Giro d'Italia race director Mauro Vegni is confident that the final mountain stages of this year's race will go ahead despite snow fall on the high Alpine climbs of Colle dell'Agnello, the Colle della Bonette and the Colle della Lombarda.
A cold front of rain and snow crossed northern Italy during Monday's rest day in the Dolomites. Riders awoke to see fresh snow falls on the surrounding peaks and questions immediately arose about Friday's stage to Risoul in France via the Coll dell'Agnello and Saturday's stage to Sant'Anna di Vinadio via the Col de la Bonette.
The climbs peak above 2700m, with the Agnello offering this year's Cima Coppi prize as the highest climb of the race.
Both mountain passes have been cleared of snow, with special snow ploughs cutting a way through banks of snow up to five metres high. However the fresh snow will also have to be cleared to allow the race over the top and ensure the safety of the public.
The recently introduced UCI Extreme Weather Protocol means that race organisers, teams, riders and race judges decide together if conditions are safe to race, with alternative routes activated or the stage shortened or even cancelled if one party is not happy with the conditions and feel there is a risk to rider safety.
Vegni and RCS Sport came under fire when the key mountain stage of this year's Tirreno-Adriatico was cancelled due to bad weather and the implication of the UCI Extreme Weather Protocol. Vincenzo Nibali went against the general opinion of the peloton by openly criticising the cancellation of the stage, going as far as questioning if he would ride the Giro d'Italia unless alternative mountain stages were prepared.
Vegni moved quickly to assure Nibali and other riders hoping to challenge Steven Kruijswijk (LottoNL-Jumbo) that RCS Sport and local authorities will do everything possible to ensure that the stages will go ahead.
"I'm not worried but we're paying attention to the weather because when you race in the mountains, you never know what can happen, you can't control the weather," Vegni told Italian state television during Tuesday's stage to Andalo.
"We know that Monday was marked by a day of bad weather across all the north of Italy. I know it snowed at altitude because I've had people up controlling things there since Saturday. The weather is forecast to improve this week and they're already working to clear the road of the latest snow. As a result there shouldn't be any serious problems. In any case and to avoid any subsequent polemics, we've already had approval from the Turin Prefecture the French government for an reserve route."
Vegni did not reveal details of the alternative route but Cyclingnews understands that it would head north instead of south from the start in Guillestre and climb the Montegenevre climb from Briancon to Italy and then the head up to Sestriere before climbing up to the original finish in Sant'Anna di Vinadio from the Italian side.
"It's not a flat stage because a flat stage wouldn't make any sense at this point of the race and I'd just cancel the stage than have a flat stage," Vegni said bullishly.
"The alternative stage obviously won't go up to 2800 metres but it'd still have the technical characteristics that suit the riders fighting for overall victory."