It was sunny at the start of Giro d'Italia's stage 18 on Thursday morning but the fall-out from the snowy descent from Stelvio two days ago still dominated discussion.
Movistar's Nairo Quintana and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin – Sharp) got the advantage from the race organiser's confusing effort to secure safety on the descent from the feared Stelvio pass.
Omega Pharma – QuickStep's Rigoberto Uran and Cadel Evans (BMC) were hit hard as they ended up losing minutes on the general classification causing Uran to having to surrender his pink leader's jersey to compatriot Quintana.
BMC president Jim Ochowicz claimed the teams agreed on a solution offering to dock the leading riders 1:30 – taken at the time difference at the bottom of the Stelvio – but the race jury refused to accept.
“The teams … presented the offer to the jury and the organisation [Wednesday] morning at the start,” Ochowicz told VeloNews. “After our meeting was convened, and presented our position, and the jury denied our request.
“The request was unanimous by the by all teams that the time for the gap for the three leaders would be taken at the bottom of the descent. So visualise a railroad crossing, so they got through there, the train comes, now you start the watch. And that would be the time, not the finish line,” Ochowicz continued.
“Everybody agreed to that. That’s what was presented to the UCI jury, and the UCI jury denied the request. The [race] organisation [RCS Sport] accepted the request.”
It is not clear what the time gap was between Quintana and Hejsedal to Uran and Evans at the bottom of the Stelvio descent and Ochowicz admitted it is likely that it will remain unclear.
“Nobody had an exact number when we were meeting, but the consensus was somewhere between [90 seconds] to two minutes,” he said.
On Wednesday, the International Cycling Union (UCI) made it clear that their rules do not permit any alterations to race times under the circumstances. At this point, it seems unlikely that anything will change but that does not mean that the debate about the stage will end.
Evans, the former race leader currently in danger of losing third, admitted that he had to be “realistic” about what might have happened had Quintana started the final climb in the main group.
“The way [Quintana] climbed that hill, you have to be realistic,” Evans said Thursday morning.
“But also it seems a lot of that gap was taken in a questionable situation, so let’s see what happens in this third week.”
Some of the other riders did not share Evans' diplomacy and still feel aggrieved by the controversial circumstances surrounding the conclusion of the stage.
Trek Factory Racing's Robert Kiserlovski was ordered by his sport director to slow down on the descent and stay behind motorbikes carrying red flags which would pace the downward climb.
“My team told me to wait and that we all go together downhill. These guys for me, there are no words to tell. For me they are not riders,” Kiserlovski raged. “If you ask me, they should be penalized 20 minutes. They are not champions to me. In the group, we know all about this situation. It’s not right.”
According to Italian paper La Gazzetta dello Sport, Eusibio Unzue, Movistar's manager, agreed with the proposed time reduction for the leading group but argued that everyone knew it would have been against existing rules.
“I didn't see a way to solve this. Either do it in the moment, or it was too late. There was a big error in the communication, because it was obvious not everyone knew what was going on,” Unzue said.
“It was a very unusual measure, because we've never seen something like this before. This controversy has taken away from the value of Nairo's ride, who demonstrated everything on the road.”
Unzue was relentless in his defence of Quintana's execution in the confusing stage which the Colombian won snatching the pink jersey from compatriot Uran.
“It’s a day that should have been celebrated for our sport, for the difficulty, the extreme conditions, for its spectacular images, and the best qualities of our sport, and instead, we lose this because of the polemic. It’s sad for cycling,” Unzue continued.
“I can understand that my colleagues are protecting their interests, to try to repair what they see as damage. The only thing that Nairo did was what he was told to do; to stay with the favourites, to be at the front of the descent.
"That is a lie [to blame Nairo], because it wasn’t like that. It wasn’t him who opened up the race. And no one said the race was neutralised, never.”