A snowy, rainy mountaintop scene with riders navigating woeful conditions in the high mountains.

‘This will be a shitshow’: High mountains and horrible weather are on the Giro’s forecast

An extreme weather protocol for stage 16 of the Giro has been outlined – including possible neutralisation.

The peloton contending with grim conditions in the 2014 Giro d’Italia.

Iain Treloar
by Iain Treloar 21.05.2024 Photography by
Cor Vos
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Despite threatening forecasts of single-digit temperatures, rain and possible snow, the tough stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia is, as of Tuesday morning, set to proceed as planned.

The racing will be arduous from the start, with the peloton departing from Livigno straight up a pair of uncategorised climbs, before summiting the highest peak of this year’s race – the Umbrailpass, topping out at 2,498 metres in altitude. From there, a long descent awaits – almost 2,300 m through the middle of the stage – before the challenging back-to-back of a category 1 and category 2 climb to the finish. All of which would make for a hard day in the saddle in good weather, let alone the wintery blast that is expected, and has prompted soul-searching and earnest discussion between race organisers and representatives of the riders and teams.

Concerned about the possibility of climbing in dire conditions and then cooling over the extended descent and false-flat section, a group of stakeholders met on Monday afternoon to plan for a range of contingencies. The result? An extreme weather protocol has been outlined, with plans drawn up for possible neutralisation and extra measures to ensure riders can access the clothing they need to stave off the cold. 

The Umbrailpass is a key point of concern, given the expected conditions, although race organisers RCS Sport are keen to proceed with the full stage. Together with a group comprising the president of the commissaire’s panel, the Giro’s race director and doctor, the head of safety, an AIGCP team representative (David McPartland, of Jayco-AlUla) and CPA rider representative (Cristian Salvato), the following plans for a range of conditions were reached:

In “ordinary” weather conditions, “the race will take place as per planned [sic]”, but with feeding authorised from kilometre zero until 10 km from the finish; prior to the Umbrailpass a third team car will be allowed in the race convoy; additional neutral vehicles will also be on hand to distribute extra jackets to riders requesting assistance. 

If the weather conditions are deteriorating, a “parking zone will be created on the top of the Umbrailpass (50.2km) to give the riders the opportunity to change their clothes”, with the race to be neutralised for three minutes to allow this to take place. 

And in the event of “extreme weather conditions” – although there has been no definition of such conditions specified – “the stage will be neutralized up to a place where the safety conditions are met”. 

The logistical challenges of administering the three minute neutralisation – as well as the practical ones, such as how quickly the riders will cool down standing for three minutes at altitude in near-freezing conditions – will add both intrigue and jeopardy to a stage that already has been subject to shifting fortunes. The famed Passo dello Stelvio was initially planned for this route, before being removed and replaced by the Umbrailpass due to high snowfall leading to a risk of avalanches. In 2013, again due to snow, the Stelvio stage of the Giro d’Italia was cancelled altogether.

In the wake of the announced plans, CPA president Adam Hansen has been scathing in his criticism, pointing out that the current forecast – a temperature of 2 degrees, with a 95% chance of snow – does not meet UCI’s Extreme Weather Protocol under two different measures (Point 1: Freezing Rain, Point 4: Extreme Temperatures). “Riders aim to compete and entertain, not to face a situation where they must stop at an altitude of 2,498 meters in a car park, change clothes in 2-degree weather with a high likelihood of snow, and then continue racing. Such conditions pose significant health risks, particularly during the descent of the Umbrail Pass [sic],” Hansen wrote. “It is 2024; stopping and restarting races in such conditions is unacceptable. As one DS put it, ‘This will be a shit show!'”

An anonymous poll conducted by the CPA (22 votes) revealed that 100% of riders voted to skip the climb (and descent) of the Umbrailpass. “This collective devision highlights the seriousness of the situation and the need for immediate action,” Hanson wrote. “The riders’ steadfast position underscores their commitment to their health and safety and integrity of the race.”

With hours remaining until the stage starts, there is limited time to find an alternative solution. As Hansen has said, however, “[the riders’] health and safety is top priority” – and this course in these conditions does not seem to align with that.

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