Movistar's Nairo Quintana won a dramatic and highly controversial stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia on Tuesday to claim the leader's jersey from compatriot Rigoberto Uran.
The Colombian climber, runner-up in last year's Tour de France, accelerated away from his rivals on the descent from the iconic Stelvio pass and added to his lead on the last climb of the day, the Ponte Di Legno.
However, confusion was the order of the day as the race organisers seemed to neutralise the racing on the descent amid difficult weather conditions, only to later tell teams to ignore the instruction.
“Wrong communication: no neutralisation for the descent from the Passo dello Stelvio. Sorry for the wrong information,” the Giro’s official Twitter feed said in a message replacing an earlier one.
But it was clear that all the teams had not interpreted the organiser's instruction the same way as some riders stayed behind the motorcycles' red flags while others did not.
“Neutralisation of the Stelvio-descent wasn’t brought to all team cars. Big confusion,” Team Saxo Tinkoff wrote on their Twitter feed.
Quintana won the stage eight seconds in front of Ryder Hesjedal while Pierre Rolland came third 1:13 down.
The Movistar climber, riding in his first Giro, now finds himself 1:41 ahead of Uran, the Omega Pharma – QuickStep rider, who came ninth on the stage 4:11 behind Quintana. BMC's Cadel Evans, the early race leader, is third overall 3:21 down.
“I don’t understand why there is a polemic. I made up more time on the climb, we didn’t make so much on the descent,” said Quintana.
Even without the added controversy, the riders experienced a stage to remember in the Dolomites. In the snow, they hauled themselves over the Gavia pass before tackling the legendary Stelvio, also known as “the Coppi peak”.
Patrick Lefevere, the OPQS directeur sportif, was not happy with the organisers after Uran had lost his lead in confusing circumstances.
“I don’t know if this has something to do with modern cycling, Mauro Vegni. Giro d’Italia shame on you,“ Lefevere asked the man responsible for the sport and technical area of the Italian grand tour.
Brian Cookson, president of the International Cycling Union, was also in the firing line.
“Is this modern cycling, Brian Cookson?” asked Lefevere.
Spain's Dario Cataldo continued racing on the descent from Stelvio while the possible neutralisation spread confusion through the peloton. Leader Uran and Evans were left behind by a group containing Quintana and Rolland.
Quintana, Rolland, Cataldo and Hejsedal led Uran and the other general classification rivals by 1:30, entering the final climb. It quickly became clear that Cataldo was unable to keep up and midway on the climb the lead had been stretched to 2:30.
Naturally interested in taking as much time on the other leaders as possible, Quintana was on the front pushing the pace on the highest gradient around seven kilometres from the finish line.
Rolland and Hesjedal made it back to Quintana but paid the price for their efforts when first Rolland, 5 kilometres out, and Hesjedal, near the end, had to let go.
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