Giro d’Italia organisers RCS Sport insist that next Tuesday’s queen stage of the race will go ahead as planned, despite snowdrifts of up to 12 metres on the Passo Gavia.
At 2,618 metres, the Gavia represents the highest point – or Cima Coppi – of this year’s race, and is 16.5 kilometres long with an average gradient of 8 per cent, rising to 16 per cent in places.
It’s one of five big climbs on the 226-kilometre Stage 16 from Lovere to Ponte di Legno, and will be followed by the Mortirolo, this year being tackled from the toughest of its three sides, with an average gradient of 10.9 per cent over its 11.9 kilometres.
Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reports that most of the climbs on the stage have been kept clear of snow thanks to the efforts of the Lombardy provinces of Sondrio and Brescia, including the Mortirolo, but concerns remain over the Gavia, which is almost 800 higher.
Race director Mauro Vegni said: “We are confident, as always. We’re monitoring the daily. We’ve been working on both sides for days, even at night, and I am convinced that there we will pass over the Gavia.”
Gigi Negri, the local organiser of the stage, gave an update on how work to clear the snow is progressing.
He said: “We’re doing well. On the side of Val Camonica, from Ponte di Legno, we’ve already cleared beyond the tunnel that is three kilometres of the summit, and we are now at 1,500 metres.
“The weather isn’t helping us, there has been 20 centimetres of fresh snow,” he continued. “There are points where the snow has been blown by the wind and is up to 12 metres high.
“We’re working with bulldozers, snowcats and cutters. You cut the snow, you make it come down, you open up the passage and you make it safe," he explained.
Negri said that the work on the Valtellina side – the one from which the Gavia will be approached – is different.
“Here we’ve been working particularly at night to avoid avalanches,” he said. “The bilk of the work is finished and on Monday afternoon at around 2.30pm we passed the most critical point, 3 kilometres from the summit, in the area of Roccette.
“The task is now easier because the climb flattens and the snow can be moved quickly.”
He added: “In all about 20 people are employed on the Gavia. We expect to reach the summit on both sides by Thursday, to then secure the road, at which point further snowfalls will not create problems."
Snowfalls have caused disruption to the Giro d’Italia on several occasions in recent years, with stages shortened or descents neutralised, and in 2013 Stage 19 from Ponte di Legno to Val Martello, which was scheduled to take in the Gavia and the Stelvio, was cancelled altogether.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.