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For weeks now there has been talk about how the snow in the Alps could affect the route of the 2020 Giro d’Italia during the final week of racing.
As it turns out, the course will be altered, but not due to the chilly October conditions.
On Wednesday, race officials announced that Saturday’s stage 20 will be given a major face lift, not because of the inclement weather, but because the French town of Briançon has declined to let the race pass through due to COVID-19 sanitary measures.
Giro race director Mauro Vegni announced that the stage, which is the final mountainous route of the race, would instead finish with a triple assault to the finish in Sestriere.
For many fans, Saturday’s stage from Alba to Sestriere was considered the Queen stage in this year’s Giro. The final mountain stage after a long week in the Alps, some even considered it a ‘Hail Mary’ stage, where challengers to the maglia rosa could launch one last make-or-break attack.
That could still happen, but not over the mythic climbs of the Colle dell’ Agnello, Col d’Izoard, or the Col de Montgenèvre. All three have now been scrapped due to the closing of Briançon. The Colle dell’Agnello straddles the French-Italian border, and once the race descents into France there is virtually no alternative road towards Sestriere, save for the climb over the Izoard, and into Briançon before making its way up the Montgenèvre.
“As a result of the sanitary crisis and the the French decree 2020-1262 that forbids groups of more than six on public streets, the passage of the Giro in town cannot happen,” French authorities in Briançon announced today.
Vegni, however, has been studying alternative plans for any route changes. And although it is not the weather that is the final culprit, he was prepared and responded quickly, announcing on Italian radio RAI 1 that the stage will still start in Alba, but would now climb to Sestriere three times, once the side of Perosa and twice from Cesana.
Certainly the climb to Sestriere is not as difficult as the Agnello which climbs to 2,700 meters, or the Izoard, which peaks at over 2,300 meters, but the rapid repetition of the three climbs will be challenging as there is no recovery time between the three assaults to Sestriere, which itself crests at just over 2,000 meters.
According to AFP, Vegni said that he had first studied an alternative over the Colle delle Finestre, a spectacular climb that finishes on gravel roads, but that the weather conditions made such an alternative unfeasible.
“It would have been impossible to find an alternative that was as demanding as the original stage,” Vegni admitted. But he insisted that at least with this new alternative, “We are guaranteed to be able to hold the stage even in bad weather.”
Vengi did, however, confirm that Thursday’s stage 18 over the much anticipated Stelvio Pass, which crests at 2758 meters, will definitely run according to plan. And that is good news to those GC stars who are hoping to knock Portugese revelation João Almeida out of his pink jersey.
Vincenzo Nibali said the new route will have a major impact on how the stage will be raced.
“The route modification in stage 20 radically changes the specific weight of the stage,” Nibali said. “The Colle dell’Agnello, which I climbed only once, was a real tough climb, breathtaking. Climbing three times the Sestriere imposes a completely different approach. Of course it’s a hard and important climb, but a lot will depend on the pace with which the circuit will be repeated, especially by the GC riders.”