By Gregor Brown
The 2020 Giro d'Italia, after it starts in Budapest, is eyeing a time trial climb on Mount Etna's volcanic gravel ash roads to 2,850 metres.
The 2020 plan sees the Giro d'Italia starting in Hungary for the first time with three stages before a transfer to Catania, in Sicily. There the details are hard to come by, except that locals are pushing for Mount Etna stage – to altitudes higher than the Stelvio Pass.
"From a volcanological point of view the climb is technically feasible," volcanic expert Marco Neri told Meridio News.
Neri helped write a nine-page document for Catania's bid that is en route to RCS Sport's Milan offices.
He added: "The eruptive activities typical of this volcano remain for most of the year compatible with the race."
Catania's proposal is to race up to the foot of the northeast crater at Piano delle Concazze. A time trial of around 27km with the last 8.7km over the hard-packed gravel-ash darkened by centuries of explosions. The road features pitches of 22 per cent.
Cycling has embraced gravel racing in recent years – such as La Planche des Belles Filles on stage six of the 2019 Tour de France. The Giro already ran such a mountain time trial 10 years ago, in 2010, when Stefano Garzelli won the Plan des Corones stage far north from Sicily in the Dolomites. The last half of the 12.9-kilometre time trial ran over gravel and 24 per cent sectors.
"It was awesome," Dan Martin said at the time. "That last kilometre just kills you, it is so steep, it is just unreal."
The risk of an eruption and stage cancellation is low, according to the expert. And if it did happen, the stage could be shortened or moved to another side of Sicily's famous volcano.
"In the absence of eruptive activity, the route is to be considered safe, and in fact it has been used for decades to transfer tens of thousands of tourists to the top of the volcano every year," Neri said.
"In the case of eruptive activity on the northeast crevice, obviously it would not be possible to pass. But how frequently do eruptions occur in those parts? Excluding eruptions fed by summit craters, the last lateral eruption along the northeast crevice dates back to 2002, 17 years ago. They are not particularly in high frequencies."
Cycling Weekly understands that Director Mauro Vegni will take the Giro to Sicily regardless after its start in Budapest. From there, the race will cover most of Italy's eastern regions moving north to Veneto.
The Giro's third week will pass through the mountains west with a Piedmont finale before a possible individual time trial ending in Milan.
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