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Giro d'Italia

Two days later, Stelvio controversy continues to broil at Giro d’Italia

Teams came up with a solution to end the polemic, with a time penalty on the leading riders, but the race jury refused to accept the offer

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BELLUNO, Italy (VN) — The sun was out Thursday morning for the Giro d’Italia’s 18th stage, but Tuesday’s snowy, controversial Stelvio descent remained on the peloton’s collective mind.

Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) benefitted greatly in Tuesday’s stage marred by a bungled effort by race organizers to assure safety off the mighty Stelvio. Others, such as Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) and Cadel Evans (BMC Racing), ended up losing minutes on GC and, in Urán’s case, ceding the pink jersey.

BMC Racing president Jim Ochowicz said teams came up with a solution to end the polemic with a time penalty on the leading riders — taken at the time difference at the bottom of the Stelvio descent of about 1:30 — but the race jury refused to accept the offer.

“The teams … presented the offer to the jury and the organization [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 visualize 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] organization [RCS Sport] accepted the request.”

It remains, and likely will remain, unclear what the time gap was from Quintana and Hesjedal to Urán and Evans at the bottom of the Stelvio descent.

“Nobody had an exact number when we were meeting, but the consensus was somewhere between [90 seconds] to two minutes,” Ochowicz said.

The UCI issued a statement Wednesday that UCI rules did not allow race times to be changed under the circumstances. At this point, nothing will change, per UCI rules, though some will continue to wonder what could have gone differently.

Evans, who started Thursday perched in third place, said he was “realistic” about what would have transpired on the final climb if Quintana had been 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.”

Other riders were less diplomatic as the peloton remains divided in the wake of the controversy.

Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing) was told to ease up on the descent by his sport director after his team understood that the Stelvio downhill would be motor-paced by motorcycles bearing red flags.

“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 told VeloNews. “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.”

Movistar manager Eusebio Unzue was quoted in La Gazzetta dello Sport as being in favor of a possible time reduction for the leading group, but he told VeloNews that everyone knew that imposing a time penalty was against the 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 told VeloNews. “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 continued to defend Quintana’s performance in the controversial stage, which the Colombian won, claiming the pink leader’s jersey.

“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 favorites, 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 neutralized, never.”


Andrew Hood contributed to this report