Pogacar extends Giro lead to over 7 minutes after winning altered Stage 16 amid protests at start

SANTA CRISTINA, Italy (AP) — After a chaotic, wet and unusual start to the 16th stage of the Giro d’Italia, there was a familiar sight at the finish on Tuesday.

Tadej Pogacar won on a much-altered 118.4 kilometers (73.6 miles) route from Laas, and following protests at the start, to extend his considerable advantage to over seven minutes.

The Slovenian cycling star counted up the stage wins on his fingers — five — and then raised up his hand as he crossed the line at Santa Cristina Valgardena, 16 seconds ahead of Giulio Pellizzari and Daniel Martinez.

Pogacar’s win seemed inevitable when the two-time Tour de France winner made his attack on the steep climb to the finish with 1.3 kilometers remaining and he made it look easy.

The UAE Team Emirates rider was 23 seconds behind Pellizzari but he passed him with 0.7 kilometers remaining and soloed to the finish.

The 20-year-old Pellizzari asked Pogacar for his sunglasses at the finish line and the Slovenian gave him his pink jersey too amid similes and hugs between the pair.

Pogacar already had the biggest Giro advantage in seven decades and he extended that to seven minutes, 18 seconds over Martinez, who moved into second. Geraint Thomas slipped to third, 7:40 behind.

Pogacar’s teammate, Rafał Majka, admitted they didn’t even plan on winning the stage but took advantage of the pace set by Movistar in the peloton.

“Tadej wanted that I go for the stage but actually I pulled already before, then I was a little bit tired, so I said ‘Go on man, win another stage’ so chapeau,” Majka said. “But really today we didn’t want to go for the stage but when it is other teams pulling and we are still there with guys, then why not?”

Tuesday’s route was altered last week because of a high risk of avalanches on the Stelvio. The riders were still scheduled to go partly up the famed ascent on a 206-kilometer (128-mile) leg from Livigno but cut across to Switzerland on the Umbrail Pass before joining the original route.

However, with heavy snowfall on the Stelvio as well as wet and freezing conditions, there was a standoff between race organizers RCS and riders, who wanted to start after the pass and cut out the Stelvio completely — especially as the weather made the 20-kilometer descent even more dangerous.

RCS wanted them to do the climb and then get in the cars for the descent before climbing back on their bikes.

“I’d like to see him (race director Mauro Vegni) in our position, go outside on the bike and do the start of the stage and see what his answer is after those couple of hours,” Ben O’Connor, who was fifth overall, told Eurosport amid the uncertainty.

There was confusion before the scheduled start and, with worsening weather, RCS agreed to remove the Umbrail Pass but still roll out of Livigno as planned and cover a neutralized 18 kilometers until the Munt Raschera tunnel.

But even this plan was scrapped as the riders wanted to avoid getting cold and wet before the transfer to the proper start point.

“Despite a handshake between the parties, the athletes did not show up at the start in Livigno,” RCS said in a statement.

The start of the race had already been delayed several times with many of the riders waiting under tents to shelter from the snow amid all the confusion. They eventually left Livigno in team cars and vans as most of the team buses had already set off for the finish.

“It’s probably one of the worst organized races I think and I’m just being honest. This would never happen in 99% of other situations,” O’Connor said.

“It’s just a shame that it is 2024 and you have dinosaurs who really don’t see the human side of things.”

Wednesday’s 17th stage is another brutal one. Apart from one short stretch, the riders will constantly be climbing or descending on the 159-kilometer (99-mile) route from Selva di Val Gardena, with four classified climbs before the top category ascent to the finish on the Passo Brocon.

The Giro ends in Rome on Sunday.


AP cycling: https://apnews.com/hub/cycling

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