With such an early spot in the racing calendar a passage over such high mountains is always vulnerable to the weather. The Stelvio has been included in the route of the Giro on sixteen occasions but has proved impassable on four of them. Race director Mauro Vegni knows the risks but also the rewards. To Italians the Stelvio is the highlight of the Giro so no effort is spared to make it happen.
It’s the job of Anas, who work closely with Giro organiser RCS, to have the road cleared in time. The stage invariably comes in the last week of the Giro, which gives them the best chance possible. Regular reconnaissance reports are fed back to the organisers and long range weather forecasts are provided by the Italian Air Force. But the best information comes from a few ex-pros who provide a “rider’s perspective” on the condition of the road surface and potential dangers.
Overnight snow is not deemed the biggest problem as it can be cleared away with snow ploughs in the morning. Icy descents, a result of snow melting during the day and re-freezing during the night, is the biggest challenge. Whilst rider safety is paramount, politics have been known to play a part in the decision process.
On its debut appearance in the 1953 Giro d’Italia over five metres of snow had accumulated on the summit. While teams of workers cleared the tunnels and repaired the road surface lower down, a snow plough was hastily organised and flown from East Berlin to clear a route through the barrage of snow at the top.
A mighty tussle for the leader’s jersey was at stake between the Swiss champion Hugo Koblet and Italian star Fausto Coppi, who trailed by 1’59”. The Stelvio was his best and last chance of overhauling the deficit to claim the maglia rosa. It was no secret the race organisation preferred an Italian victory and they pulled out all the stops to ensure the stage went ahead.