For the first time since 1989, a stage of the Giro d'Italia has been cancelled. Then, it was a landslide that covered a mountain pass. This year, Stage Nineteen was the victim of a double-dose of snow at the higher elevations, with snow covering the roads across the summits of the three climbs.
Today's 139km (86.3mi) stage, from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello, and tomorrow's 203km (126mi) stage from Silandro to Tre Cime di Lavaredo were included in the Giro to crown three weeks of uncertainty with two days of dramatic racing in the mountains from which the Giro champion would emerge. What the race organization didn't expect was for weather to be the biggest player in the race. In the first week, it was the rain that dominated. The second week, it was snow in the high Alps. Now, it's snow in the Dolomites.
Strikingly, today's stage was originally intended to ride over the Passo Gavia in tribute to Andy Hampsten's ride in the 1988 Giro, 25 years ago June fifth. On that day, it was raining in the Dolomite valleys and snowing on the peaks. The organizers, then, as now, conferred with the racers, and at that time, the racers agreed to go on with a shorter than planned route that included the Gavia. As the race went up the Gavia, the rain turned to snow, and the snow covered the ground. The racers went on, with the day's leader, hitting the summit in search of King of the Mountain points, wearing nothing but a wool short sleeve jersey. He had to stop and climb into a car to warm up and ended up losing over 40 minutes that day. Hampsten hit the summit and dressed as heavily as he could for the descent, largely in the snow, to Bormio. On the run in to the finish, Dutchman Erik Breukink caught the American, they briefly rode together, and then Breukink rode off for a 15-second victory. Hampsten took over the Maglia Rosa and held it to the finish. The stage became known as "the day grown men cried."
Because of days like that one in 1988, and the cancelled stage in 1989, the Giro organization has back-up plans. When they realized that the climbs over the Gavia (2618 meters/8589 feet), the Passo della Stelvio (2758m/9049'), and the finish of Val Martello (2059m/6755') would be snowy, they had a second course planned, with fewer climbs, but longer at 160km and climbing the Passo del Tonale (1,883m/6177') and Passo Castrin (1,706m/5587') en route to Martello.
But, when the day dawned and reports came in of snow and ice on the roads of these climbs, the organizers felt they had no choice but to cancel. They were quickly backed by team directors, riders, and even the sport's governing body, the UCI.
Cannondale Pro Cycling's Damiano Caruso, a rider on great form, and one who could very well have been a major player on today's stage spoke for many when he applauded the decision. "I think the Giro's organizers did the right thing today. The roads were impracticable, it was really too dangerous, especially for the descents. It's not good when you have to cancel an important stage from the Giro. We're really sorry for the people that waited the Giro and we hope they can understand. We are strong sportsman ready to face many extreme situations, but today there was no chance to present any type of show."
The cancellation also puts pressure on the riders who had planned to attack race leader Vincenzo Nibali in the mountains today. Originally, they had two final chances to put him on the defensive and make up time on the Pink Jersey. Now, they're down to one.
And tomorrow's Stage Twenty has already been affected by the weather. Originally, the stage was going to be a day of five mountain passes, with over 80km (49.7mi) of climbing, finishing with four kilometers (2.5mi) on a 12% grade. Now, the re-routed stage, still starting in Silandro and finishing at Tre Cime di Lavaredo will be longer, at 210km (130mi), and still finish with the double-whammy of the Passo Tre Croci to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, but that's the bulk of the climbing for the day. It leaves opportunist climbers like Cannondale's Caruso precious little opportunity to make up time and play their hand, but it's better than nothing.
Giro d'Italia 2013
Stage 19 NOETS
Ponte di Legno to Val Martello 139km
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Astana Pro Team 73:55:58
2. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:04:02
3. Rigoberto Uran Uran (Col) Sky Procycling 0:04:12
4. Michele Scarponi (Ita) Lampre-Merida 0:05:14
5. Przemyslaw Niemiec (Pol) Lampre-Merida 0:06:09
General Classification Cannondale Pro Cycling
23. Damiano Caruso (Ita) 0:29:38
67. Paolo Longo Borghini (Ita) 1:55:08
91. Cristiano Salerno (Ita) 2:22:06
94. Cayetano José Sarmiento Tunarrosa (Col) 2:24:23
103. Fabio Sabatini (Ita) 2:29:22
116. Alan Marangoni (Ita) 2:44:15
117. Tiziano Dall'Antonia (Ita) 2:44:36
118. Elia Viviani (Ita) 2:45:11
130. Cameron Wurf (Aus) 2:58:51