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Giro d'Italia

Giro’s high point should be passable barring ‘some strange weather system’

Barring "some strange weather system," says the race director, the Giro will take on the snowy Stelvio and Gavia passes

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MONTECOPIOLO, Italy (VN) — The Giro d’Italia should be able to reach its high point, Lo Passo dello Stelvio, assuming the weather holds. Race director Mauro Vegni says road crews are cleaning snow off the Stelvio and the Gavia passes for Tuesday’s stage to Val Martello.

“We will race the Gavia and the Stelvio, for sure,” Vegni told VeloNews in the early morning sunshine on Saturday. “The forecast is showing an improvement over the next two weeks for Italy. We shouldn’t have any problems.”

Vegni sent a photograph to Italy’s RAI television on Friday that made its way around the world via Twitter. Other photographs show the paths lined with snow walls that workers have already cut to reach the passes.

The workers are able to cut paths and plow snow quicker than one year ago, when cold weather and rain continued well into spring. The bad weather last year forced organizer RCS Sport to cut short the Galibier stage and cancel the stage over the Gavia and Stelvio to Val Martello.

For this coming Tuesday, RCS Sport planned the same route to Val Martello, west of Bolzano. But this time, Vegni said, time and the weather are on their side.

“We still have 10 days. The road crews are already working on the roads. If the weather doesn’t change radically, we’re fine,” said Vegni.

“The temperature is supposed to rise. We hope that the 10 days of warm weather will help the work they’re doing. The photo I sent to RAI yesterday showed the passage for the cars through the tunnel near the top of Gavia. That’s already cut and ready for the cars and riders to pass.

“They just need to continue to work and we need to hope that the weather doesn’t turn for the worse. Already today, though, the road is cleared all the way to the top. We’ve got to remember, these guys are experts at working the roads and cleaning the snow.”

The stage in Italy’s north, however, reaches 2,758 meters at the top of the Stelvio Pass. Because Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph I wanted passage from Milan to Vienna year around, workers used to live on the pass in small houses. Since World War I, though, the pass remains closed in the winter and only opens in late spring — just in time for the Giro.

Bad weather has often hit that road and the one over the Gavia during the Giro in May. Andy Hampsten helped secure his overall win in the 1988 Giro with a ride over the Gavia to Bormio in a snowstorm. Those familiar with the Alpine area know that bad weather can strike from one moment to the next due to the high altitudes.

“That stage is the most susceptible to bad weather due to its high passes. The other stages use much lower passes or climbs. At the end of May, it’s unusual that bad weather can force the passes to be closed,” said Vegni.

“On the Val Martello stage, though, the riders go up to 2,700 meters on the Gavia Pass and Stelvio Pass. My worry is ice. I hope that on the eve of the stage that some strange weather system doesn’t move through and bring rain and ice. It’s not so much snow, but cold and ice that worries me. For the rest of the stages, though, we shouldn’t have any problems.”

The Colombians will watch the weather forecast closely. Coming from high altitudes, the Val Martello stage should work to the advantage of Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Rigoberto Urán (Omega Pharma-Quick Step). They will hope for sunshine through the next week if they want to upset Cadel Evans, who took the lead on Saturday, and win the Giro.