Giro d'Italia race leader Nairo Quintana answers criticism that he 'stole' time during Stelvio descent debacle

The Giro d’Italia‘s new race leader, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) went on the offensive after hearing critics say that he stole time in yesterday’s stage over the Stelvio Pass.

“I don’t know if this is a joke or not, everyone on TV saw what was happening,” Quintana said. “I didn’t get in a car or on a motorbike, I went up the climb on my bike. If they way to take away two minutes because I was holding onto a car, that’d be something else, but I raced just like everyone else.”

Quintana took over the race lead from Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) yesterday by 1-41 minutes. He gained around 1-39 minutes on the descent of the Stelvio Pass and after ascending through the Val Martello to the finish line, he had 4-11.

The race director announced three kilometres before the top of the Stelvio Pass that the riders were to follow race motorbikes with red flags down the first part of the climb. Some riders heard the message from their team cars and some did not.

Quintana broke clear with Ryder Hesjedal (Garmin-Sharp), Pierre Rolland (Europcar) and three other cyclists. Teams and riders said that he passed the motorbikes with the red flag.

“We went fast. When I was at the bottom, I realised we were ahead in six. I didn’t attack on the descent,” he said yesterday.

“My team-mates didn’t hear anything, I didn’t hear, just a order from our team car to cover up well. I don’t understand why there is this polemic. I gained my time, above all, on the last climb, not on the descent.”

He rode in the race leader’s pink jersey for the first time today in the 17th stage from Sarnonico to Vittorio Veneto. He said that he has proven that he deserves to be in the position he is in now.

“I’ve shown that I have the ability to be where I am now. Even after I was sick, I stayed with Fabio Aru’s attack to Oropa, I took on the other favourites and placed third. If I have other good days, I’ll attack again. I’m not a rider who gets here by chance,” Quintana said.

“Maybe the other teams are thinking about that ganging up on me, but I have trust in my team. We still have all nine and we are in good form. I also have my friends in the group that could be my allies. What’s important is that in the big stages, I show how I can ride, but I’ll also watch for traps and alliances.”

This afternoon, the teams’ association (AIGCP), said that it asked cycling’s governing body, the UCI, to allow the Giro to strip Quintana’s gains from the Stelvio descent. It reported that the UCI would not allow it and explained that the UCI “put procedures above fair-sportsmanship”.

“Those teams and riders that shook my hand at the start today know what happened,” Quintana added, “but some sports directors keep creating polemics when they know that nothing happened.”