With the first stage under their belts, the 30-something riders at the Trois Etapes Giro woke on Saturday 6 June to a pretty epic day of riding ahead. The race manual detailed just under 100km of riding over a decidedly lumpy profile, which never really looked to flatten out. The total ascent statistic reinforced this, promising 3,274m of pedalling circles in the hot Italian sun.
Rolling out from event HQ in two chunks (those contesting GC3 – and those not), the participants headed up the valley again and straight into the mountains, but by a different, and rather more interesting route this time. Within the first few miles, the groups thinned out to negotiate through a pretty spectacular gorge which was only open to those on two wheels (whether boasting an engine or otherwise). Bending the rules slightly however were two drones, swooping and hovering above the rainbow of jerseys – and manned by two television crews trying to manoeuvre their way into getting the most impressive shots.
Out of the gorge, it was a case of still kicking on to the official start of Passo Fedaia since the average time of the first three riders to cross the line was being counted. After just a couple of corners the leaders were hit head-on by a pretty despicable stretch of road, where an almost straight line view ahead for a kilometre of so was paired with a leg-sapping gradient. On this drag, the wide concrete belt was unforgiving – and the sun even more so!
The Fedaia then turned into a series of switchbacks, winding through all of the infrastructure you’d expect of a popular ski resort except for the fact it looks incredibly odd in the summer. Also sticking out of the pretty impressive landscape was a foraging marmotte, but no picture managed, unfortunately (though it would be somewhere in the below).
It was clear from those gathered around their team vans at the top of the climb just how hard it had been, with most opting to peel themselves from their bikes and lie flat against the conference while their heart rate slowed. Cruelly, this was only 14km into the 98.6km day, so it was very much a case of recover, fuel – and prepare for the next one.
After a brisk descent and a short hold-up to let a closed road race pass through, the teams headed up Passo Sella – along with what seemed like all of the German motorcycle tourists in all of Italy. The traffic from the road closure soon cleared though and riders were able to enjoy some decidedly beautiful views between the peaks of Passo Sella and Passo Gardena.
Just out of Armentarola and having climbed steadily out of a valley bottom from La Villa, the teams found themselves at the start of GC4: Passo Valparola. The ranking on this section would be decided by the time of the 7th member of the team to cross the line and teamwork was therefore crucial. With only one GC section to follow, a lot of progress could still be made in the points race and when each of the four groups came through the timing gate, it was clear that they were pushing their fatigued legs towards a good result. As luck would have it though, their passage through the section start was accompanied by the foreboding sound of thunder, cracks of sheet lightning and the first drops of rain.
Passo Valparola is an unrelenting 8.3km punctuated by a few switchbacks. And while the shelter provided by tree-lined roads would have been great in the intense heat of the previous day and a half of riding, there wasn’t much respite from the rain – which seemed to be getting heavier at the same rate as the riders’ legs. Towards the top however, this mercilessly turned into some pretty sizable hail and with teams still racing to the line, it was decided that the descent to the end of the stage would be called off. Instead, riders packed into their team cars and were driven down, with their bikes in close pursuit.
While the teams were clearly pretty disappointed not to finish this mammoth of a stage, the drive down the other side on the Valparola reinforced that abandoning the last 20km of downhill had definitely been the right decision due to the state of the roads. Littered with marble-size hailstones, the descent was incredibly dangerous and pretty much impassable for those on skinny rubber tyres. The rain continued on into the night accompanied by the loud and flashy symptoms of passing storms, but the riders returned to the hotel knowing that they had completed all of the ascent set out before them.
Watch the highlights from stage 2: