Today is not only the eighth anniversary of Ryder Hesjedal’s Giro d’Italia victory, but also the sixth anniversary of Hesjedal and Nairo Quintana rocking the 2014 Giro’s queen stage, a day so brutal some thought it should have been neutralized.
Fifth place Quintana trailed pink jersey holder Rigoberto Uran by 2:40 at the start of Stage 16, with Hesjedal eleventh place at +6:44. The course was a classic: the Gavia, the Stelvio and the Val Martello summit finish in 139 km of racing.
Cold rain became snow on the Gavia and Stelvio, and, the stage to Val Martello having been cancelled the year before, there was anticipation that Stage 16 would also be scrapped. But it went ahead, with a trio of brave Colombians breaking away on the Gavia before tiptoeing down the other side. At one point, Canada’s hard man Svein Tuft stopped to change clothes. On the Stelvio, Quintana followed Hesjedal and Pierre Rolland over the top just as word started to circulate that the stage was to be neutralized.
At the pointy end of the race, Dario Cataldo (Italy/Sky) was still racing, and with the Quintana/Hesjedal group a minute ahead of Uran, Cadel Evans and Fabio Aru, the Giro officially announced that there was no neutralization.
The day’s final climb, Val Martello, is 22.4 km of 6.4 percent with a maximum of 14 percent. Cataldo started clambering up with 3:13 over the pink jersey group and 1:30 over the Quintana/Hesjedal chase. The sun broke through, prompting Quintana to strip down for the final skirmishes and then try to follow teammate Gorka Izagirre’s pace. Cataldo lost time with every kilometre.
It was Hesjedal, Rolland and Quintana who caught Cataldo with 17-km to go. Hesjedal looked to be struggling. With 16 km to go they had 1:37 over Uran and the dozen riders in his group. With 10-km remaining and Cataldo dispatched, the lead was 2:15 and, incredibly, it kept growing.
Quintana led and Hesjedal had to dig deep just to hold Rolland’s wheel. The Colombian tried to bolt with 7.5 km to go on a 9 percent section, but again the Frenchman and the Canadian pulled him back. Uran had to pull the chase. At a 14 percent section Rolland finally dropped away, but Hesjedal hung in and then pulled the duo.
The final 1.5 km was 8-14 percent and it was there that Quintana finally distanced Hesjedal, but he only won by eight-seconds.
Quintana, now 1:41 over Uran and 3:21 over Evans, pulled on the pink jersey for the first time in the race and would keep it to win his first Grand Tour. Hesjedal jumped up to ninth, which he would also keep, finishing just over a minute-and-a-half behind Evans in eighth. Uran would be the Giro runner-up for the second year in a row and Fabio Aru would round out the podium, with Rolland just missing out.