Under normal circumstances this climb is already feared among cyclists, but in the Giro d’Italia of 1988 the weather turned a mountain stage into an icy nightmare.
In the Giro d’Italia of 1988 the course director Vincenzo Torriani could draw the course freely. In these days it wasn’t uncommon, that the course was designed in the hope to have an Italian cyclist to win the Giro d’Italia. Francesco Moser, third most winning cyclist ever, was an impressive complete rider but not that great of a climber. With him not at the starting line the course director created an insane course with 15 mountain stages with a total of 30 climbs. The monstrous stage over the Passo Gavia was only 120 kilometers, but this day became legendary as one of the most brilliant and insane mountain stages of the Giro d’Italia.
Most cycling fans will also remember this Epic stage by the former Dutch pro cyclist Johan van der Velde, who tackled this climb with bare arms. He’s was fighting his way up through the snowstorm and eventually was the first one reaching the top. The cold hit him hard. In a car he had to recover and thus loses a lot of time. After this stage, Johan van der Velde is called by the Italians ‘L’uomo di Gavia’. A life-sized photo of him is still on top of the Passo Gavia.
Climbing the Passo Gavia via Ponte di Legno, that is the legendary side
You can also start via Bormio, which can be summarized as a climb of three parts: flat to start, then steeper with hairpins through the woods, finally above the tree line the view is stunning. The total length of the climb via Bormio is 24.5km with an average gradient of 5.8% and the steepest section is about 10.5%. But climbing the Passo Gavia via Ponte di Legno, that is the legendary side. It is a gradual climb for about 4 kilometers. During the climb you will see every few hundred meters a little parking place carved out of the mountain, which is for cars to pull over and pass. Basically the road is leading you to the top via a narrow one lane road.
The heavy parts are in the woods and at the end. Just a few kilometers before reaching the top, you will ride through a tunnel. It will get you off balance, because it’s quite dark. Some good advice, make sure to wear reflective clothing or even better have a light on your bike. Once out of the tunnel, a steep section will be your next challenge to overcome. This climb has lots of great elements, and therefore can be marked as a real Epic climb. At some point the road will turn into a dirt road, and you can reach a sudden gradient of 16% in spots. Most likely you will be surrounded by snowy walls when getting closer to the top. Therefore, don’t let yourself be caught by surprise, as it can be freezing. Proper clothing is an important key figure when you climb Passo Gavia. The total length of the climb is about 17.3km with an average gradient of 7.9%.
However, if you have the chance to go to northern Italy at some point in your life, make it a point to ride both sides of the Gavia Pass. Both sides are so different and punishing, but so spectacularly beautiful that you forget you’re climbing a gigantic mountain.