Tirreno-Adriatico organiser RCS Sport admitted it went overboard with stage six to Porto Sant’Elpidio yesterday. The three climbs touching 27% gradient, combined with the rain, forced one-third of the field to quit.
“It was too much, we made a mistake,” cycling director Michele Acquarone explained. “Half of the riders abandoning is too much.”
Acquarone spoke yesterday in the pressroom to a group of journalists. They were curious as to why RCS Sport included such a brutal climb. Given it the circuit passed the teams’ busses two times and that the race ended the next day, today, with a 9.2km time trial, the cyclists had very little reason to continue.
Mark Cavendish (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) pulled out at the end of the first circuit with many others. More cyclists rode towards the shelter of the bus and a warm shower at the end of the second circuit.
Taylor Phinney (BMC Racing) continued alone hoping to make it, but was missed the time cut.
The Porto Sant’Elpidio leg finished off one-third of Tirreno-Adriatico’s peloton. Only 108 cyclists finished in the time cut. The other 52 failed to finish the race and Phinney, according to the jury, was just too slow.
Many climbs dotted the course through Le Marche, but the Sant’Elpidio a Mare received the most attention. The first two times, the riders climbed a shorter 3km section and the last time they climbed a 6.3km section – both included gradients of 27%.
The Mur de Huy in comparison touches 26%, but it features in the one-day Flèche Wallonne, where cyclists know what they are in for.
Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) gained the most by taking the race lead from Chris Froome (Sky). He escaped with Peter Sagan (Cannondale) and Joaquím Rodríguez (Katusha).
Froome finished 50 seconds down. He sits second overall and trails Nibali by 34 seconds. To his credit, he did not say the climb was too much, but just that he lacked proper gearing. He raced with a 36×28.
“The climb was so steep that I needed my arms more than my legs,” stage winner Sagan said in a press conference. “They hurt more than my legs.”
“The weather made it more complicated because your wheels slipped,” Nibali added. “It’s one thing to do in a one-day race; it’s different after four days. Riders have quit but I’m happy because I was able to take the race lead.”
Many riders had to stop and walk, zigzag or accept help from the fans. Filippo Pozzato (Lampre-Merida) met with Cycling Weekly and other journalists after dinner. He summed up what most were thinking.
“It was too much,” Pozzato said. “You could’ve had that one hard climb once before the finish, and that’s it. However, the organisers should’ve known that they’d risk losing half the field. It doesn’t reflect well on Tirreno-Adriatico.”