The weather at the Giro d'Italia has made it "really tough for everyone, there's been horrible weather pretty much every day," Magnus Bäckstedt told Cyclingnews in an exclusive video. The Swede, who won Paris-Roubaix and one stage at the Tour de France during his long career, said that Vincenzo Nibali looks "solid" in the race.
Although "we've done Giros in the past where there's been pretty horrible weather," he acknowledged that "I think this is probably the worst spring that I've seen in the history of cycling, as long as I can remember anyway."
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) "looks very solid in the pink jersey," but Bäckstedt was not ready to concede him the overall victory. "You know the final week is where it's all happening here. Every Grand Tour is like that - if you're going to crack, then you're likely to crack in the last week or the last couple of mountaintop finishes."
Stage 19 of this year’s Giro d’Italia has been cancelled due to snow.
On Thursday night organisers RCS Sport announced that the peloton would race a modified route in order to avoid the riders racing in the snow and the risk of ice on the descents.
"Due to adverse weather conditions and, in particular, snow on the stage route in its entirety, stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia, from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello/Martelltal, has been cancelled," race officials confirmed in a press release.
The original race route included the Passo Gavia (2618m high), where Andy Hampsten attacked in the snow to set up victory in the 1988 Giro d'Italia, the Passo dello Stelvio (2758m) with the 139km stage finishing at Val Martello.
The modified route of160km was set to start in Ponte di Legno but was then set to race the descends east to Ponte Mostizzolo in order to tackle the Passo Castrin (1706m) and then climb to the original finish at Val Martello (2059m). However even the conditions on the modified route proved too dangerous.
There has not been any word as to whether stage 20, which was also at risk, will go ahead.
Danilo Di Luca has returned a positive test for EPO in an out-of-competition control carried out on April 29, the Monday before the Giro d’Italia began.
The veteran Italian had belatedly signed for Vini Fantini-Selle Italia the previous week after being left without a team when Acqua & Sapone folded at the end of the 2012. He made his return to racing on April 27 at the GP Larciano, finishing in 10th place.
Vini Fantini directeur sportif Luca Scinto confirmed the news of Di Luca's positive for EPO to Cyclingnews.
"It's true," Scinto said in a quiet, sad voice. "He's mad, he's a cretino, he needs treatment. There's nothing else to say. We gave him a second chance and the sponsors put their faith in him and this is how he pays us back. It's crazy that a rider thinks they can get away with it like that."
Di Luca did not answer his phone when contacted by Cyclingnews.
Di Luca previously tested positive for CERA at the 2009 Giro d’Italia and was handed a two-year suspension, subsequently reduced to 15 months after he apparently provided information on doping methodologies to the Italian Olympic Committee.
The 37-year-old Italian also served a three-month suspension in 2007 for his implication in the Oil for Drugs doping investigation centred around Dr. Carlo Santuccione. He had also been prevented from riding the 2004 Tour de France for the same reason.
Di Luca’s 2007 Giro d’Italia victory was also mired in controversy when he returned a suspect sample after the Zoncolan stage – the so-called “pipì degli angeli” – although he subsequently escaped sanction.
In spite of the fact that he had only two days of racing in his legs before this year’s Giro, Di Luca put in a series of eyebrow-raising performances at the race. He came close to stage victory after a late attack on the road to Serra San Bruno on stage 4 and was also aggressive in the finale to Vicenza.
Di Luca had also put in a startling bout of pace-making on the Jafferau in support of teammate Mauro Santambrogio on stage 14.
Speaking to Cyclingnews earlier in the Giro, Di Luca insisted that his strong performances were explicable by “training well all winter” and said that he hoped to continue racing for two more years.
In recent days, reports in the Italian media had linked Di Luca with a move to Astana for the 2014 season.
