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Tirreno’s biggest stage snowed out

FOLIGNO, Italy (VN) — A weather forecast calling for cold, rain, and snow in Sunday’s fifth stage of Tirreno-Adriatico forced organizer RCS Sport to cancel the stage Saturday evening.

The queen stage would have taken the peloton 176 kilometers from Foligno through Umbria and Marche for the 10-kilometer Monte San Vicino summit finish, at an altitude of 1,208 meters.

“Given the conditions, we see that there’s not the ideal conditions to hold the race tomorrow,” RCS Sport’s cycling boss Mauro Vegni said in a rushed press conference.

“The conditions are not right, even at a minimum, to hold the fifth stage. We decided not to risk the riders’ health. Even with an alternative course, the plan B does not work. We could hit snow on the other route too, we don’t want to risk having the race and riders stuck on the side of the road.”

Vegni saw the forecast Saturday evening while Steve Cummings (Dimension Data) won in Foligno. He called in the teams after the fourth stage and referred to the UCI’s new extreme weather protocol.

“The teams usually are the ones wanted to cut the race, but it was just the opposite today,” Vegni added. “I felt the conditions weren’t right. They heard me, and the decision was clear. They couldn’t say much more than OK.”

The last time RCS Sport had to call off a Tirreno-Adriatico stage, in 2003, the cancelled stage was due to start from the same city that hosted Saturday’s finish, and on the same date, March 13. Vegni said, “If I had known that, I would’ve planned things differently.”

Vegni could joke because the weather made the decision clear for him. Even in the valleys, near freezing temperatures and rain are due Sunday — conditions that would worsen on the climb to Monte San Vicino.

“My helpers were there on the climb this morning, there’s 20 to 30 centimeters of snow,” he said. “The snow is at 1,200 meters [of altitude] today, it could go down to 700 meters by tomorrow. We can’t do this.”

UCI put the extreme weather protocol in place after heat forced organizers to cancel a stage in the Tour of Oman in 2015 and snow rocked the Giro d’Italia and Milano-Sanremo over the last three years.

The annulment of the Tirreno-Adriatico stage marks the second time this week that a WorldTour race has been forced to cancel a stage due to weather conditions. Organizers called off the third stage of Paris-Nice a little more than halfway through the stage. There, too, a plan B would have been impossible to implement.

With the queen stage now cut, Tuesday’s 10.05-kilometer time trial could prove decisive in the GC battle, though the peloton will first have to navigate Monday’s stage from Castelraimondo to Cepagatti, which does include a few small ascents towards the end of the day. Heading towards those final two stages, Zdenek Stybar (Etixx – Quick-Step) leads the race with BMC’s Greg Van Avermaet, Tejay van Garderen, and Damiano Caruso at nine seconds back.

“It’s definitely good that people are looking out for us and that we’re not forced to re-enact another Stelvio style day,” van Garderen said via the BMC team. “But from a sporting point of view, I’m really disappointed. I’ve worked really hard and think that given the chance to show what I could on the climb, I‘d have faired really well. But safety and health needs to come first. If there’s a meter of snow it’s just not possible.

“Monday’s stage isn’t easy either. Now the climb is gone, people are going to race Monday a bit more aggressively. We definitely still have our work cut out but we definitely still want to win this Tirreno-Adriatico.”