Passo Giau, the most breathtaking balcony over the Dolomites
When an enchanting scenery opens up at the top of a pass, with alpine meadows scattered with small wooden huts and the rocky cliffs of the Dolomites as a backdrop – and the peak of the Nuvolau as imperious guardian – then you know you have arrived at the 2305 metres of altitude of the Giau Pass. A snake of hairpin bends (29 to be exact) leading to what is almost unanimously described as “the most beautiful landscape in the Dolomites”.
However, if your wish is to reach the summit by bike, you will have to work hard, especially if you climb from the more classic side, that of the Colle di Santa Lucia, which begins in Selva di Cadore. 9.9 km at 9.3% are the numbers of Giau, numbers that have written the history of the Giro d’Italia and made this climb legendary. The Giau has been climbed 9 times in the Corsa Rosa, the first in 1973, with the last kilometres, unpaved at the time, making it all even harder.
That of 1973 was a special edition of the Giro, remembered not only for the introduction of the legendary Giau, but also for the first – real – start from abroad, from Verviers in Belgium to be precise. In 1965 and 1966 the Giro had started respectively from San Marino and the Principality of Monaco, quickly making its way back to Italian soil, but it was only in 1973 that the great project of Vincenzo Torriani, who had always nurtured the idea of unifying Europe under a single flag, that of the passion for cycling, finally saw the light. The Great Start from their home country unleashed the Belgians, who won 13 stages out of 20, with “the Cannibal” Eddy Merckx remaining in the Maglia Rosa from the first to the last stage.
One of the few stages missed by the Flemish riders was precisely that of Giau, the 208 km Andalo-Auronzo di Cadore, the penultimate stage of that Giro, with Merckx already firmly in the Maglia Rosa. However, the stage featured the climbs of the Passo di Valles, Passo di Santa Lucia, Passo Giau, and the Cima Tre Croci. To conquer the unprecedented summit of Giau and then arrive at Auronzo with arms in the air could only be a formidable climber, namely José Manuel Fuente, one of the best Spanish climbers ever to sit on a bike, famous for being as irresistible when the road steepened as he was reckless in his race tactics.
The myth and legend of this Dolomite climb, however, has been established mainly in the last 15 years of the Giro, as it has been included in the route six times out of nine since 2007, not counting the cancelled passage in 2013 due to a snowstorm at the summit. One of the most epic pages is indeed recent history and bears the signature of Egan Bernal. Stage 16 of the Giro d’Italia 2021, the Colombian is already in the Maglia Rosa and is looking forward to the decisive Dolomite test in the Sacile-Cortina d’Ampezzo stage, which was supposed to be 212 km and will instead become 153. The weather, in fact, is brutal: rain, frost, and impassable roads force the organisers to cancel the climb over the Passo Fedaia and the Passo Pordoi; it all comes down to the Passo Giau before descending into Cortina. On the climb, bad weather made it hard for the television signal, so we had to rely on RadioCorsa, but the few images coming through were clear: “attack by the Maglia Rosa, attack by Egan Bernal”. His most credited rival, Simon Yates, struggles in the cold, while Romain Bardet and Damiano Caruso try to hang on to Bernal’s wheel as long as they can, but eventually have to raise the white flag. The Colombian turns himself into a Dolomite hawk that day, he flies all the way to the summit of the Giau before setting off downhill. In Cortina, despite the rain and the cold, a large crowd is waiting for him: Egan does not disappoint, he takes off his cape and crosses the finish line with the shining Maglia Rosa in full view. The stage is his, and so is the Giro!
Listen to the episode of In Cima dedicated to Passo Giau: