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Cycling Icons: Finding the Holy Grail on Passo di Gavia

Cycling Icons: Finding the Holy Grail on Passo di Gavia

21. 4. 2020 | text: Martin Čermák, Jan Svoboda   foto: Martin Čermák

21. 4. 2020 | text: Martin Čermák, Jan Svoboda   foto: Martin Čermák

21. 4. 2020 | text: Martin Čermák, Jan Svoboda   foto: Martin Čermák

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Stories

Stories

Stories

Stories

Stories

Passo di Gavia (2,652 meters above sea level) is an alpine pass that connects Ponte di Legno and the mountain resort of Bormio, in Lombardy. The saddle is one of the ten highest paved mountain passes in Europe. Of course, because of its difficulty and spectacular scenery, Gavia is part of the Giro d'Italia showcase (first occurring in the 1960 itinerary).

Passo di Gavia (2,652 meters above sea level) is an alpine pass that connects Ponte di Legno and the mountain resort of Bormio, in Lombardy. The saddle is one of the ten highest paved mountain passes in Europe. Of course, because of its difficulty and spectacular scenery, Gavia is part of the Giro d'Italia showcase (first occurring in the 1960 itinerary).

Passo di Gavia (2,652 meters above sea level) is an alpine pass that connects Ponte di Legno and the mountain resort of Bormio, in Lombardy. The saddle is one of the ten highest paved mountain passes in Europe. Of course, because of its difficulty and spectacular scenery, Gavia is part of the Giro d'Italia showcase (first occurring in the 1960 itinerary).

Passo di Gavia (2,652 meters above sea level) is an alpine pass that connects Ponte di Legno and the mountain resort of Bormio, in Lombardy. The saddle is one of the ten highest paved mountain passes in Europe. Of course, because of its difficulty and spectacular scenery, Gavia is part of the Giro d'Italia showcase (first occurring in the 1960 itinerary).

Passo di Gavia

The organizers are notoriously willing to take risks. In addition to the Mortirola crossing (Passo del Mortirolo, 1,854 m.), the less demanding Gavia (Passo di Gavia, 2,652 m.) was included in the program of the Giro d'Italia’s final week in 2019. Perhaps there were hopes of repeating the 1988 story, when after the previous economically unsuccessful year (1987), the organizers put Gavia back back on the race itinerary. The difficulty of this stage was compounded by a snowstorm - the long ascent, crossing the pass, and the subsequent descent to Bormio became an ordeal in white darkness for most of the racing field. This dramatic stage was won by Dutchman, Erik Breukink, ahead of American, and later deemed overall winner, Andy Hampsten. It is worth mentioning that the Czech Ecoflam rider, Jiří Škoda, while riding his second Giro, could be found among the racers. However, history did not repeat itself and on the day before the event, Gavia was removed from the program due to snow drifts reaching seven meters and more expected snowfall!

Passo di Gavia

The organizers are notoriously willing to take risks. In addition to the Mortirola crossing (Passo del Mortirolo, 1,854 m.), the less demanding Gavia (Passo di Gavia, 2,652 m.) was included in the program of the Giro d'Italia’s final week in 2019. Perhaps there were hopes of repeating the 1988 story, when after the previous economically unsuccessful year (1987), the organizers put Gavia back back on the race itinerary. The difficulty of this stage was compounded by a snowstorm - the long ascent, crossing the pass, and the subsequent descent to Bormio became an ordeal in white darkness for most of the racing field. This dramatic stage was won by Dutchman, Erik Breukink, ahead of American, and later deemed overall winner, Andy Hampsten. It is worth mentioning that the Czech Ecoflam rider, Jiří Škoda, while riding his second Giro, could be found among the racers. However, history did not repeat itself and on the day before the event, Gavia was removed from the program due to snow drifts reaching seven meters and more expected snowfall!

Passo di Gavia

The organizers are notoriously willing to take risks. In addition to the Mortirola crossing (Passo del Mortirolo, 1,854 m.), the less demanding Gavia (Passo di Gavia, 2,652 m.) was included in the program of the Giro d'Italia’s final week in 2019. Perhaps there were hopes of repeating the 1988 story, when after the previous economically unsuccessful year (1987), the organizers put Gavia back back on the race itinerary. The difficulty of this stage was compounded by a snowstorm - the long ascent, crossing the pass, and the subsequent descent to Bormio became an ordeal in white darkness for most of the racing field. This dramatic stage was won by Dutchman, Erik Breukink, ahead of American, and later deemed overall winner, Andy Hampsten. It is worth mentioning that the Czech Ecoflam rider, Jiří Škoda, while riding his second Giro, could be found among the racers. However, history did not repeat itself and on the day before the event, Gavia was removed from the program due to snow drifts reaching seven meters and more expected snowfall!

