The collective imagination hungers for the final phases of a great stage race to be crowned by an infinite succession of hairpin bends crawling up a celebrated mountain and that, when reaching the pass, the mountain be covered in snow, making for an ending worthy of cycling legend.
As for the Giro d’Italia, since 1953, in the popular mind the name of this snow-covered, winding road has always been Stelvio Pass.
The organisers are all well-aware of this desire and, for the 104th edition of the Giro, have searched for an image that comes closest to the expectations of the fans. They managed to find it in the Swiss Canton of Grisons: the Stelvio of the 2021 Giro will be a combination of two passes that, in the end, will prove to be not only tough but emblematic as well.
The San Bernardino Pass, which from Lostallo will take the racers to an altitude of over 2000 metres -the elevation limit that everyone loves because, at that point, competitive spirit turns into great battle- is as long as the Stelvio Pass and has an elevation gain just slightly lower than the most severe side (Trafoi) of Fausto Coppi’s mountain.
Also, to augment the legend of this stage even more, just after the Pass the riders will face the initial stretch of a river that will accompany them for quite a distance, becoming wider and wider, and which will disclose to them the magnitude of the challenge they are about to embark upon: the Rhine, which is the geographical centre of the Nordic saga of the Ring of the Nibelung.
A coincidence that makes one believe that Richard Wagner was very familiar not only with the epic lore of the Teutons but also with the sufferings of the riders at the end of a three-week Grand Tour.
Instead, for those indispensable winding bends, the organisers have decided to rely on the Splügen Pass which, from the Swiss town of Splügen, will lead the climb of the entire train of racers up twists and turns to 2115 metres before cresting the mountain.
Looking down, the serpentine road immediately brings to mind the celebrated images that immortalised the Champion of Champions during the deciding stage of the Giro in 1953. Up there it’s very likely that the asphalt tract will be contrasted by surrounding snow, thus completing the picture that everyone wants for such an important leg.
Beyond the Splügen Pass, just as the descent begins, it will be Italy, again: Valchiavenna. But once the iconography is over, there’s still another climb to tackle, the last of the Giro d’Italia 2021: Campodolcino to Alpe Motta.
Another 7 kilometres uphill, with an average and maximum gradient greater than the San Bernardino and the Splügen Pass because, as the old-time riders say: “Cycling is a sport where just when you think you’re finished, you haven’t even started”.
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