Nairo Quintana of Movistar is the new leader of the Giro d'Italia after winning a memorable Stage 16 of the race at Val Martello. It's one that will be talked about for years, with the riders having to deal with snow on the upper parts of the earlier ascents of the Passo di Gavia and the Passo dello Stelvio.
Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Sharp crossed the line 7seconds later to finish second, with Europcar's Pierre Rolland a little over a minute further back in third.
Omega Pharma-Quick Step’s Rigoberto Uran, who led the race this morning, with Quintana 2 minutes 40 seconds behind in fifth place, lost more than 4 minutes to his compatriot.
As the news of the conditions on the Gavia quickly spread on social media, many fans as well as team staff questioned whether the stage should be abandoned. Perhaps mindful that Stage 19 of last year’s race was cancelled due to the weather, organisers pressed ahead.
Picture credit: LaPresse
There were rumours that the descent from the Stelvio, crested with 68.7km of the 139km stage from Ponte di Legno remaining, would be neutralised, although that did not in fact happen.
This evening, race organsiers RCS Sport issued a statement to clarify the what Uran's Omega Pharma-Quick Step team described as "a confusing scenario." RCS Sport said:
In consideration of audio recordings of instructions relayed to Directeurs sportifs during today's stage, the Directors of the Giro d'Italia would like to clarify that Race Radio provided an inaccurate interpretation of the indications stipulated by the Directors.
As previously stated, the intention was to guarantee rider safety during the first section of the descent (the first 6 hairpins, approximately 1500 m) of the Passo dello Stelvio, where visibility was restricted due to low cloud and fog.
At no point did Race Radio or the Directors of the Giro make reference to the possible neutralisation of any part of the descent.
Team Sky’s Dario Cataldo was the first rider across the top of the pass, at 2,758 metres designated the Cima Coppi as the highest point of this year’s race, and teased out more of an advantage on the way down.
Behind him, many riders stopped at the top of the climb to change rain jackets and put on dry jerseys, and incredibly, despite the conditions, many fans had ridden up to the top of the pass on their own bikes.
During yesterday’s rest day press conference, Quintana had spoken of the need for allies and specifically mentioned Rolland.
Possibly as a result of the confusion over whether or not the descent from the Stelvio was neutralised or not, both managed to get clear on it of the group containing the race leader.
Each had a team mate for company, Gorka Izagirre in Quintana’s case, while Rolland had Romain Sicard for support.
Also in the group was Nero Sottoli’s Marco Rabottini, and as they began the process of reeling in Cataldo, they picked up riders on the road in front of them including the AG2R-La Mondiale pair of Alexis Vuillermoz and Hubert Dupont, as well as Colombia’s Jarlinson Pantano.
Early on in the final climb, Cataldo was caught and now there were just four riders in front, though the Sky man was quickly dropped, leaving Quintana, Rolland and Hesjedal in contention.
With 7.5km left, Quintana attacked again on a difficult section and got away from Hesjedal and Rolland. Both would get back to him with 5km remaining but Rolland immediately fell back, and inside the final 2km Quintana rode away to claim a stunning victory and the race leader’s pink jersey.
Following the win that put him into the race lead, Quintana said: “When I came to look at the Giro stages, we couldn’t go very far up the Stelvio because it was covered in snow. After the climb, we looked at part of the descent, and then the climb to Val Martello.”
Speaking about today's stage, he went on: “The peloton was compact until the ascent of the Stelvio. Then the attacks started: there was a rider with Team Colombia, two riders from of AG2R, one from Sky. They started to descend fast.
"I just stayed on a team-mate’s wheel. I didn’t hear anything about the descent being neutralised. Nor did my team-mates: we were just told to cover up well for the descent. We came down at some speed, and at the foot of the descent I realised that there were six of us in a group behind the breakaway. In any case, the time I gained on my rivals was mostly made on the final climb. I don’t see any grounds for controversy.”
The Colombian, who has been struggling with illness, went on: “I’ve been recovering from the flu. As you can see, I still get coughing fits, but I can feel my body getting better. I think my rivals will attack on the coming climbs, but I have a great team, as you saw on the Stelvio, where almost all of us rode together as a single unit. And I think they’ll help me control the race as far as Trieste.”
In July last year, Quintana finished runner-up to Sky's Chris Froome in Paris, and he added: “I’ve been confirming my 2nd place in the Tour de France all season. I won the Tour de San Luis at the start of the year, then finished 2nd in Tirreno-Adriatico, 5th in the Tour of Catalonia, just a few seconds behind the winner.
"So my 2nd place in the Tour last year wasn’t a fluke. I’ve worked hard and I continue to work hard for to be a Grand Tour contender. My objective here was to win the Maglia Rosa. Now I’m wearing it, despite the fact that many people had written me off because of my problems. But you don’t lose your class.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.