In most sports there are occasions which are remembered for a very long time either through a moment of real achievement or a triumph in adverse conditions. Stage 16 of the 2014 Giro d’Italia will probably be written into cycling folklore for the way in which the riders combatted the snow and intense cold on the Passo dello Stelvio and the manner in which Colombian Nairo Quintana climbed to the summit of Val Martello by way of frighteningly steep hairpin bends.
Beginning the stage nearly three minutes behind Rigoberto Uran Uran in the overall classification, Quintanta was content to ride amongst the leading group of riders in the peleton for the first two climbs of the days. Both the Gavia and Stelvio mountain passes were lined by banks of snow as a mixture of falling sleet and snow battered the riders as they climbed the steep roads.
It had also been rumoured that the organisers had deemed the descent from the Stelvio pass to be too dangerous with the race neutralised until the flatter roads were encountered. Amidst confusion and some anger among team officials, the descent continued as per normal with Quintana gaining some time on the riders ahead of him in the classification.
The weather began to improve but so did the climbing prowess of the Colombian as he stretched his lead on the slopes of the final summit with only Ryder Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland able to offer a serious challenge to Quintana.
On the steeper parts of the climb with gradients approaching 14%, Quintana appeared comfortable and with only 1km remaining, a visibly wilting Hesjedal was his only companion on the road. Over the final hairpin bends, the Colombian finally assumed control to win the stage by eight seconds from the brave Canadian.
Further down the slopes, the efforts of a gruelling day had taken their toll with both Uran and Cadel Evans trailing over four minutes behind Quintana who became the wearer of the leader’s pink jersey with a time gap if 1minute 41 seconds.
After several days of suffering from a lingering cold and the effects of a Stage 6 crash, Quintana had finally demonstrated his climbing ability in the most treacherous of conditions on some of the most difficult mountain passes in Europe. Last year, a similar stage was cancelled due to snow, but it was decided to proceed on this occasion amid several objections.
The Giro d’Italia can be ridden in some in some extreme weather particularly in the northern Alpine and Dolomite regions, and conditions for Stage 16 were bordering on the dangerous both in terms of the well-being of the cyclists and the road surfaces.
Yet Nairo Quintana not only enhanced his reputation as a one of the great climbers but also proved his fearless attitude to adversity on the road.