Passo di Gavia

The organizers are notoriously willing to take risks. In addition to the Mortirola crossing (Passo del Mortirolo, 1,854 m.), the less demanding Gavia (Passo di Gavia, 2,652 m.) was included in the program of the Giro d'Italia’s final week in 2019. Perhaps there were hopes of repeating the 1988 story, when after the previous economically unsuccessful year (1987), the organizers put Gavia back back on the race itinerary. The difficulty of this stage was compounded by a snowstorm - the long ascent, crossing the pass, and the subsequent descent to Bormio became an ordeal in white darkness for most of the racing field. This dramatic stage was won by Dutchman, Erik Breukink, ahead of American, and later deemed overall winner, Andy Hampsten. It is worth mentioning that the Czech Ecoflam rider, Jiří Škoda, while riding his second Giro, could be found among the racers. However, history did not repeat itself and on the day before the event, Gavia was removed from the program due to snow drifts reaching seven meters and more expected snowfall!


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Stage 16 of Giro d'Italia, 2019 (climb to Gavia pass was canceled due to the weather) — Author: Jan Svoboda

Stage 16 of Giro d'Italia, 2019 (climb to Gavia pass was canceled due to the weather) — Author: Jan Svoboda

Stage 16 of Giro d'Italia, 2019 (climb to Gavia pass was canceled due to the weather) — Author: Jan Svoboda

Gavia before the stage

I reach Ponte di Legno in the afternoon, two days before the royal 16th stage, Lovere - Ponte di Legno (192 km, originally 226 km). The forecast called for rain, but the sun is shining. Following a short deliberation, I decide to go where I can, at least to stretch after my long car journey. From the valley there is a classic gradual ramp to the mountain pass; it all goes well, and I save the light gears for later. First, a sign for Chiuso and then - somewhat more strictly - a crossing gate. It's getting real. Somewhere around 2,000 meters above sea level, the first snow is visible, and I don't want to go back. The sun is just dipping behind the opposite wall of the massif and it’s getting cold.

At 2,350 m a tunnel appears. It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure. It’s as tall as a steam train and pitch black inside. I feel the weight of the whole mountain looming. My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. Only 250 meters past the end of the tunnel, I reach the peak. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it. Following the first high snowdrifts, which hardly allow the passage of two riders side by side, a few turns and then I am at the cave. The white wall is blocking the rest of the path, but it is about 300 meters to the top ... I can already see the mountain hut and finally the stone with the inscription “Passo Gavia 2,652 m”. The feelings are indescribable. I don't want to go any further; from here the visibility is just right, I will be happy to ride out of the snow at dusk. I am freezing on the downhill and I do not feel my fingers on the brakes.

Gavia before the stage

I reach Ponte di Legno in the afternoon, two days before the royal 16th stage, Lovere - Ponte di Legno (192 km, originally 226 km). The forecast called for rain, but the sun is shining. Following a short deliberation, I decide to go where I can, at least to stretch after my long car journey. From the valley there is a classic gradual ramp to the mountain pass; it all goes well, and I save the light gears for later. First, a sign for Chiuso and then - somewhat more strictly - a crossing gate. It's getting real. Somewhere around 2,000 meters above sea level, the first snow is visible, and I don't want to go back. The sun is just dipping behind the opposite wall of the massif and it’s getting cold.

At 2,350 m a tunnel appears. It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure. It’s as tall as a steam train and pitch black inside. I feel the weight of the whole mountain looming. My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. Only 250 meters past the end of the tunnel, I reach the peak. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it. Following the first high snowdrifts, which hardly allow the passage of two riders side by side, a few turns and then I am at the cave. The white wall is blocking the rest of the path, but it is about 300 meters to the top ... I can already see the mountain hut and finally the stone with the inscription “Passo Gavia 2,652 m”. The feelings are indescribable. I don't want to go any further; from here the visibility is just right, I will be happy to ride out of the snow at dusk. I am freezing on the downhill and I do not feel my fingers on the brakes.

Gavia before the stage

I reach Ponte di Legno in the afternoon, two days before the royal 16th stage, Lovere - Ponte di Legno (192 km, originally 226 km). The forecast called for rain, but the sun is shining. Following a short deliberation, I decide to go where I can, at least to stretch after my long car journey. From the valley there is a classic gradual ramp to the mountain pass; it all goes well, and I save the light gears for later. First, a sign for Chiuso and then - somewhat more strictly - a crossing gate. It's getting real. Somewhere around 2,000 meters above sea level, the first snow is visible, and I don't want to go back. The sun is just dipping behind the opposite wall of the massif and it’s getting cold.

