Nairo Quintana (Movistar) blasted into the pink jersey with a phenomenal effort on a brutal stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia.
With confusion around the treacherous descent of the Stelvio, Quintana distanced Rigoberto Uran and climbed with ease up the category-one Val Martello to take a solo victory on the summit finish.
The Colombian gave a true climbing masterclass, forming a leading group of three riders – with Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar) and Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp) for company – but doing all the riding on the front.
Every acceleration he made showed his class, and eventually put paid to his companions’ hopes of a stage win, while Uran and his fellow GC contenders were also distanced further behind.
And Quintana stayed clear to take a huge victory, earning an overall lead of 1’41” by the time the stage had finished.
With the same stage last year cancelled because of the weather, torrential conditions wreaked havoc again as snow battered the Stelvio.
A steady start to the stage, in horrendous riding conditions, had seen a break struggle to go clear on the lower ramps of the Passo Gavia.
Movistar set the pace in the bunch though and several groups formed very early on as the peloton fractured.
The leading contenders, for the most part, stayed together though Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) had to bridge back after being briefly dropped.
Robinson Chalapud (Colombia) was the first rider to go off the front, with Julian Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing) also making a move, which was marked by Jarlinson Pantano (Colombia).
Franco Pellizotti (Androni Giacottoli-Venezuela), Dario Cataldo (Team Sky) and Alexis Vuillermoz (Ag2r-La Mondiale) were next to earn a gap, their lead sticking as several riders set off in pursuit.
Pantano, Chalapud, Diego Rosa (Androni Giacottoli-Venezuela), Przemyslaw Niemiec (Lampre-Merida), Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing), Hubert Dupont (Ag2r-La Mondiale) all bridged to form the day’s early break.
Alexandre Geniez (FDJ.fr) bridged to them later on, while behind them a group of around 35 riders remained with the leading GC contenders in it.
Movistar did the majority of the work as they descended the Passo Gavia and headed up the Stelvio, but Tinkoff-Saxo injected some pace on the lower ramps of the latter as they looked to put some hurt on.
It led to Rigoberto Uran (Omega Pharma-Quickstep) losing some of his team-mates – Thomas de Gendt included – and the group quickly cut down the leaders’ advantage.
As the catch was about to be made however, Cataldo accelerated off the front to go solo in pursuit of the Cima Coppi prize on offer atop the Stelvio.
The snow continued to hammer the riders however, getting worse as the summit approached rumours abound of a decision to neutralise the wet, treacherous descent.
With confusion as to how they were to do that however, Cataldo continued in his bid to crest the famous climb first, attracting support from the hardy fans who were defying the conditions to offer their support.
The Italian claimed the Cima Coppi prize, with Robinson Chalapud next to emerge from the snow, some 16 seconds back.
Many of the riders to cross in the maglia rosa were happy to stop at the top, taking on supplies and adding extra layers for the 2,000m descent as the soigneurs certainly earned their keep at the top.
Confusion continued about how the descent would be neutralised, with even the directeurs sportif appearing to be unclear as what had been decided as the riders eased down the long, twisting hairpins.
Cataldo was certainly not letting up the pace, attacking the descent with fervour to earn a lead of more than a minute at one point though it was soon brought back slightly.
Behind, Quintana was eased down the descent with team-mate Gorka Izaguirre for company, while Uran found himself in a small group further back.
As Cataldo continued to ride hard on the front, race organisers then insisted no neutralisation was taking place after all, with the riders gradually reaching the bottom in very small groups.
Cataldo led at the bottom, with Vuillermoz, Dupont and Pantano behind him, while further back Quintana, Pierre Rolland (Team Europcar), Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Gorka Izaguirre (Movistar), Matteo Rabottini (Nero Sottoli) and Romain Sicard (Team Euroropcar) formed the second chasing group.
Quintana and Rolland appeared very animated in the group, each calling on the other to pull hard on the front as they looked to close to the groups in front and keep Uran’s group – which also contained most of the other GC contenders – at bay.
Anger continued to be directed at the confusion from the descent, as Cataldo worked his way towards the day’s final climb.
— Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) May 27, 2014
He led by more than a minute to the chasing group – which by now had come together – while Uran’s group remained three minutes back as they hit the category-one ascent of the Val Martello.
Quintana’s group remained in a good position as a rare glimpse of sunshine lit the climb, while Uran’s group continued to pull hard in their bid to claw back the Movistar man.
Quintana and Rolland spotted their opportunity to attack as Michael Rogers (Tinkoff-Saxo) put in a huge shift on the front of the maglia rosa group behind him.
The duo caught Cataldo, with Hesjedal mounting a spirited pursuit, though the Canadian was grimacing with the pain of staying on their wheels.
Quintana and Rolland repeatedly upped their efforts, constantly distancing their two companions before easing back into their steady rhythm.
It eventually proved too much for Cataldo, though Hesjedal clung to their wheels as Mikel Landa (Astana) and Rogers continued to pull the pink jersey group behind them.
Evans also looked to be struggling towards the back of that group but – barring one momentary, and slight, loss of contact he clung on.
Wilco Kelderman (Belkin), Fabio Aru (Astana), Robert Kiserlovski (Trek Factory Racing) and Sebastian Henao (Team Sky) were also part of that group, while Domenico Pozzovivo (Ag2r-La Mondiale) received a boost as his two team-mates, Dupont and Vuillermoz, were caught.
The two had eased their effort on the lower ramps of the climb, and appeared to have judged it well as they immediately started to pull hard on the front.
Back up the road, Quintana was doing all the work, the flicks of his elbow yielding no response from Rolland and Hesjedal.
Quintana eventually tired of the two, each time he got out of the saddle the other two had to fight to cling to his wheel and eventually the 24-year-old Colombian rid himself of the two on a tough nine percent section of the climb.
A small descent gave Rolland and Hesjedal the opportunity to rejoin him, their lead stretching to more than three minutes in the process.
Behind them, the attacks and counter-attacks started with Majka’s acceleration immediately causing Evans some difficulty, as Kelderman and Pozzovivo covered him.
Majka went again as the gradients approached 14 per cent, Kelderman again going with him as Uran and Pozzovivo stayed in touch.
Rolland eventually blew up, his spirited effort coming to an end on the fierce ramps but Hesjedal remained in good shape and stuck with him.
Behind them, a six-man chasing group formed – Aru and Henao joining the four – but Evans struggled on behind as he desperately tried to catch them.
At the front, Hesjedal finally took a turn but Quintana distanced him as they approached the brutal gradients of the final kilometres.
The Colombian put in a huge effort, keen not just to take the stage but to finish as far ahead of Uran as possible, and delivered on the target in some style.
Hesjedal crossed just behind, having fought hard to maintain his challenge, while Rolland was next over but the clock continued to tick relentlessly as Uran struggled up the climb.
An attack from Kelderman helped him cross in fourth place, Pozzovivo and Aru just behind at more than three minutes back.
The profits of Quintana’s efforts on the climb were apparent as still the crowd at the finish line craned for a sight of the pink jersey.
The clock had ticked past four minutes by the time Uran crossed on the wheel of his Colombian compatriot Henao, having visibly given his all on the climb.
Giro d’Italia 2014: stage 16 – result
1) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – 4.42.35hrs
2) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Sharp +8”
3) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +1.13
4) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +3.32
5) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +3.37
6) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +3.40
7) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +4.08
8) Sebatian Henao (COL) – Team Sky +4.11
9) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep – ST
10) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +4.48
1) Nairo Quintana (COL) – Movistar – 68.11.44hrs
2) Rigoberto Uran (COL) – Omega Pharma-Quickstep +1.41
3) Cadel Evans (AUS) – BMC Racing +3.21
4) Pierre Rolland (FRA) – Team Europcar +3.26
5) Rafal Majka (POL) – Tinkoff-Saxo +3.28
6) Fabio Aru (ITA) – Astana +3.34
7) Domenico Pozzovivo (ITA) – Ag2r-La Mondiale +3.49
8) Wilco Kelderman (NED) – Belkin Pro Cycling +4.06
9) Ryder Hesjedal (CAN) – Garmin-Sharp +4.16
10) Robert Kiserlovski (CRO) – Trek Factory Racing +8.02