sped toward Forlì on Tuesday. The fair-play gesture of Australian Simon Clarke, giving and changing Porte’s wheel, was intended to save the Sky rider, who is trying to win the overall on May 31 in Milan, but it cost them each two minutes and 200 Swiss Francs ($213 USD).
Porte slid backward as the race sped into Forlì on Italy’s east coast. An escape rode for its life, the sprint teams chased for fast men like André Greipel (Lotto-Soudal), and Porte tried to limit the damage.
Though Porte received a quick wheel change thanks to Clarke and an express ride with his Sky teammates, he finished 47 seconds behind the sprinters’ group, which included race leader Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Because of the loss, Porte slid from third to fourth overall at 1:09 minutes behind Contador. Mikel Landa jumped to third place, sitting right below Astana teammate Fabio Aru in second at three seconds.
Once the four-person UCI race jury looked at the images, though, it called a quick meeting. After one hour, it docked both Porte and Clarke two minutes and 200 francs. It applied Rule 12.1.040 / 8.2: “Non regulation assistance to a rider of another team.”
The riders could have received a five- or 10-minute penalty, but because it was their first offense, they got away with only two minutes.
When the new pink classification sheets arrived in the pressroom, Porte sat 12th overall, 3:09 behind.
Sky’s head sport director, Dario Cioni said, “No comment” when approached by reporters. He climbed into the team’s black car and drove for the hotel, where Porte awaited the news.
Clarke told Cycling Weekly directly after stage 10 that he saw Porte on his own before Team Sky arrived. Clarke took out his front wheel and put it in Porte’s bike. Porte pushed off and joined his mates, they chased desperately to reach Forlì with minimal time loss.
The UCI jury, during a meeting that lasted one hour behind closed doors, examined the incident after the stage, gave its decision and walked out the press room’s doors. The decision knocked Porte back to 12th overall, slotting between Davide Formolo (Cannondale-Garmin) and 2004 Giro winner Damiano Cunego (Nippo-Vini Fantini).
“The rule exists,” Orica sport director Matt White told VeloNews. “Maybe all the riders don’t know all the rules. I don’t know what Clarke’s thinking right now, I will let him speak for himself.”
Clarke’s was not the first a friendly gesture in cycling, however. Teams often pass rival riders a water bottle from the car or have their mechanics stop to help a rider from another squad.
The jury turns its head when team mechanics give their own cyclists a “magic spanner” by holding the bike and pretending to fix it as they make their way to the group again after a crash or mechanical. They also use a similar “sticky bottle” move, which often goes somehow unnoticed as well.
The Giro d’Italia faced a difficult decision Tuesday: dock time and hurt the race overall battle, or turn a blind eye and risk being ridiculed in public.
“But what credibility can the Giro have if we are to allow something like this? This credibly applies, even if sometimes this hurts someone,” race director, Mauro Vegni told VeloNews.
“I can understand this ‘fair play,’ like how they wrote back and forth on Twitter, but the rules are that way, the rules say that: You can’t pass equipment to another team.”