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Nibali supports extreme weather protocol (when it suits him)

Vincenzo Nibali and Astana threaten to skip Giro after missing out on Tirreno queen stage, illustrating rift in peloton over extreme weather protocol.

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Sunday’s snow-cancelled Tirreno-Adriatico stage was a missed opportunity for Vincenzo Nibali and his Astana team, and now his planned start at the Giro d’Italia in May is up for discussion.

Nibali and his team have called for more robust “plan B” route options to be put in place, so that inclement weather at high altitudes doesn’t cancel entire stages. The UCI’s extreme weather protocol does not require alternative route options, though it does present them as one way to keep riders out of danger. Nibali said he is in favor of the new protocol, which requires a meeting between riders, teams, and racer organizers before any possibly inclement stage. But he wants more options beyond mere cancellation.

“I was disappointed with yesterday, we looked at the course and the weather. … Maybe they made the decision in a hurry,” Nibali told reporters Monday. “All in all, the decision was right. The riders wanted this protocol. I still remember that famous Milano-Sanremo in two stages, where we had to stop midway in.”

The stage was the sole major mountaintop finish of Tirreno, and was thus an opportunity for the Tour champion to stretch his legs and make a run at the overall lead. Instead, a handful of classics stars sit at the top of the leaderboard, led by BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, with only a short time trial on Tuesday to sort riders for a final time.

Tirreno organizer RCS also owns the Giro d’Italia, and Nibali and his Astana team are concerned that the Italian grand tour, which often sees inclement weather in the Alps and Dolomites, could see cancelled stages.

“If you asked me two days ago, I’d say yes, Giro tour and Olympics, but now the Giro is up for discussion,” said Astana director Paolo Slongo. “We are going to talk to Vino [Alexander Vinokourov] and decide.”

“Well, we need to see how things are,” Nibali said about his plans to race the Giro. “We need to see ‘plan Bs’ in the big races [in advance] in the case that that they are used in a bad day.

Astana’s language indicates a divide within the professional peloton. Many riders hailed the decision to cancel Sunday’s stage as appropriate, and as a victory for the newly implemented extreme weather protocol and for rider safety. The cancellation came just days after a stage was neutralized and then cancelled due to accumulating snow at Paris-Nice.

Slongo contends that Sunday’s stage, which was cancelled late Saturday based on a weather forecast, was scratched too early.

“Yesterday, was not an extreme conditions. Maybe that’s just my opinion. Nibali wants a protocol, but he didn’t like that there wasn’t a plan B that would allowed him to race,” he said. “Maybe the decisions need to be made in the morning. If you look at Strade Bianche, they talked about rain, but in the morning, it didn’t come.”

Tirreno director Mauro Vegni defended the decision, comparing his race to Paris-Nice. “I’d like to make a simple analysis of what happened at Paris-Nice. Contador failed to win by just four seconds after a stage earlier in the race was cancelled because of extreme weather. Yet I don’t think Alberto complained, he accepted it as part of the sport,” he said.

Racing frequently goes on through snow and bad weather. Numerous Giro stages have finished with climbs up into snow storms, for example. But making riders descend in the snow is a completely different story — narrow road tires and slick pavement make riding all but impossible.

“Look at 2013 that I won with Bardonecchia, Tre Cime di Lavaredo, and Galibier, and other stages,” Nibali said. “We encountered snow in almost all the finishes. If we had the protocol and they had to throw away all those stages. … You need to look at the stages, but for sure, it’s a legitimate concern of ours.”

The solution, according to Nibali and Slongo, is more alternative route options. Without a “plan B” for certain Giro stages, Nibali may choose not to attend.

“We are talking. We want to have alternative plans, routes, so we can race — a ‘plan A and B’ already established,” Slongo said. “I’m not saying he’s going to win, but if we invest in the Giro, and can’t express ourselves?”

“I’m not bitter about what Vincenzo has said,” Vegni told VeloNews and CyclingNews. “I really admire him, he’s a great rider, and it’s great that he’s always honored our races. However, he needs to think of everyone’s interests, not only his own. He also needs to respect the people who are working for the interests of everyone too.”

Gregor Brown contributed to this report.