• Country

Pogačar Overcomes Chaos, Rain and Rivals to Win Fifth Giro Stage

By Siegfried Mortkowitz

Bad weather. Bad planning. A rider rebellion. A late start. A shortened race. And another Tadej Pogačar victory.

It was his fifth stage win of this Giro and extended the biggest lead at this point of the race in 70 years. He now leads Dani Martínez  (BORA-hansgrohe) by 7:18, with Geraint Thomas, who did not have a good day, in third, at 7:40.

The UAE Team leader was again well served by the indefatigable Rafal Majka and made his winning move on the final, and steepest, section of the final climb, the Monte Pana (6.5km at 6.3%, but 12% on the final 2km).

So impressive has Pogačar been that the rider who finished second in the stage, Giulio Pellizzari (VF Group–Bardiani CSF–Faizanè), at 20 the youngest rider in the race, asked him for a souvenir. Pogačar happily gave him his jersey, which was sopping wet from the rain that fell throughout the stage.

A word also about Julian Alaphilippe (Soudal–Quick Step), who again was part of a long breakaway, this time as a part of a larger group, and again took off on his own with 32.8km, and lots of climbing, still to go. But he was eventually caught by a late three-rider breakaway that included Pellizzari. He was caught by Pogačar only 0.7km from the finish line, but he didn’t seem to be very disappointed.

Julian Alaphilippe
Alaphilippe during stage 16 of the 2024 Giro. © Profimedia

All this came after hours of chaos and confusion. The snow and freezing temperatures predicted several days in advance by meteorologists for the Umbrail Pass – the summit of an intermediate and very difficult climb (16.7km @ 7.2%) at the 50km point of the 206km route – were confirmed. As a result, Giro riders voted unanimously not to ride the stage unless that climb was removed from the race.

This came after representatives of the UCI, the riders’ union the CPA and the AICCP, an international body working to ensure fair and safe cycling events, met on Monday, a rest day, and drafted contingency plans for the weather. These included additional cars to hand out rain gear to the peloton or for the race to be neutralized at the top of the climb for three minutes to give riders time to change into warmer clothing.

These options were unanimously rejected by the riders. So the GPA and its president, Adam Hansen, sent a letter to the race organizers, RCS Sport, declaring that “stopping and restarting races in such conditions is unacceptable,” and emphasizing that all of the teams voted unanimously that “they will not participate in the stage under the current conditions.”

The letter went on to say, “Riders aim to compete and entertain, not to face a situation where they must stop at an altitude of 2,498 meters in a car park, change clothes in 2-degree weather with a high likelihood of snow, and then continue racing. Such conditions pose significant health risks, particularly during the [20km] descent of the Umbrail Pass.”

As the standoff went on, past the scheduled starting time, riders huddled under tents at the start, where temperatures also hovered around freezing and snow was also falling. During that time, the Australian GC rider Ben O’Connor (Decathlon AG2R La Mondiale) expressed the feelings of many riders when he told Eurosport, “It’s probably one of the worst organized races, I think. I’m just being honest…. It’s just a bit of a shame that in 2024 you still have dinosaurs who really don’t see the human side of things.”

Addressing Giro race director Mauro Vegni, he added: “I would like to see him in our position, get outside on a bike and do the start of this stage and see what his answer is after those couple of hours.”

Ultimately, the organizers caved in. The climb was canceled, the start was postponed for three hours and the stage was shortened by 87km. The route had already been altered once before when a climb was removed due to the risk of avalanche. The Umbrail Pass had been substituted in its stead.

The chaos could easily have been avoided if, during the rest day, organizers had agreed that the safety of the riders was more important than other considerations and come up with a workable alternative route. Nevertheless, there was more than enough excitement in the final 35km to forget what had preceded the stage.

Still, the incident was the latest example of an activist group of riders who, under Hansen, have taken strong positions in support of road racing safety, especially following the fatal crash of Swiss rider Gino Mäder in the 2023 Tour de Suisse.