The Giro d'Italia considered stopping the 16th stage early at the top of the Stelvio Pass on Tuesday. Even with heavy snow falling, Race Director Mauro Vegni said that he had no option but to continue.
"I was at 13 kilometres from the top, it was snowing heavily. For me, the riders' safety was more important than the results," Vegni told Italy's La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper. "I thought about stopping the race on the Stelvio."
Italy only opens the 2758-metre pass for a few months of the year. Local organisers worked for weeks ahead of the stage to clear the passage. They succeeded, but little else was available when the riders passed en route to Val Martello.
"My worry was not for the road, it was cleaned perfectly, but for the first five to six switchbacks on the descent. It was snowing, there were low clouds, but we could do it if we had safety motorbikes and red flags," Vegni said.
"Stopping it wouldn't have been so easy, you would've needed to find suitable heated spaces for the riders, and most of them were closed. If we would've stopped them outside, they would've frozen."
The road switches back 48 times from the pass to the base. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and his group gained exactly two minutes on Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) by the bottom. At the finish, he had 4-11 minutes and enough to take the pink leader's jersey.
Teams argued against Quintana's gains on the descent because some riders said that he passed the motorbikes. Yesterday after a meeting, they agreed to ask cycling's governing body (UCI) to take away the two minutes. The UCI said no.
"No one ever talked about the race being neutralised," Vegni added. "The motorbikes were there too see the trajectory and for safety. The radio message [about the motorbikes] created a misunderstanding, interpreted as a neutralisation among the sports directors."
"Race radio said what it said, there's no other interpretation to take," Astana team manager, Giuseppe Martinelli told Cycling Weekly. "If it says 'crash,' what are we going to say? That there wasn't a crash?"
"When you make a decision, then you should stand with it and make it happen," Tinkoff-Saxo manager, Bjarne Riis explained. "If say, 'Oh, you can slip away.' It's like you go to a club. The bouncer says, 'It's full, but she, she and she can go because they look pretty.'"
"Maybe Urán shouldn't have let Quintana out of his sight, true," Belkin sports director, Frans Maassen said. "But at the end of the day, the Giro made a huge mistake."
The team manager at Quintana's Movistar team, Eusebio Unzué, saw it differently. "It's too bad that this happened. I understand what my colleagues are saying, but no way should they take away the time," said Unzué.
"It's a lie. Nairo didn't attack on the descent. He was at the front, where he knew he had to be, and following the race."
The race enters the mountains again today. The 18th stage ends with a 16.85-kilometre climb to Panarotta.
Updated: Conflicting reports of whether the descent of the Stelvio Pass would be neutralised or not during stage 16 of
Giro d'Italia race leader Nairo Quintana answers criticism that he 'stole' time during Stelvio debacle
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