After a long, 218-km day of racing on the seventh Giro d’Italia stage towards a summit finish to Campo Imperatore on Gran Sasso d’Italia, racers were, to state the incredibly obvious, tired. The reward for their efforts? A long line for a tram back down from the summit to team cars and then a long drive back to that evening’s hotel. Thus is the life, the far-from-glamorous day-to-day, of a Grand Tour racer’s off-camera routine. Unless you are one of the stars.
For reigning world champion, Belgian cycling’s darling, and current Giro d’Italia favorite Remco Evenepoel, the day ended with being handed a warm jacket and being led to a scenic helicopter flight from the top of the mountain back to a waiting dinner, soigneur and good night’s rest. No matter that he didn’t particularly perform up to expectations that day, the chopper was already booked.
— Soudal Quick-Step Pro Cycling Team (@soudalquickstep) May 12, 2023
Evenepoel and his Soudal Quick-Step teammates were, based on their Twitter posts, stoked. Who wouldn’t be? Especially when you consider that the alternative was a long, crowded line.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) was less thrilled.
Rules and fairness
Now, to be clear, Evenepoel and Soudal Quick-Step were not the only team to call in the choppers for a quick exit on Friday. It is a practice that used to be more routine for top teams, even if it was a practice that was rarely caught on camera.
The UCI, for its part, doesn’t always have a reputation for picking the best hills to battle on. But this one is better than sock height. Or the bagginess of mountain bikers’ pants. For the UCI, helicopter use is a matter of fairness.
Describing several teams’ use of helicopter transport after Stage Seven, the UCI argued, “This constitutes an advantage that goes against the principles of fair play and the regulatory provisions for ensuring equal treatment for transfer of teams to their hotels.”
And, of course, it flew in the face of UCI’s very concerted efforts to reduce the WorldTour’s carbon footprint.
UCI’s response, true to character, is to kick this debate down the road. It says it “will take necessary measures and sanctions to ensure that such a practice does not occur in the future.”
While UCI is looking forward, Ineos Grenadiers might have a harder time keeping the chopper fly-by’s in the rear view mirror. Filippo Ganna, Ineos’ Italian star, was forced out of his home Grand Tour after testing positive for COVID-19 before the start of Saturday’s Stage Eight. It is probably a stretch to argue Ganna contracted the virus while standing in a long tram line, sure, but the end of his tour coming the day after Ineos opted to skip the quick exit off Campo Imperatore is not great.
Full UCI statement on the use of helicopters at the Giro d’Italia
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) notes that helicopter transport was used by some riders to leave the finish area after the end of the 7th stage of the Giro d’Italia, between Capua and Gran Sasso d’Italia.
This constitutes an advantage that goes against the principles of fair play and the regulatory provisions for ensuring equal treatment for transfer of teams to their hotels. In addition, some riders’ use of a helicopter transport for this purpose goes against the principle of carbon footprint reduction, as stated in the UCI WorldTour organizer specifications.
The UCI will take necessary measures and sanctions to ensure that such a practice does not occur in the future.
The UCI firmly condemns this behaviour which goes against the principles of fair play and equity, the fundamental values of sport.