HEAVY snow forced organisers of the Giro d'Italia cycling race to call off yesterday's mountain stage – the first time in 24 years that a stage of the famous bike race was cancelled due to the weather.
"It's a strange and almost unique day in the history of the race," said race director Michele Acquarone. "We had to cancel today's stage, there was no way that we could have a race."
As well as cancelling yesterday's stage from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello, organisers have altered today's route so that it includes far fewer descents.
"Descents on mountains that are covered in snow are the worst thing for the riders," the race's technical manager Mauro Vegni said. "If it's snowing, we'll clear the roads, but it's the descents that really matter."
As the snow fell increasingly heavily on to the ground – which was already covered with a layer several centimetres thick – Mr Vegni was asked what the weather forecast was for Saturday.
"Look out of the window," he answered abruptly. "We've got people at key points to warn us if it all becomes impassable. But in nearly 25 years of working on the Giro, I've never known a day like this one."
Overall leader Vicenzo Nibali applauded the organisers' decision, saying: "The conditions are really extreme and so I think they've made the right decision."