At 2,350 m a tunnel appears. It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure. It’s as tall as a steam train and pitch black inside. I feel the weight of the whole mountain looming. My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. Only 250 meters past the end of the tunnel, I reach the peak. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it. Following the first high snowdrifts, which hardly allow the passage of two riders side by side, a few turns and then I am at the cave. The white wall is blocking the rest of the path, but it is about 300 meters to the top ... I can already see the mountain hut and finally the stone with the inscription “Passo Gavia 2,652 m”. The feelings are indescribable. I don't want to go any further; from here the visibility is just right, I will be happy to ride out of the snow at dusk. I am freezing on the downhill and I do not feel my fingers on the brakes.

Gavia before the stage

I reach Ponte di Legno in the afternoon, two days before the royal 16th stage, Lovere - Ponte di Legno (192 km, originally 226 km). The forecast called for rain, but the sun is shining. Following a short deliberation, I decide to go where I can, at least to stretch after my long car journey. From the valley there is a classic gradual ramp to the mountain pass; it all goes well, and I save the light gears for later. First, a sign for Chiuso and then - somewhat more strictly - a crossing gate. It's getting real. Somewhere around 2,000 meters above sea level, the first snow is visible, and I don't want to go back. The sun is just dipping behind the opposite wall of the massif and it’s getting cold.

At 2,350 m a tunnel appears. It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure. It’s as tall as a steam train and pitch black inside. I feel the weight of the whole mountain looming. My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. Only 250 meters past the end of the tunnel, I reach the peak. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it. Following the first high snowdrifts, which hardly allow the passage of two riders side by side, a few turns and then I am at the cave. The white wall is blocking the rest of the path, but it is about 300 meters to the top ... I can already see the mountain hut and finally the stone with the inscription “Passo Gavia 2,652 m”. The feelings are indescribable. I don't want to go any further; from here the visibility is just right, I will be happy to ride out of the snow at dusk. I am freezing on the downhill and I do not feel my fingers on the brakes.


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“My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it.”

“My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it.”

“My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it.”

“My headlight guides me through ice and holes in the road. I realize that I am all alone on the mountain. And if my riding is about finding the "Holy Grail," today I have found at least part of it.”

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Andy Hampsten, Giro d’Italia, Gavia Pass, June 1988  — Photograph by Mr Cor Vos

Andy Hampsten, Giro d’Italia, Gavia Pass, June 1988  — Photograph by Mr Cor Vos

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Arnaldo Pambianco, Giro d’Italia, Gavia Pass, 1960 — www.hortoncollection.com

Arnaldo Pambianco, Giro d’Italia, Gavia Pass, 1960 — www.hortoncollection.com

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Andy Hampsten, Giro d’Italia, Gavia Pass, June 1988 — Photo from newspaper

Andy Hampsten, Giro d’Italia, Gavia Pass, June 1988 — Photo from newspaper

“It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure.”

“It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure.”

“It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure.”

“It looks like hell’s gate and next to it, the chamois, like the devil's helpers, are tempting me for another adventure.”

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Martin spent three months in Italy on an internship, in and out of the saddle, getting to know the roads and paths in the idyllic countryside of Lombardy as well as the cycling paradise, Tuscany. Moreover, the stay took place before the first Grand tour of the season - Giro d'Italia (2019).

Martin spent three months in Italy on an internship, in and out of the saddle, getting to know the roads and paths in the idyllic countryside of Lombardy as well as the cycling paradise, Tuscany. Moreover, the stay took place before the first Grand tour of the season - Giro d'Italia (2019).

Martin spent three months in Italy on an internship, in and out of the saddle, getting to know the roads and paths in the idyllic countryside of Lombardy as well as the cycling paradise, Tuscany. Moreover, the stay took place before the first Grand tour of the season - Giro d'Italia (2019).

Martin spent three months in Italy on an internship, in and out of the saddle, getting to know the roads and paths in the idyllic countryside of Lombardy as well as the cycling paradise, Tuscany. Moreover, the stay took place before the first Grand tour of the season - Giro d'Italia (2019).

Martin spent three months in Italy on an internship, in and out of the saddle, getting to know the roads and paths in the idyllic countryside of Lombardy as well as the cycling paradise, Tuscany. Moreover, the stay took place before the first Grand tour of the season - Giro d'Italia (2019).

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