Nairo Quintana produced a climbing masterclass to win an epic 16th stage of the Giro d’Italia and take the overall race lead from fellow Colombian Rigoberto Uran.
On a day played out largely in dreadful weather conditions, Quintana forged ahead of his general classification rivals on a treacherous descent off the Passo dello Stelvio – the second of three huge climbs – and then stretched his lead with a peerless show of strength on the ascent to the summit finish at Val Martello.
He crossed the line eight seconds ahead of second-placed Ryder Hesjedal and third-placed Pierre Rolland, who had both escaped with him on the Stelvio, but more significantly finished 4min 11sec ahead of Uran.
It means Quintana now leads his compatriot in the overall standings by 1min 41sec, with Cadel Evans dropping to third, 3min 21sec back, after he too was caught out.
There was an element of controversy about Quintana’s escape given that it came after race organisers tweeted the descent off the Stelvio would be neutralised due to heavy snow higher up and soaking-wet roads lower down. The tweet was later deleted and teams were not officially told to stop racing, but confusion nevertheless reigned.
Quintana bounded down unaware in a small group of riders and swiftly opened up a significant gap on his rivals, but it was on the 22.3km climb to Val Martello where he hammered home his advantage and showed his class.
His group started up the climb with a 1min 50sec advantage over the maglia rosa group and despite getting no help from the rest of the riders in the escape, he had more than doubled that lead by the summit after a sublime exhibition of climbing.
Hesjedal and Rolland were the only riders of the seven men with Quintana who could keep up, but they too fell away when the gradient touched 14 per cent in the closing kilometres.
Quintana said afterwards: "At the descent, Europcar and Hesjedal started going strong and [Gorka] Izagirre and myself followed their wheels. It wasn't an attack, by any means, nor did I hear anything about the race getting neutralised, neither from the organisers nor from the team radio. Besides, but the biggest gap was actually made into the final climb towards Val Martello."
Snow mars climbs
Back down the road, Wilco Kelderman and then Domenico Pozzovivo attacked out of the maglia rosa group in the last 1.5km to seal fourth and fifth on the day and limit their losses, but Uran could offer no response and crossed the line in ninth place.
The stage was one of the shortest of the race but contained three category-one climbs, the length and difficulty of which were exacerbated by brutal weather conditions. The ascents of the Passo Gavia and Stelvio were played out in rain, sleet and finally heavy snow near the summits, while the descents were negotiated in sub-zero temperatures on roads covered in slush and torrents of water.
Team Sky's Dario Cataldo attacked solo out of a ten-man breakaway close to the summit of the Stelvio and then opened up a healthy lead with a superb display of descending skills, but the Italian was helpless when Quintana began his relentless march to a first Giro stage win on Val Martello.
The only British rider in the field, Team Sky's Ben Swift, finished an impressive 25th, ahead of climbers such as Przemyslaw Niemiec, Nicolas Roche and Stefano Pirazzi.
Stage 16 result
1 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, 4:42:35
2 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp, +8secs
3 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar, +1:13
4 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +3:32
5 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +3:37
6 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, +3:40
7 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +4:08
8 Sebastian Henao (Col) Team Sky, +4:11
9 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, st
10 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC, +4:48
1 Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar, 68:11:44
2 Rigoberto Uran (Col) Omega Pharma – Quick-Step, +1:41
3 Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC, +3:21
4 Pierre Rolland (Fra) Europcar, +3:26
5 Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff-Saxo, +3:28
6 Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana, +3:34
7 Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r-La Mondiale, +3:49
8 Wilco Kelderman (Ned) Belkin, +4:06
9 Ryder Hesjedal (Can) Garmin-Sharp, +4:16
10 Robert Kiserlovski (Ned) Trek Factory Racing, +8:02