TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia went from spring to winter in about 30 minutes Saturday afternoon to put a dramatic finishing touch on the season’s first grand tour.
After riding most of the day in perfect summer-like conditions, the peloton rode straight into a brutal snowstorm as the course climbed the spectacular wall at the Tre Cime summit deep in the heart of the Dolomites.
When the peloton turned right and up with about 7km to go, conditions went from bad to worse. By the time stage winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) had crossed the line, winter had returned with a vengeance to northern Italy.
Heavy snow pelted riders crossing the line. In the chaos that is unique to the Giro, riders desperately searched for ways to get warm and dry.
Riders were routed off-course to a parking area, where soigneurs directed snow-bound cyclists to waiting team cars.
“It was epic today. The roads were fine, but it’s snowing hard right now. It’s a beautiful … ski day,” said Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Sharp) as he wiped down inside a team van waiting for a drive back down to the waiting team buses. “I just hope we can get out of here.”
Michele Scarponi (Lampre-Merida) crossed the finish line screaming. Not because he had lost out on a chance to secure a spot on the Giro d’Italia podium, but because it felt like someone was pushing razors into his frozen hands.
“Freddo! Molto freddo!” Scarponi said with a grimace, sticking his hands into his soigneur’s jacket. “I have never been so cold!”
Others came across with chattering teeth, helmets covered in snow, and exposed skin turning mottled pink and white from the extreme cold.
Riders found themselves thrown into the finish-line tussle of shoving officials, prying journalists, stressed-out soigneurs, and the occasional fan who had infiltrated the restricted zone.
With snow whipping around and everyone pushing and shoving, riders would stop short interviews to try to find refuge.
“There was just some snow. It didn’t bother me very much. We were very confident,” Tanel Kangert told VeloNews. “Vincenzo was in good shape — hey, do you know if there is another tent up here? I am freezing. …”
Others took the pandemonium in stride. For them, it was just another day at the office.
“It actually wasn’t that cold when we were climbing, because the body creates a lot of heat,” said Peter Weening (Orica-GreenEdge). “Now I am getting cold once we stop pedaling and talk to all of you.”
Winter-like conditions took the teeth out of the final weekend of racing in the Giro, so officials breathed a sigh of relief that at least they could finish Saturday’s stage on the Tre Cime summit.
Heavy snow on the high passes forced Giro officials to cancel Friday’s stage in its entirety and prompted a major re-routing of Sunday’s “queen stage.” Rather than tackle five major climbs, the stage hugged the valley floor, where temperatures were pleasant in the mid-70s, before tackling the Tre Cime climb with ramps over 20 percent.
Things quickly changed once the route turned south and started to climb into the upper reaches of the Dolomites. Clouds blotted out spectacular views of the towering rock walls above the finish line at 2300 meters.
Vande Velde, who raced without leg warmers, said conditions went from one extreme to another very quickly.
“The whole day wasn’t so bad. Considering how bad the weather’s been so far in this Giro, it was pretty successful today,” Vande Velde said. “In all honesty, I’ve been much colder other days. It’s the wind chill that gets you. We can finish on the uphill; it’s the descents that are dangerous. And that’s when you get that chill that you don’t come back from.”
Fans, officials, and journalists huddled under tents and umbrellas while they waited for the riders to wind their way up the steep ramps of the final climb.
Nibali appeared out of the blur of snowflakes to win his second stage in a row to put an exclamation point on his pink jersey. Barring disaster, he will win his first Giro tomorrow.
Forecasters are calling for mostly sunny skies for Sunday’s final stage into Brescia. After so much horrible weather, the Giro and the peloton deserve a sunny day.