VITTORIO VENETO, Italy (VN) — Nairo Quintana and Movistar have no regrets about what unfolded on the snowy descent off the Stelvio in Tuesday’s controversial stage, and are now defiantly racing to win the Giro d’Italia.
A day after winning the stage and claiming the pink jersey, the 23-year-old Colombian saw more attacks off the bike Wednesday than during the race in his first full day in the pink jersey in the hilly transition stage.
Rivals and public alike blasted Quintana for crimes real and imagined. Quintana was exasperated with the growing polemics around Tuesday’s chaotic and confusing descent off the Stelvio.
“We’re making a story out of nothing,” Quintana said. “Why should they take a time advantage away that I earned out on the road? I don’t understand the problem. Most of the time I made, I did on the final climb.”
The Stelvio controversy continued to burn Wednesday. Team directors and managers met before the start of the stage, and later issued a declaration claiming that they wanted to deduct time Quintana and five others gained on the GC group off the Stelvio descent. There was a discussion of penalizing the six leading riders on the descent from 50 seconds to 2:30, but no formal time reduction request was made because the UCI’s race jury would not allow it.
Tinkoff-Saxo manager Bjarne Riis, whose rider Rafal Majka also lost time, insisted he clearly understood the race radio message that was broadcast near the summit that riders should not attack on the descent while motorcycles descended with red flags.
“We just want someone to take responsibility for this mistake,” Riis said at the finish line Wednesday. “It’s like in a full [nightclub], no one else is allowed to come in, but you and you can go in. We want fair application of the rules.”
The rules, however, were as foggy and messy as the Stelvio descent. There is no direct UCI rule concerning the protocol on how to neutralize a dangerous descent, though there is a generic clause to allow race organizers to neutralize part of a race due to dangerous conditions.
Many were contending that Quintana and others passed a motorcycle waving red flags — something that would be contrary to what was called out over race radio moments before the peloton reached the snowbound Stelvio summit — but there is no hard and fast rule that states that a red flag cannot be passed.
A red flag typically denotes danger; there has never been a major descent neutralized in recent grand tour racing, so the last-minute improvisation only fermented misunderstanding and post-stage rancor.
Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué was equally exasperated about the growing firestorm, and said he is trying to keep his cyclists focused on the race.
“It’s unfortunate that this has happened. It is the fault of an accumulation of circumstances. I can understand my colleagues’ consternation, but in no way was I an agreement of penalizing time,” Unzué told VeloNews. “How can you do that? The rules do not allow it, and it is a lie that Nairo attacked on the descent. He was following the race and being at the front as he knows he should be.”
What really happened is hard to say. La Gazzetta dello Sport quoted ex-pro Marco Velo, who was riding in one of the lead motorcycles down the Stelvio, that Quintana was urging the driver to go faster through the corners, and eventually led the others past the motorcycle lower down on the Stelvio while, as Velo claims, the red flag was still up.
As far as Unzué sees it, he said it’s unfair many are blaming Quintana of unfairly exploiting the situation coming down the Stelvio. Instead, Unzué said Quintana was racing smartly, and following the leading wheels coming down the descent.
“Nairo was riding at the front, where he should be in that situation. We knew the descents off both the Gavia and Stelvio would be dangerous, and the best place to be would be at the front,” Unzué continued. “We didn’t even know where Nairo was until we reached the bottom of the valley. We saw other gaps in the descending riders off the Stelvio. Others were accelerating and others were getting gapped. It was a very chaotic situation for everyone.”
In a post-race press conference Wednesday, Quintana also expressed is growing frustration, admitting that certain riders and sport directors refused to congratulate him at the start line Wednesday.
“Is this is a joke or what? I did not get into a car and drive to the bottom of the Stelvio. I raced to the top of the mountain and that’s when the gains were made,” he said. “If I hold onto a car, then yes, penalize me, but not like this.”
Without a reshuffling of the GC, Quintana is now in the driver’s seat going into the final three climbing stages that will decide the 2014 Giro.
Thursday’s climbing stage following by Friday’s climbing time trial will provide Quintana an opportunity to cement his lead ahead of Saturday’s race-decider up Monte Zoncolan.
Quintana insists he will race with a cool head despite the growing heat around him.
“I will race like a leader. I’m only thinking about defending my lead, not necessarily attacking,” Quintana said. “I have been sick at the beginning of the Giro, and I had a crash, but I could still be close. If I am feeling well, I will attack again. I am not a rider who has arrived here by chance.”