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Il Giro d’Italia 2014 – Stage 16; Ponte di Legno – Val Martello/Martelltal, 139 km. Snow on the Stelvio

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“Within 10 minutes of the finish, I was up on the podium. The pink jersey felt good. I slipped it on and all my doubts went away.

“The TV interviews began and I remember saying ‘Incredible, I have never seen conditions like this, even in Colorado. Today it was not sport, it was something beyond sport.'”

The words of Andy Hampsten describing that momentous day in the 1988 Giro when he broke away in a savage snow storm over the Passo Gavia to take the pink jersey, which he would hold until the finish to become the United States first – and to date only – Giro d’Italia winner.

He created a legend that day, one which I’m still writing about a third of a century later.

Stage 16 of this year’s Giro will enter legend too – Quintana’s long distance attack to take pink was straight out of the top drawer.

Stelvio
Quintana won the stage and took the lead – but did he knowingly ignore the red flag? Photo©Gian Mattia D’Alberto

There is a big ‘but,’ however.

And that is the confusion created by the Giro organisation with their much debated radio announcement to the teams regarding the dangerous descent of the Stelvio Pass.

Many teams interpreted the communication as an instruction to neutralise the descent but Messrs. Hesjedal (Garmin), Rolland (Europcar) and Quintana did not and rode hard to an advantage approaching two minutes by the time the valley floor was reached – never to be seen again.

Stelvio
Quintana and Hesjedal on the day’s final climb, where the snow disappeared and sun came out. Photo©Fabio Ferrari

On the one hand there’s Hesjedal’s argument;

“I don’t know what happened. I just stayed out of trouble, rode with the guys I was with and we came off the bottom with a lead.

“I think on a day like this, I just hope that everyone got through it OK. It was insane out there.

“We went over those passes and it turned into full survival mode. The radios work at best half the time. I was focused on staying up right and staying warm.”

Stelvio
The race heads into the snowfall toward the Stelvio summit. Photo©Fabio Ferrari

But even Hesjedal’s manager, Jonathan Vaughters isn’t happy that the race went ahead as it did, given the treacherous road conditions, Tweeting;

Once again, cycling fails to protect it’s own athletes. Finance and interests precede riders’ wellbeing.

Unsurprisingly, deposed maglia rosa Rigoberto Uran’s QuickStep manager, Patrick Lefevre and main sponsor, Marc Coucke are incensed, making the justifiable point that if Quintana hadn’t had two minutes at the bottom of the Stelvio then it would have been a different day’s racing.

A faction of VeloVeritas‘s hard core pundit panel say that Uran and the other complainants should have ‘just got on with it’ and worried about the arguments later. But if Uran and the rest were under the impression that the race was neutralised and couldn’t see that Quintana and Co. were driving then they’re frustration is justified.