Philip Deignan describes yesterday’s snow covered stage of the Giro d’Italia as being up there with the worst conditions he’s ever raced in.
Tuesday May 27, Stage 16: Ponte di Legno to Val Martello (139km)
By Philip Deignan
With three climbers left in this Giro, it was pretty obvious that myself Dario Cataldo and Sebastian Henao would be the ones expected to challenge on today’s tough queen stage over the legendary Gavia and Stelvio passes.
I knew it was going to be one of those days when we got to the start this morning. Every single team had bikes set up on home trainers, so I did a 10 minute warm up before signing on and riding straight to the start line.
It was 10 degrees and raining on the line so it was obvious that it was going to be just two or three degrees and snowing when we got up onto the mountains today.
As the weather was so bad we started off with an unofficial agreement that nobody was going to attack on the first climb of the Gavia, that we would all stop at the top and get dressed in warm clothes for the descent.
There were to be no attacks on the way down either and the racing would start on the Stelvio, which seemed pretty reasonable to most of us.
As well as cold temperatures and snowfall, freezing fog was also a factor as the riders climbed higher yesterday.
But as always there were some who didn’t agree and sure enough, 5km into the Gavia, somebody attacked and it literally snowballed from there.
Pretty soon, we heard on the radio that there were groups of ones and twos spread all over the mountain.
As well as being able to stop and put on clothing and not getting hypothermia on the way down, another reason for the agreement not to attack so early in the race was to stop that happening, stop the race splitting in pieces with riders stretched all over the Gavia.
When you’re racing you don’t like to think about it too much, but today it would have been pretty easy to lose the feeling in your hands, overshoot a bend and go over a crash barrier.
The race was so spread out and the conditions and visibility so bad that if you did go over the side with your bike – as happened one of the Giant Shimano guys in the time trial the other day – and nobody saw you, you might not be found for a very long time.
Soon we had four metres of snow on either side of us and you couldn’t see more than a few of bike lengths in front of you.
Deignan said an unofficial truce in the opening section of yesterday’s stage did not last very long, with attacks beginning on the opening climb (Photo: Scott Mitchell – Team Sky)
I had to take my glasses off because they were fogging up and covered in snow.
At the top, Dario was clear in an eight man group while Sebastian and Ben were still in the front part of the now seriously depleted peloton. In fact Swifty did a great ride today for somebody who’s supposed to be a non climber.
I wasn’t too bad on the way up but when we got to the top we hit a snow blizzard and it got really cold. I’d started off with a rain jacket over a thick jersey and heavy base layer and as I was pretty toasty on the climb thought I was okay but when we went down the other side the cold got to me.
On the descent, I poured half a bottle of hot tea over my hands in an effort to get them warm before starting the 20km ascent of the Stelvio.
As more and more riders went out the back I didn’t feel great but was able to follow the group.
It was so cold it almost felt like I couldn’t react when the tempo went up.
A bit like a diesel engine, today I took a while to get going and sort of rode the same tempo all the time but managed to stay in the group to the top.
The toll the stage took on even the front runners was evident in the thousand yard stares at the finish, including on the face Cadel Evans, above.
At the top of the Stelvio I stopped for literally 10 seconds and put an extra rain jacket on, which saved me on the descent.
Dario had by now gone clear of the rest of the race while Colombian Nairo Quintana of Movistar, Garmin Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal and a few others attacked going over the top
I know there was a lot of controversy afterwards about whether the race was supposed to be neutralised on the way down the Stelvio but to be honest I never heard anything about it.
With Dario still out front, I got to the bottom of the last 22km climb in the chase group alongside Sebastian, who was riding really well to stay with the pink jersey, but I was feeling very average and pulled the plug a couple of kilometres into the climb and rode at my own pace to the top.
By then, there were only 10 or 12 guys left in the group and maybe another 10 up the road.
The race was so broken up today that even though I finished 26 and a half minutes down on stage winner Quintana, I was 34th on the stage.
Dario was really unlucky that the group with Quintana, Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland went clear of the pink jersey group behind him today.
Normally, in the valley section before the final climb today the GC contenders would have taken it easy in readiness for a big battle on the last climb.
But the fact that there were two groups trying to chase each other pushed the pace up and brought Dario’s gap down and he was caught halfway up the final climb.
Although I felt better than I did the last time I rode this stage in 2008, the conditions today were a hell of a lot worse.
I suffered more on the downhills than the uphills today to be honest but it’s much worse when you’re dropped, like I was in 2008.
All last week, the race organisers had said they had an alternative route chosen for if the conditions were bad but they didn’t change it this morning even though today is up there with the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in.
You wouldn’t put a dog out in the conditions we raced in today. I think the Giro likes the spectacular photos of guys riding in between walls of snow but sometimes you wonder why we, as riders, do it.
No other sport would put up with the crap we have to go through.