The miserable weather that has characterised the opening week of the Giro d'Italia has already raised questions about the conditions that await the gruppo in the high mountains later in the race, in particular when the road climbs above 2,000 metres.
Although the Giro route, unlike the 2019 Tour de France, does not feature an abundance of high altitude ascents, L'Équipe reported this week that the race's queen stage, the demanding stage 16 from Lovere to Ponte di Legno, might have to be altered if the weather does not improve between now and May 28.
The 226km leg is due to feature the ascents of the mighty Passo di Gavia and the Passo del Mortirolo. At 2,618 metres in altitude, the Gavia is the highest point of the 2019 Giro. The race famously tackled the ascent amid heavy snow in 1988, but it has also proved impassable for the Giro on two occasions, in 1961 and again in 1989.
One touted alteration to the route of stage 16 would see the peloton instead make a double ascent of the Mortirolo, though Giro race director Mauro Vegni deflated the rumour in Cassino on Thursday.
"I never said that. Somebody asked me if it would possible to do a double Mortirolo and I said 'we'll see,'" Vegni told Cyclingnews. "But I don't think so, to be honest, because doing the Mortirolo twice would mean lengthening the stage by an awful lot. We'll find some solutions, of course.
"But even without the Gavia, that remains a stage with more than 4,700 metres of climbing. That’s already sufficient, but let's see – we're still confident we'll be able to do the whole stage as planned."
The Gavia stage is still eleven days away, meaning that current conditions on the climb have little bearing on its inclusion in the race. After suffering a number of alterations and the cancellation of an entire stage in 2013, the Giro has largely avoided the worst excesses of May weather since, with the obvious exception of the infamous, snow-struck Stelvio stage of 2014.
Under Vegni's directorship, RCS Sport have consistently lobbied for the Giro to move to a slightly later date to allow it to tackle the highest mountain passes in more amenable conditions. In the meantime, the Giro organiser has a series of contingency plans should any of his mountain stages fall foul of the weather.
"For the moment, we're living day by day because it's not just the Gavia – there's a race every day," Vegni said. "We're waiting for the forecast because there might be an improvement in the next week, so we’ll see. And, clearly, if we can't do the Gavia, there are already some other possibilities in mind.
"You can’t take a risk at this time of year in May of going above 2700 metres and not having any alternative. You always have to have the possibility of a reserve route."
This tweet from Simone Gritti in Italy revealed the amount of snow currently blocking the Gavia.