The UCI released a statement soon after the news broke, stating that, "the provisional suspension of Mr. Danilo Di Luca remains in force until a hearing panel convened by the Italian Cycling Federation determines whether he has committed an anti-doping rule violation under Article 21 of the UCI Anti-Doping Rules.Mr. Danilo Di Luca has the right to request and attend the analysis of his B sample. Under the World Anti-Doping Code and the UCI Anti-Doping Rules, the UCI is unable to provide any additional information at this time."
Most of the riders and teams in the Giro d'Italia peloton were pleased that race organiser RCS Sport decided to cancel stage 19 of the race due to adverse weather conditions.
Many of the teams were staying close to the start in Ponte di Legno and had awoken to see snow again covering their team cars and team buses.
When they heard the news that the stage had been cancelled, they took to Twitter.
Paul Martens of the Blanco team summed up how the riders felt in his tweet: "Stage cancelled. It was a tough decision for the organisation but also a brave one. Thank you. The fans will understand it with this conditions."
Local resident Daniel Oss of BMC tweeted: "Thanks for the decision. We'll make up for it next time by putting on a great show. #RideFastRideSafe
Koen de Kort (Argos-Shimano) tweeted: "Call me crazy but I would have loved to have done Gavia and Stelvio but in this weather canceling the stage the only right&healthy decision."
Evans focused on the final mountain stage
Cadel Evans give his thoughts in an audio message releases by the BMC team as he travelled to his next hotel in the team bus.
"We normally take the bus to go to the stage start but we're taking the bus to the finish and the hotel after the finish," he said.
"Looking at the snow this morning and the weather of the last 24 hours, my question was 'How could you ever have a race?' Then this morning they announced that we don’t have a stage. It's always possible to pass these passes on a bike but to be healthy and stay safe, it's quite impossible and so the organisers have done the right thing. It's a pity for the communities who invested in the race and we're sorry for them but we can't control the weather."
Evans is second overall, 4:02 behind Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) but leads Rigoberto Uran (Team Sky) by just ten seconds. With time bonuses of 20, 12 and 8 seconds up for grabs at the stage finish, the climb to Tre Cime di Lavaredo could decide the podium places.
"The day will still be full anyway and we need to train. Tomorrow is going to be an important day and because there's no racing today, it's going to be an even more important day than it would have been," he said.
"We have to train and prepare for that. While we have an opportunity to rest, we have utilize that moment to recover as best as possible and be at our best for tomorrow."
No objections from Team Sky
Uran was one of the men with the most to gain on stage 19 of the Giro d’Italia, but Team Sky had no objections to the cancellation of the stage.
“We haven't seen much of the route but we've seen pictures like everyone else. It just came down to rider safety and there aren't a lot of other options," directeur sportif Marcus Ljungqvist said, according to the team’s website.
"Everybody knew the risk of high mountain finishes in May in the Dolomites but I don't think anybody expected it to be this bad. They've been unlucky and it's too bad for the fans, the organisation and everyone."
"It would have been great with good weather on clear roads with the scenery and the helicopter shots but it's about making a good bike race that is safe for the riders."
Team Sky will stay in stage 20 start town Silandro on Friday evening. Given the miserable conditions in the area, it is likely that their riders will be restricted to a spell on the turbo trainer when they arrive at the hotel in the afternoon.
“It's raining right now where we are but it's just above freezing. We'll get to the new hotel and see what we do. The guys will probably jump on the home trainers,” Ljungqvist said.
UCI praises RCS Sport for putting rider safety first
"The UCI acknowledges the decision of the organisers of the Giro d’Italia to cancel today’s 19th stage in the interests of rider security. The organisers RCS Sport at first modified the course in order to try to avoid adverse weather conditions, but finally cancelled the stage completely due to snow predicted along the entire route."
"The organisers have put the security of riders first and the UCI supports their decision,” said UCI President Pat McQuaid. “The riders have been racing in very difficult conditions this week, but today those conditions are just too extreme."
The Vini Fantini-Selle Italia team has moved quickly to distance itself from Danilo Di Luca after it was revealed that he tested positive for EPO, announcing that he has been sacked and will be sued for damages.
"Danilo Di Luca was not part of our group, was not wanted by the team and was inserted into our set-up by our main sponsor Valentino Sciotti, who out of friendship and regional ties to the rider, insisted upon and created the conditions for his addition to the roster," team manager Angelo Citracca said in a press release.
"Following the news, which we received with disappointment this morning, the team fired the rider on the spot and told him to leave the race by his own means. At this point, Vini Fantini-Selle Italia will also open civil proceedings to claim damages from the rider, in accordance with the internal rules that all members of the team signed up to.”
Scinto described Di Luca as a cretin to Cyclingnews when the news broke and insisted he had never wanted him in the team.
"I'm knocked out. I never wanted Di Luca in the team and I didn’t hide it despite being criticised for my opinion," Scinto said in the press release.
"We've built out team based on the sacred values of cycling and we made a mistake by accepting the repeated request from our main sponsor to have faith in a rider they are close friends with. Unfortunately this faith has been repaid with an incredible error, which I still can't understand or take in."
It was Valentino Sciotti of Vini Fantini who so wanted Di Luca in the team for the Giro d'Italia.
"What can I say? I wanted and believed in the man and the rider, and it’s only right that I take all the blame because I made a mistake," he said.
"Maybe I made a mistake in believing that someone can redeem themselves after an error and not make one again. Maybe I made a mistake in wanting to help someone who I saw in difficulty."
Stage 20 will now be held over a 210km route from Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo. The Passo Costalunga, Passo di San Pellegrino, Passo Giau have all been cut from the new route. The climb of the Passo Tre Croci remains, along with the final climb to the finish.
The original route was 203km and included four high passes before the finish at Tre Cime di Lavaredo. With temperatures close to zero and the peaks covered in snow a new route became essential.
Ahead of yesterday's stage 18 of this year’s Giro d’Italia, Gian Paolo Mondini from Specialized took time out to go through Vincenzo Nibali’s bike for the mountain time trial.
The rider and his staff rode reconnaissance over the 20.6 kilometre stage in the morning and Mondini described to Cyclingnews what bike Nibali would be racing. The maglia rosa chose a Tarmac, one of Specialized’s flagship road models, instead of a time trial machine.
Wheels were also a factor, and Mondini ran through the components Nibali would ride with, right down the gear selection. Mondini predicted that the rider would possibly crack the top three on the stage, but Nibali used the stage to demonstrate his unbeatable form, winning by almost a minute.
Nibali and his teammates travelled by bus to their hotel close to Val Martello after stage 19 of the race was cancelled due to bad weather two hours before the scheduled start.
Despite the roads being dry, the Giro d'Italia race leader and his Astana teammates opted to ride on the rollers in the hotel garage. With music blasting from an Ipod, the roller session was more like a spinning class than a stage of the Giro d'Italia.
Before jumping on his bike, Nibali spoke briefly in a video prepared by the Astana press officer Chris Baldwin.
"I think the organisers made an important decision," he said.
"They'd already changed the stage but because of the weather conditions and the snow, we can't do the stage. The conditions are really extreme and so I think they've made the right decision."
Nibali raced with Di Luca at Liquigas but was critical of his fellow Italian after it was announced that he had tested positive for EPO.
"The news about Danilo Di Luca is very bad news because it's always us, the riders, who pay the price for things like this," he said.
"This kind of thing is never good news for the world of cycling and is something we never like to hear. We'll see what happens. I think there are representatives bodies like the Italian Association of Professional rider, who I think will take action for this kind of thing."
The Associazione Corridori Ciclisti Professionisti Italiani (ACCPI) has issued a statement saying it will take legal action against Di Luca on behalf of the riders.
The statement said: "Cycling is giving its all to rebuild its credibility and support with the public. The peloton doesn't accept that the crazy behavior of one person can damage the image of the entire movement."