RAVENNA, Italy (VN) — It’s a race against the clock for crews trying to clear the famous Passo Gavia in time for next week’s “queen stage” across the Italian Alps.
The Gavia is buried under a dozen feet of snow, and crews have been battling to try to clear the road before stage 16 next Tuesday.
“Recent avalanches have complicated the snow removal,” Elio Moretti, an official from nearby Sondrio, told ANSA. “There is a wall of snow four meters [about 13 feet] deep. We are doing everything we can to permit the Giro stage to go over the Gavia as planned.”
The Gavia, which tops out at 8,580 feet, is among the most mythical of all the Italian climbs. It will forever be linked to the epic battle through the blizzard during the 1988 Giro, eventually won by American Andy Hampsten.
The worry isn’t so much about new snowfall — forecasts are now calling for rain and cold temperatures in the mid-40s — but rather the risk of avalanches coming down from steep approaches on both sides of the climb. Officials warned that if another big slide buries the road, there simply would not be enough time to re-clear it.
“Right now, there is a 60-percent chance we can race the Gavia,” Giro director Mauro Vegni told ANSA. “If the weather stays good, we should be able to race it.”
Vegni said organizers are working on an alternative route if the Gavia is unpassable, but ruled out the possibility of climbing the even more fearsome Mortirolo two times.
One idea was that the race could climb the Mortirolo from its southern approach instead of the Gavia, then loop around, re-climb it from the scheduled northern approach, and end the stage as planned in Ponte di Legno. One likely alternative could be looping over the Passo d’Aprica to the west and then head up the northern approach of Mortirolo.
Vegni warned that two passages over the Mortirolo would be too long, as well as so hard that it would likely shatter the peloton, leaving only the sleekest of climbers inside the time cut.
“If we do have to do an alternative route, we won’t go twice over the Mortirolo,” Vegni said. “Of course, the stage wouldn’t be as fascinating without the Gavia, but it will still be very hard.”
There’s also some worry that the upper reaches of Friday’s first summit finale at Lago Serrù could be impacted by snow. Located quite a bit lower than the Gavia at 7,400 feet, crews were busy clearing the last remnants of snow from the planned finishing area at Ceresole Reale.
“We are still confident [about Lago Serrù],” Vegni said. “Ceresole Reale is practical, and we can plow it at the last minute if it snows. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Since the race ends with a summit, only a full-on blizzard would likely prevent the peloton from racing the full distance. If conditions worsened on race day, officials could move the finish line to a lower elevation to avoid the heaviest snow.
Right now, forecasters are calling for a chance of rain and temperatures in the mid-40s for Friday, meaning it would be very challenging racing conditions.
The Giro’s placement on the international calendar during May always presents a challenge for organizers trying to include Italy’s most famous high-altitude roads into the race route. Vegni has nudged the UCI to allow the Giro to conclude a week later — this year’s Giro ends June 2 — in an effort to have more time to clear roads and hold out for better weather.
This year’s Giro, however, has seen unseasonably cool and rainy weather even in the middle part of Italy’s boot.
The weather forecast looks grim over the weekend and going into the middle of next week, with rain and cold temperatures persisting.