Three years after a torrid snowstorm wreaked havoc on the descending peloton, Italy’s cycling classic will return to one of its most fabled locations. Yes, for the first time since the controversy-plagued 2014 race, the Passo dello Stelvio is back in the Giro d’Italia.
Considered among the greatest passes in the world, Passo dello Stelvio was designed by Italian engineer Carlo Donegani, and it took 2,500 men to build the Stelvio over five years. The pass opened in the 1820s as a way for Austria’s Franz Joseph I to travel from Vienna to Milan. Since World War One the pass remains closed in winter.
Not only is the route notorious in the world of cycling but its infamy has even spread into the world of literature. Several decades after it was built, literary translator F.A. Malleson speculated that Charles Dickens may have been talking about the Stelvio in his novel David Copperfield:
“I had found sublimity and wonder in the dread heights and precipices, in the roaring torrents, and the wastes of ice and snow.”
Straddling 49 kilometres of Swiss-Italian border and punctuated by lush green valleys and audacious climbs, this veritable ‘holy grail’ for cyclists features 48 hairpin turns on the Eastern face alone. With another 42 hairpins on the Bormio side and a summit of 2,758m, taking on Stelvio is not for the faint-hearted.
The pass, which is closed off for cyclists for one day in August, is the highest paved road in the Eastern Alps. Such is the volatility of the weather conditions at the summit any casual riders are advised to come prepared.
The Giro will pass through Bormio, and then climb up Passo Stelvio for 21.5km and a 1,533m elevation gain – with the added drama of 42 hairpins along the route. Once the riders reach the summit, they will begin the descent into Prato along a stretch of 25km, 48 hairpins and 1,842m elevation loss.
From Prato, the peloton will ride into Switzerland and approach Stelvio via Passo Umbrail, a 15.4km road with an elevation gain of 1,372m. Then the final descent takes the Giro to the arrival of the stage into the historic town of Bormio.
Traditionally an alpine destination catering for skiers of all abilities, Bormio itself is a picturesque medieval town and represents something of a hub for adventurous cyclists, with enough challenging routes to give you a new ride each day of the week. Restaurants and bars lend a welcoming atmosphere to the town’s nightlife – the perfect way to relax after testing yourself against the might of the Stelvio Pass.
Giro d’Italia Stage 16 facts
Start: Tuesday 23rd May 2017
ROVETTA – BORMIO
5,400 m cumulative elevation gain