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Giro Climbs: How Tough Are They?

Just how tough are the big climbs of the 2004 Giro d’Italia? There’s been a lot of talk about how the tough last week of next year’s race– 4 of the last 5 days are in the high mountains, with 2 killer days to separate the “mamalucs” from the “mangia-cakes”. We asked Giro winners Gilberto Simoni, Stefano Garzelli, & Andy Hampsten, and Dario Frigo to give us their take in the Mortitolo and Gavia.


Expect to see Simoni wearing this face for much of the 2004 Giro.

These are the facts:
Mortirolo: 1855 meters high, 13km long, avg grade 10%, appears 27km into 120 km stage.

Gavia: 2618 meters high, 18 km long, avg grade: 8%, appears 55km into 120 km stage.

PEZ: What features make these 2 climbs special, how do you define them – the Mortirolo – the Gavia??
Simoni: I think these two climbs represent the Giro d’Italia’s legend, especially in the last 15 years. Italian cycling supporters love these two mountains because every time we face them, they are ready to live an unforgettable experience. Everyone remembers the incredible Giro’s stage on the Gavia, where Andy Hampsten won under the snow. Next year too we’ll probably have cold weather, because the Giro is scheduled one week earlier: in any case, I don’t think the Gavia will be so important for the final gc. On the contrary, the Mortirolo is on the top of my thoughts: it is the hardest climb in Italy, and I’d like to have a special performance just in that stage.

Garzelli: Gavia and Mortirolo are 2 climbs different from each other, but they have something common between them: they are hard! I think that the Mortirolo is the hardest climb of the earth because it’s 12 kms with an incredible constant slope. The Gavia, instead, isn’t so hard as maximum slope but it’s longer than the Mortirolo and that you finish higher than 2000metres.

Frigo: They are both difficult. The first for the slope; the second because there are always difficult climate conditions on the last kilometres.

Hampsten: The Mortirolo’s super, super hard, you’re just nailed to the road at the beginning – but it “flattens out” to maybe 8% or 10% later on. It’s so steep, that the legs can’t really accelerate or snap – you just can’t get any real speed out of it – it’s ridiculously steep. I don’t think the time gaps on the climb end up being that great, but since there’s usually another descent and climb before the finish, it usually annihilates riders – they can’t close the gap after that.

2. Are there any particular places on either from where to launch an attack??
Simoni: “I don’t think so. These are very long climbs. The best strategy is going on your speed till your main adversaries lose. If you have some more energy, you have to attack in the two or three last kilometres, where you can really make the difference”.

Garzelli: This year’s Giro these 2 climbs will be faced after just a few kms., but as the stages will be very short, only 120kms, they could still be dangerous and surely the riders will feel them in their legs. The finish at Bormio 2000 isn’t so hard, but after the Tonale and the Gavia, it will become hard.


Frigo: They are difficult from the beginning to the end of the climb so you can always try your chance but it is obviously easiest in the last km because the others are more tired!

Hampsten: On the switchbacks [of the Mortirolo], if you get behind a little bit, you could definitely hear what the riders above are saying if the crowd wasn’t so loud, it’s like looking up stairs in your house – you think “how did they get up there?” and I know their only 10 seconds ahead of me… and the turns are crazy steep… 18% – the road should not be there… really amazing, really amazing. And then it’s a really tricky descent on the way down.

3. Is it true the Italians serve up grappa when you make it to the top of the
Gavia?

Simoni: “Not actually… but if it should ever happen it means everybody is happy about my performance…”

Garzelli: I didn’t know this legend. When I did it in the 2000 Giro, the one that I won, they gave me a cape, but I’m sure it’s because it was 2°C, snowing and this was to help me to warm…But it’s sure that it could be a “bit” dangerous the later downhill with all those turns..:)

Frigo: I’ve never seen it!


Hampsten: Actually, any of your readers should go to the Gavia, go to Bormio, go in the summer! And really spend some time up on top of the Gavia. There’s this one refuge – it’s a bar and a light restaurant, but they have all these photos from mountaineers and bike racers, and it’s a great shrine to the racers – really really cool. It’s really easy to get the locals in the whole area – moved to tears when they talk about how happy they were to see the race go by.

4. How do the Italian climbs differ from the TDF alps/ Pyrenees climbs? – which are tougher?
Simoni: “I don’t see any particular difference between Italian and French climbs. The two races are really different: in TdF you have to wait for too much before facing climbs. The first half of Tdf is very stressful for a climber, because there are so many attacks and too many risks to avoid. One more difference is the weather: in France you have warmer temperatures that make everything more difficult. These are the two reasons why I prefer Giro, at least from technical aspects”.

Garzelli: I think that the Giro’s hills are harder than Tour’s, even if you think that usually Tour’s are longer and above all it’s hotter as you race it.

Frigo: The climbs of the Tour are easier than the ones of the Giro but at the Tour the weather is hotter and the level of the bunch is higher.


Read Andy Hampsten’s first hand account of his Epic day on the Gavia in 1988.

Take Randall Butler’s Tour of the Gavia.

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