Senza Gavia: Who’s favored in new stage route without the Giro’s giant?

The removal of the 8,640-foot Gavia Pass from the Giro d'Italia will alter the dynamic of stage 16. While some riders will miss the high altitude, others will see opportunity on the punchier new route

Photo: Corbis via Getty Images

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CLUSONE, Italy (VN) — Foul weather and the risk of avalanches forced out the fearsome Passo Gavia from the Giro d’Italia program. So will its absence make Tuesday’s decisive 16th stage a touch easier?

Not likely. Protagonists say the elimination of the Gavia and the introduction of two shorter, but steep climbs could make for an even more explosive and challenging stage.

“It’s not necessarily an easier day,” said Mitchelton-Scott sport director Matt White. “My call is that it will be a more aggressive day because the Gavia’s not in there. We’re replacing one climb with two.”

Race organizers Saturday removed the snow-bound Gavia due to heavy snow, a risk of avalanches and forecasted rain and cold that could make for treacherous racing conditions on the 8,640-foot summit.

In the abridged route — shortened from 226km to 192km — organizers added the Cat. 3 Cevo climb topping out 3,475 feet at 89km and the Cat. 3 Aprica summit of 3,870 feet at 128km. The pair are nowhere nearly as long, steep or grueling as the Gavia, one of the mythical climbs of the Giro.

But because the Gavia is so feared, it can sometimes act as a neutralizer to stage dynamics as riders try to conserve energy to pace themselves over the interminable climb. Without the imposing mid-race hurdle, White expects riders to be more willing to attack and race aggressively as a result.

“The Gavia’s such a solid long climb, you can’t be aggressive on the Gavia,” White said. “With the two smaller climbs. I think it’ll be more aggressive.”

One rider who will be missing the Gavia perhaps more than most is pink jersey Richard Carapaz. The Movistar captain’s hometown in Ecuador is even higher than the Gavia summit, so elevation is not the same disadvantage as it is for so many of the riders in the peloton.

“Normally the altitude would be a big plus for Carapaz. So without the Gavia perhaps we lose a slight edge,” said Movistar sport director Chente Garcia. “Still it’s a very hard stage. The Mortirolo could be even more difficult without the Gavia.”

Without the Gavia, the final assault up the more challenging and steep northern face of the Mortirolo will play an even more central and decisive role in the stage.

With its consistently steep ramps and equally narrow and technical descent, the so-called “Cima Pantani” will be transformed into the make-or-break point in the stage.

“Now we know we’re not doing the Gavia, but it’s still a very complete stage where differences can be made,” Carapaz said. “There are a lot of vertical meters despite not climbing up the Gavia.”

The Gavia was supposed to be the Giro’s “Cima Coppi,” the highest point on each year’s Giro route. Since its removal, Russia’s Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha-Alpecin), who won Friday on the 7,408-foot Lago Serrù summit will have been the first rider to the 2019 Giro’s highest point. However, instead of awarding the prize retroactively, stage 20’s 6,715-foot Passo Manghen has now been designated the “Cima Coppi”.

Does the Gavia’s absence favor anyone in the bunch because it’s been removed?

“It favors the weaker riders,” said EF Education First sport director Fabrizio Guidi. “The Gavia is so hard it could have eliminated a lot of riders. Now the Mortirolo will be more explosive. It should be an exciting stage because you will have stage-hunters and the GC riders all attacking.”

The peloton cooled their jets in Monday’s final rest day ahead of what will be another fast and furious final week at the Giro. After a slow start out of the gate, the race kicked off Thursday with a string of thrilling mountain stages that have spiced up the GC and left nothing decided.

Of the remain six stages, four are across the brutally steep mountains of northern Italy.

Primoz Roglic (Jumbo-Visma) has squandered a comfortable head-start on his direct GC rivals from his gains in two time trials in the Giro’s first half. Rivals have been slowly chipping away, and Carapaz, an able and ambitious climber, is emerging as Roglic’s most dangerous rival, now in pink at 47 seconds ahead of second-place Roglic.

Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) is now only one minute behind Roglic at 1:47.

All eyes will be on Nibali, reputed as one of the best descenders in the bunch. He reminded everyone of those skills Sunday to attack on the Civiglio descent to put pressure on his chasers. Nibali will be looking to attack over the top of the Mortirolo and try to hold a gap on the 17.5km run into the finish line at Ponte di Legno.

“The absence of the Gavia could change the race but I’m not underestimating anyone,” Nibali said. “I saw that [Simon] Yates is recovering. Perhaps he will try to force something. He is five minutes down, which is a lot, but he has shown that his condition is coming.”

With forecasters calling for soggy conditions through the stage Tuesday, including showers and cool temperatures in the low 50s, the 16th stage will be thrilling enough without the Gavia. Perhaps even more so.

“The reason why they […] canceled it is because bad weather is expected – rain, which adds another dimension as well,” White said. “We have some exciting racing to come and this Giro, as you’ve seen, is far from over.”

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