Words by Jeremy Whittle | Photo: SWpix.com
Another Fleche Wallonne, another win for Anna Van der Breggen and for Julian Alaphilippe. As hard as their rivals might try, this pair seem to have got the Mur de Huy cracked.
As ever, there were the various sorties and breaks that led to the foot of the brutal climb, but it came down to the final 200 metres in both races with serial champions Van der Breggen and Alaphilippe again demonstrating perfect timing.
Much further south, and among towering mountain peaks, rather than Ardennes hills, another rider also made headlines this Wednesday. Gianni Moscon took his second stage of the Tour of the Alps, powering a four-man break clear into the finish in Naturno where he outsprinted Felox Grosschartner, of Bora Hansgrohe.
The Italian is clearly in great shape, proving that, as is often said, he is a highly talented rider. But every Moscon success comes with baggage. Most of us are well aware of that.
To be honest, I don’t care so much about the motorpacing at the World Championships in 2017, the hot temper on show at the 2020 Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, and the disqualification at the 2018 Tour de France, unsavoury although all those incidents were. What I really care about is the racism Moscon admitted to four years ago.
There’s something contradictory going on at Ineos Grenadiers with regard to Moscon that I don’t understand.
In March this year, I spoke to Moscon’s team mate, Tao Geoghegan Hart, who said this: “I deplore racism. I want the best for all people. Sport should be a reflection of talent, of diversity, of all the incredible characters out there in this world.”
Geoghegan Hart added that his team sponsor and management was “very supportive” of his stance and his words.
I knew that he’d wanted to speak out for some time, and that he’d thought hard about choosing the right words.His comments were picked up across coverage of cycling and of European sport. It was a rebuke to some who felt that athletes should stick to what they know, and not veer into statements on politics.
To his credit, Geoghegan Hart, the first Grand Tour winner to speak out against racism, dismissed that notion. He is smart: smart enough to know that some will feel he should have kept his mouth shut, while others will attack him for not saying enough.
“Everything is political,” he said.
Yet Ineos Grenadiers, formerly Team Sky, have adopted a confusing stance. They have supported Geoghegan Hart but also stuck with Moscon, since his most infamous disgrace, that of racially abusing fellow professional, Kevin Reza, during a stage of the 2017 Tour of Romandie.
And now, less than 24 hours after the guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd, the incident which sparked the Black Lives Matter movement and a subsequent re-assessment across sport of diversity and race, Moscon won once again.
I don’t know how Tao Geoghegan Hart feels about George Floyd — outraged and appalled at his murder I’d expect, from what I know of him — but I struggle to see how his team and sponsor can stand with him deploring racism, one month, while also applauding the success of Moscon, the next.
Maybe the Italian has had an epiphany since 2017, maybe he’s a reformed character. Or maybe they’d all just prefer to act as if the abuse of Reza never happened. Right now, it certainly feels that way.
Over the past 12 months, cycling has seemed to do everything possible to avoid saying anything at all about race and the chronic lack of diversity within the sport. Even the most unconfrontational of statements, suggesting that maybe, just maybe, there is an issue, have become a big deal.
Reza himself spoke on cycling’s inability to confront racism only a few days ago. “Since the (2020) Tour de France, nothing much has changed,” he told Cyclingnews.com “I heard a lot of talk but didn’t see much action taken in the different organisations who manage our sport. It’s a pity but that’s how it is.”
Sounding weary with both his sport and the debate, he has also suggested that those guilty of racial slurs should be subjected to bans.
“They manage to ban cheats who take drugs. I think that racism and discrimination in general must be on a par with these kinds of acts. I do not see any other action that can be taken against racist acts.”
“You would expect to see a racist get punished like a doper. It would show they’re taking a strong stance in terms of supporting action against the various forms of discrimination within sport.”
With the eyes of the world were on the outcome of the George Floyd trial, there was a real opportunity — not just once, but twice — for Moscon and his sponsor to say something more, something that demonstrated greater solidarity and was more meaningful than ‘I’d like to thank my team mates,’ or ‘My legs felt good.’ They could have set the record straight and at least attempted to right a wrong.
In a week in which the ethical health of professional sport has been more questioned than ever, I’d ask them to reflect on their reluctance to do that. Because as one of their team leaders, a Grand Tour winner, said, only last month: “Everything is political.”