Seconds after Primož Roglič crossed the finish line at Sassotetto, a new race began amongst the riders at Tirreno-Adriatico. Not for every second against the clock or for the glory of a prestigious stage victory, but a race against the cold, against the risk of illness and against the pain from racing 166.6km in extreme weather conditions.
The finish had been moved down the mountain some two kilometres to avoid the worst of the weather at the summit. However, the finish was now in a narrow rocky gully. The galeforce westerly wind blew over the top of the Apennines and was channelled down the gully towards the riders as they made a final sprint to the line.
“The racing was really on and off, and the wind was blowing down the mountain at us,” Tao Geoghegan Hart told me, sensing that the weather gods were perhaps angry with the riders at Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico on Friday.
The wind made the Sassotetto climb harder than the gradient suggested, with riders huddling together like penguins to survive in the headwind. Only Damiano Caruso dared to make a solo attack and picked a moment when there was a brief tailwind section.
The race exploded in the final 1.5 kilometres when Enric Mas (Movistar) surged away, throwing caution to the wind. He forced a selection, but riding into the wind in the final five hundred metres was like racing in treacle. Other riders tried their hand but were blown back. Primoz Roglič was again impeccable with his timing, emerging at the very end to win by a bike length from Ciccone and Geoghegan Hart.
As soon as he crossed the line, the second race began. Roglič was bundled off to a warm room in a nearby concrete building that also served as a covered podium.
Everyone else had to fend for themselves out on the road beyond the finish area. It was dark as the sun set on the other side of the mountain, cold due to the wind and 1,286-metre altitude and wet due to the rain that came in gusts. After climbing in the wind and rain for 12.5km, the riders cruelly had to descend on the same road.
The riders stopped fifty metres or so beyond the finish, their soigneurs holding their hands in the air directing their riders to the left or right side of the road and chasing after those who they missed.
It was a truly apocalyptic scene, with riders fatigued, wet and dirty from the hard stage and mountain finish, yet also rushing to strip off and put on dry clothing as if they were trying to catch the last helicopter out of Saigon.
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