In this post I describe the historical climbs of the Giro d’Italia, that is, those that have been most decisive for the overall classification in recent years. In addition, all these climbs are loved by cyclists as they have treacherous inclines and offer, in most cases, spectacular views. I have tackled all these climbs: so the list is missing Zoncolan, which remains on the list of climbs to do.
The history of Giro d’Italia climbs begins with the Giau Pass, which is decisive for the final classification of the 2021 Giro d’Italia. Colombian Egan Bernal made the most of stage 16, raced in tregendous weather. The Ineos bishop launched the decisive attack with 22 km to go, going on to win the Mountain Grand Prix. On the descent to the finish in Cortina he slowed down to take no unnecessary risks and won by 27 seconds, pulling ahead of Bardet and Caruso and over two and a half minutes ahead of Simon Yates.
The Giau Pass climb from Selva di Cadore is really tough: it is 10 km long, with 9% gradients. I faced this climb during the long course of the Maratona dles Dolomites: I suffered a lot, and the climb of the Valparola Pass was still waiting for me! The Giau Pass is a marvelous climb: at the top you can see the fantastic Nuvolau, home to the refuge of the same name. I walked in these areas in 2020: in fact, the Alta Via Numero Uno passes right by the Nuvolau, from where you can admire a beautiful view of the Dolomites…and of course the Giau Pass!
The Stelvio Pass decided the classification of the Giro d’Italia several times. It was tackled for the first time in 1953: Fausto Coppi managed to pull away from Swiss Hugo Koblet and snatched the pink jersey from him. The 2,758 meters of the Stelvio Pass were also decisive in 2020: along the ramps of the Stelvio was detached Wilco Kelderman, who, despite winning the pink jersey on that very stage, made it clear that he had lost his overflowing form and was, later, overtaken by Tao Geoghegan Hart and Jai Hindley.
I have tackled the Stelvio twice, always from the Bormio side. The toughest slope, however, is the one starting in Prato allo Stelvio, with its 24 km at an average 7.5 percent. My first climb happened during the Granfondo Stelvio Santini, the second climb, however, allowed me to see Dumoulin’s strenuous defense in the 2017 Giro d’Italia!
The Nivolet climb was decisive for the 2019 Giro d’Italia. The Ecuadorean Richard Carapaz, in fact, managed to exploit the tactical control between Vincenzo Nibali and Primoz Roglic: with a classic ‘fagianata’ he managed to gain more than a minute, which allowed him to win the final classification.
In the 2019 Giro, the race arrived at Lake Serrù: to get there you have to ride seven kilometers at 9% average. In 2018 I had the chance to tackle this climb, reaching the summit, at an elevation of 2,612 meters. The view from the top is majestic, as it allows one to admire the lakes from above. Surely the Nivolet Pass is one of the most beautiful climbs of the Giro d’Italia!
Among the most decisive climbs of the Giro d’Italia, you cannot miss the Colle delle Finestre! In the 2018 Giro d’Italia, Chris Froome sprinted down the dirt road of the Colle delle Finestre and, after a solo breakaway of about 80 kilometers, won at the Jafferau finish line, distancing his rivals by three minutes or more. Surely this was one of the most spectacular victories ever!
I tackled the very tough Colle delle Finestre during my tour of the great passes between Italy and France. The Colle delle Finestre is spectacular but, at the same time, very hard! In fact, in 19 km you go from 550 meters of Meana to 2,176 meters of the Col, and the last 8 km is dirt! The Colle delle Finestre, first tackled in the 2005 Giro d’Italia, is definitely one of the toughest climbs in the Giro d’Italia!
In 2017 Tom Dumoulin won the Giro by defending himself heroically on the Stelvio and Blockhaus. Nairo Quintana, in fact, won the ninth stage, but trailed the Dutchman by only 24 seconds. The Blockhaus climb is definitely one of the toughest in all of Italy, especially on the Roccamorice side, with gradients close to 10 percent for a good 10 km. I discuss this in more detail in the post dedicated to the Blockhaus, which I have addressed several times! In 2017 the finish was not at the summit of Blockhaus but at Majelletta, at an altitude of 1,600 meters.
Passo Lanciano (the other side of the Blockhaus) was, however, propitious for Ivan Basso in 2006, who won with his arms raised solo.
Vincenzo Nibali won the 2016 Giro when no one believed in his comeback anymore. On stage 20 of the 2016 Giro he launched the decisive attack on Colombian Esteban Chaves on the ramps of the Colle della Lombarda. This pass, on the border between Italy and France, is as high as 2,350 meters and is hard on both sides: it was tackled by Isola (21 km at 7 percent) in that Giro.
Instead, I tackled the Lombarda Pass from the Italian side, so from Pratolungo (the slopes are similar): the panorama of this pass is magnificent and is, in my opinion, underestimated by most!
An underrated but splendid climb is the one that leads to the summit of Mt. Ologno. In 2015 Alberto Contador detached his two rivals, Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa, on these tough Piedmontese ramps: that minute gained allowed him to manage the crisis on the Colle delle Finestre. Philippe Gilbert, however, won the stage thanks to a stratospheric descent to Verbania.
Monte Ologno, at its most difficult side, starts from Cannero Riviera: in the first 10 km, the average gradient exceeds 9%! I discuss this in more detail in thepost dedicated to Monte Ologno, which has still only been tackled once by the Giro d’Italia.
Among the climbs of the Giro d’Italia with the richest history certainly cannot miss the Mortirolo. So many Giri have been decided by the ramps of this climb:Pantani in 1994, Basso in 2010 and Contador in 2015 were great protagonists on this climb. I tackled the Mortirolo in tandem with the Gavia, during a splendid 137-kilometer ride.
I tackled the Mortirolo from its toughest side, namely Mazzo: the gradients are 11 percent for 11 km. Surely it is a great satisfaction to complete the climb! From a scenic point of view, however, the Mortirolo is not as beautiful as the passes described above.
The Tre Cime di Lavaredo did not decide the 2013 Giro d’Italia, but it still decreed Vincenzo Nibali’s triumph. The Sicilian won with his arms raised under copious snow: the shark in the snow is surely one of the most remembered images by Italian fans!
I tackled this climb, which leads to the 2,333-meter Rifugio Auronzo, during the 2016 Granfondo 3 Epic. From the beautiful Lake Misurina you turn right: the last four kilometers of the climb are hellish, with gradients averaging 12 percent. The view is beautiful and worth all the effort!
The last climb I describe is not exactly recent, but it was one of the most epic climbs in history. In fact, the fourteenth stage of the 1988 Giro was tackled by the riders despite terrible environmental conditions. The Passo Gavia, run under snow, was fatal to the hopes of pink jersey Franco Chioccioli, who lost the lead to American Andrew Hampsten, the eventual winner of the race. The stage, characterized by the crises of so many cyclists (due to the cold and frost, especially on the descent to Bormio) was won by Erik Breukink.
I tackled the Gavia starting from Ponte di Legno: to get to the 2,618-meter Pass I had to face 16 km at an average 8%. The Gavia Pass is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful climbs in Italy!