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SAN DANIELE DEL FRIULI, Italy (VN) – The peloton rolled out under blue skies and sun to start stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia in the central square of Udine on Tuesday.
While the rain jackets were off, knee warmers, arm warmers, gloves, and gilets were more than evident as riders took the saddle under 10-degree Celcius temperatures. With the race set to hit the high Alps this week, riders are braced for the worst as they eye the week’s autumnal weather forecasts.
“It’s gonna be crazy,” Australian veteran Adam Hansen told VeloNews. “We’re lucky the weather’s good now. But I don’t think it’s gonna be nice no, not at all. When it gets cold up there, it’s gonna be super cold. If it stays dry it’s okay but if there’s a bit of rain it’s gonna be snowing.”
The decisive final week of this year’s Giro is highlighted by three high mountain stages Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Though tomorrow’s race to Madonna di Campiglio hits a high-point of “only” 1,800 meters elevation, while Thursday’s stage to Laghi di Cancano and Saturday’s ride to Sestriere both repeatedly cross the 2,000-meter elevation mark hitting altitudes of 2,758m and 2,744m respectively.
While the passes are currently clear, the plummeting mercury of late October renders any hint of rain a threat to the stages going ahead as originally planned. Forecasts are currently calm for stage 18, but conditions for stage 20 are looking ominous, with rain a possibility for preceding day Friday, meaning the planned passes of the Izoard, Agnello, Montgenèvre, and Sestriere could be under snow.
This year’s Giro has been marked by attritional weather, with the peloton battling driving rain and autumnal chills more times than some care to remember. And those memories weigh heavily with the final week in mind.
“I don’t think on the Stelvio stage it’s meant to rain, but for the final stage 20 if it rains there’s no chance,” said Ben O’Connor (NTT Pro Cycling). “You already saw on the Cesenatico stage it’s so… fucking… cold…. And there’s not even any mountains there, it’s just a front.”
Race organizers RCS Sport will have back up plans in place, with a likely “plan B” to use the lower-lying Mortirolo in place of the Stelvio and the gravelly slopes of the Colle delle Finestre rather than the multitude of high passes on the French border scheduled Saturday.
“The race normally announces any changes 24 hours before the stage,” a representative from RCS Sport told VeloNews Tuesday. “The weather is currently good so the Stelvio stage should go ahead, but Saturday, we’re not so sure.”
Whether passes are snowed off or not, only the hardiest will thrive in the near-freezing temperatures, with two-time Giro champion Vincenzo Nibali aptly stating that “the resistance to colder temperatures will be determinant in this Giro” in his pre-race press conference.
Thursday’s stage got underway without Colombian sprinter Fernando Gaviria (UAE-Team Emirates) after it was confirmed that he had contracted coronavirus for the second time this season. Just as the Giro has managed to push through in the face of the mounting tensions of COVID-19, the race will do all it can to feature the iconic climbs of the highest Alps having been forced to reroute the Gavia Pass last year.
In the meantime, riders are just hoping for the best.
“If it does rain, it’ll be really touch-and-go… it going to be a bit inhumane, it’s not fun,” said O’Connor. “You saw the Stelvio stage years ago . You might say it’s exciting, but I didn’t think it looked fun. Even from the couch to watch it. It was just such a mess, and so cold. I guess we just have to pray the weather Gods.”
“You know, it’s a show,” said Hansen ruefully. “It’s gonna look good on TV.”