“Yeah,” Fabio Aru said, “I heard about [the neutralisation].” Domenico Pozzovivo added: “I didn’t know.”
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Italian television RAI reported that due to the weather, snow and wet roads, the organiser, RCS would neutralise the descent and use motorbikes to escort the different groups down the pass. Shortly after this was reported, the Giro’s Twitter feed read, “Wrong communication: no neutralisation for the descent from the Passo dello Stelvio. Sorry for the wrong information. #Giro”
The communication had also gone out to the teams, although they seemed to have interpreted it very differently. “The communication was that for the top and first three kilometres descent that it was important to go without taking risks,” race director, Mauro Vegni said after the 16th stage.
“It was probably interpreted badly, but it was for the riders to take first six or seven switchbacks easy and to avoid danger, but that didn’t mean that we were neutralising the race. If they had any questions, they could have ridden up to the race jury car and asked the president.”
Somewhere near the top of the 24.8-kilometre descent, where snow fell heavily and the temperature read 0°C, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) attacked. By the base, he was clear of the lead group with two team mates, Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) and Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and held a 1-39-minute lead over race leader Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and other favourites.
“They said they would signal the dangerous curves,” Quintana said after putting on the race leader’s pink jersey. “We all knew the curves were going to be dangerous. I took it easy, but I was also going at a good pace and we continued to do so down the descent.”
Some team managers disagreed with Quintana and Vegni. Cannondale’s Roberto Amadio and Trek’s Luca Guercilena both said that they heard that motorbikes would escort the riders down a neutralised descent.
Matt White, Orica-GreenEdge sports director, agreed with what Vegni said.
The miscommunication may not have mattered, however, because Quintana’s major gains came up the 22.35-kilometre climb to Val Martello. By the top, at 2059 metres, he gained 4-11 minutes on Urán and took the race lead by 1-41.
“What happened may have penalised Urán,” said Amadio, “but I’m not sure if it would’ve made a difference as Quintana clearly showed he was the strongest rider today.
Update: Giro directors issue statement
On Tuesday evening, the Giro race directors issued a statement relating to the issue:
“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.”
Nairo Quintana goes on rampage on mountainous stage 16 to take stage win and the overall race lead from Rigoberto