Gallery: Storm of controversy as Giro d'Italia finds winter atop Gavia, Stelvio

While Nairo Quintana (Movistar) celebrated his stage victory at Val Martello and pulled on the race leader's pink jersey, the 'polemica' and back story to the epic stage over the Gavia and the Stelvio was playing out in the team car parking area, a hundred metres before the finish line.

Quintana had overturned the race and taken control of the Giro d'Italia but not everyone was happy how he had done it.

Several directeurs sportif from the BMC, Tinkoff-Saxo, Quick Step-OmegaPharma, Trek Factory Racing and Cannondale teams were angry that Quintana, Pierre Rolland, Ryder Hesjedal and other riders had accelerated down the descent of the Stelvio. They claimed the race organizers had neutralized the descent in an announcement via race radio before the summit of the climb, saying that riders should not attack when race motorbikes flew a red flag.

Recordings of the announcement quickly appeared on the internet. While the word 'neutralisation' was not said, the race radio announcer said motorbikes would fly a red flag 'to avoid that there are attack on the descent, to ensure that the riders hold their position and avoid taking huge risks. They should hold that position until the official lower the red flags."

The directeurs sportif told Cyclingnews that they had told their riders to hold back and follow the official race motorbike down the climb. They were angry that Quintana and the others riders ignored the instructions and attacked, taken extra risks on the descent to gain time.

Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue was the target for much of their anger, while others blamed race organizers RCS  Sport for causing confusion by making the announcement in the heat of the race and at the snow-covered summit of the Stelvio.

A tweet by the official Giro d'Italia account saying the descent had been neutralized only confused things further even if race radio is the official source of in-race information.

Race director Mauro Vegni refuted that the race organization had done anything wrong.

"There was low cloud on the first six or seven hairpins of the descent of the Stelvio so you couldn’t get a sense of the bends. To protect the riders, we had motorbikes with flags to signal the trajectory for the riders," he said at the finish area.

"We never spoke about neutralising those hairpins or that part of the course. I’m sorry that this misunderstanding came about. It doesn’t seem to me that race radio spoke about neutralisation. Maybe things could have been clearer but I'd say that a rider in a jersey should have looked for more information and not taken the risk of assuming descent was neutralised."

Unzue and Quintana deny doing anything wrong

Unzue defend his race strategy when approached by Cyclingnews in the car park.

"There was a lot of confusion," Unzue told Cyclingnews. "The race organisers and the UCI judges are in charge of the race. Quintana only did what other riders did. The Europcar riders took the descent pretty fast but the race wasn't neutralized. They didn’t say the race was neutralized, they said the motor bikes would signal the dangers by waving a red flag."

"I think it's important to point out that Nairo had a lead of a minute at the bottom of the Stelvio but gained four-minutes on Uran and the other riders. He gained most of the time on the climb, not on the descent."

Quintana was as good at avoiding the controversy as he was on the climb to Val Martello.

"I don’t understand why there is a polemic. I didn’t attack on the descent," he told Italian television after the stage.

"We were all together at the summit and I followed the Europcar riders who forced the pace. I never received an order from the organization or my team about a neutralization. And we made up the decisive difference on the climb, not on the descent."

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Stephen Farrand
Head of News

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has been Head of News at Cyclingnews since 2022, before which he held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and CyclingWeekly, among other publications.