Amazingly, 160 riders managed to reach the finish of stage 16 of the Giro d'Italia to Val Martello, surviving in the cold rain and snow and reaching the finish within the time limit for the 136km stage.
Michele Scarponi (Astana), Arnaud Courteille (FDJ.fr), Thomas Dekker (Garmin-Sharp), Daniele Colli and Mauro Finetto (Neri Sottoli), Alessandro Petacchi (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Bjorn Thurau (Europcar) failed to finish but all the other riders survived and will be on the start for Wednesday's 17th stage to Vittorio Veneto.
While Nairo Quintana (Movistar) won the stage and took the race leader's pink jersey, for most of the peloton it was a battle of survival and of celebration when they made it to the finish. Each one had made it through their own personal battle.
Dario Cataldo (Team Sky) who was the first to the summit of the Stelvio and so won the prestigious Cima Coppi prize, was later passed and finished 17th,10:53 behind Quintana. The first gruppetto finished at 31:35, another came in at 39:33, with the final group getting a huge cheer despite finishing 44:07. Enrico Barbin (Bardiani-CSF) was the last to finish but incredibly nobody failed to make the time cut.
Every rider was cheered and applauded as they reached the finish. They all deserved their place in a warm team car or the warm tents provided by race organizers so they could get changed before the evacuation down the climb to their hotel.
After the stage, riders were quick to share their suffering via Twitter.
Cadel Evans (BMC) wrote: "Today's racing was so nuts I can't quite believe it myself… and I was there!"
Teammate Brent Bookwalter wrote: "Searching for words.. Frozen, Pain, frustration, thankful, fear, anger, insane, perplexed… I hope those watching enjoyed."
Nathan Haas (Garmin-Sharp) wrote: "That was colder than the time when I stared Chuck Norris in the eyes."
Garmin-Sharp manager Jonathan Vaughters tweeted: "Once again, cycling fails to protect its own athletes. Finance and interests precede riders' well being."
"I'd don't think we've achieved anything by racing today," he said.
"At the end of the day the stage became like ancient Rome or like modern Hunger Games. I'm actually surprised that winner of the stage doesn't have to fight with tigers. It was just a show for television, for the fans, like in ancient Rome. I think it's sick. I got up there OK and we're not afraid of fighting in a race and giving everything but when it's just about seeing people in the snow, it's stupid."
"It was probably cool 20 years ago. We all like to live in the modern world with a new TV but they all want to talk about how cool the old times were. Now they can see us warming on the side of the road in HD."
"Every rider can decide how much to risk their life. But it seems strange to me that a team is willing to risk the investments they make in their riders and especially in their team leaders. If a rider crashes out because of the bad conditions, that could they're out for half of the season or even the whole year. I don't think it's worth the risk."
Eisel is a UCI rider representative and gives up his time to attend meetings for the good of his fellow riders but even he admits riders will never be organized or create a proper rider's union. He thinks the teams should do more to protect their assets: the riders.
"I've nothing against RCS Sport. I like the idea that we should race and make cycling special compared to other sports but there have to be limits. Today it was clear it was snowing up there on the climbs. But they still sent us up there," he said, mixing serious considerations with humour as he tried to get warm and recover the pain of the stage.
"But if something bad happens, what would happen? I don’t understand why the teams don't step up and say we don't want to risk our assets. Every other sport would not risk the lives of our guys, our prize assets."
"All the stakeholders involved have to make a decision, starting from sponsors, the UCI, riders, teams and organisers. We all have to sit at a table and sometimes say 'We can't do that.'"
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