A risk of avalanches and new, more stringent, safety laws in Italy mean the Passo Gavia is likely to be cut from Tuesday’s queen stage of the Giro d’Italia, meaning one of the most difficult and decisive climbs of the race would not feature.
Last week, Giro d’Italia race director Mauro Vegni suggested there was a 60 per cent chance of the race climbing the legendary Passo Gavia, where Andy Hampsten famously rode through a snow storm to set up victory in the 1988 Corsa Rosa.
According to Saturday’s La Gazzetta dello Sport, Vegni is far less optimistic now and could soon confirm the cutting of the Gavia from stage 16 and reveal a new, shorter stage with just the Passo del Mortirolo as the major climb of the day. Snow and freezing temperatures are also forecast for Tuesday.
A final decision on climbing the Passo Gavia during Tuesday's stage is expected to be made on Monday after understanding the impact of the weekend weather and a meeting with local authorities.
Specialist crews have been working around the clock to cut through the huge banks of snow and clear the Passo Gavia. However, the risk of further bad weather and the significant risk of avalanches mean their hard work could all be fruitless.
Snow plows and huge diggers have cut through the snow drifts, creating 14-metre high walls of snow in parts, but Italian authorities are unlikely to give the final permission for the stage to go ahead. According to Tuttobiciweb, avalanches have forced the crews to go back and clear sections of the Passo Gavia again and again. There are also huge ice stalactites and patches of ice in the tunnels.
When Hampsten and his rivals rode through the snow and froze in the cold in 1988, race organisers could do as they chose and riders were willing to race in any conditions. Now, the UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol protects riders’ health and pushes back on pressure to force the riders race. New health and safety laws in Italy mean that the local authorities have the final word concerning sporting events, where it's also important to protect the public who may try to watch the race on the high slopes of the Gavia.
"The thickness of the snow is reducing very slowly and so I think the chance of the race passing on the roads is very low," snow expert for the local authorities, Federico Rota, told Tuttobiciweb.
The Passo Gavia was set to be the highest climb of this year’s Giro d’Italia and so award the prestigious Cima Coppi prize. That may now be awarded to Ilnur Zakarin after his win at the 2247m-high finish of Lago Serrù on Friday, or on the Mortirolo or a climb later in the Giro d’Italia.