Grand Tours are already mystical, fascinating beasts, but what about adding in a climb that goes to 2,860m of altitude, requires a bike change halfway up, has a maximum gradient of 24 per cent, and would need drones to act as TV cameras?
One Italian engineer, Fabio La Ferla, believes he’s found a way to get the Giro d’Italia to the top of Mount Etna, close enough to “lick the craters”, and become the new highest mountain-top finish the Italian Grand Tour has ever seen, just eclipsing the Stelvio’s 2,758m of altitude.
Over the past two years, La Ferla has contacted the relevant experts to verify his study that it would be possible to race from Piano Provenzana (where stage three of the 2020 Giro finished) up to the INGV Etna observatory, at 2,860m.
It is here, on the north-east side, where the safest ascent of the volcano is possible as statistically there aren’t any dangerous eruptions, and is more protected from the gas leaks that pour out of the summit craters above at an altitude of 3,350m.
There is also a chairlift installed here at an altitude of 2,500m allowing tourists up above the clouds, which could accommodate roadside fans to make for an unforgettable stage.
La Ferla says the biggest risk is the weather, which can change suddenly, but that he’s already tested the climb out, organising a 15-strong ride up the volcano, a group that included Bahrain-McLaren’s Damiano Caruso.
“Damiano Caruso himself said that this could be done, with gravel bikes, by changing bikes in Piano Provenzana where the Giro arrived this year. But, thinking about safety, imagine it being operated sort of as a hill climb, where we could try and manage every aspect and stop the race in case we need to, and above all act with the utmost respect for the unique natural environment, with video footage taken by drones. Only a motorcycle would follow the riders and with a barrage of the public at an altitude of 2,500m so as to emphasise even more the challenge between the athlete and the climb.”
The climb would have an average gradient of 11.8 per cent, reaching a maximum of 24 per cent, and be 8.6km in length. The road is only 5m wide, so with fans crowding each side of the road would provide incredible scenes.
La Ferla has already approached race director Mauro Vegni about getting the climb included in the Grand Tour, even before the 2020 route was unveiled where riders would finish at La Ferla’s proposed starting point.
Stage three saw EF Pro Cycling’s Jonathan Caicedo beat Giovanni Visconti to the win on Etna, a day that saw Geraint Thomas (Ineos) crash and abandon the next day, while Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) also lost time.
Now, La Ferla has backing from the local mayor, who sent an official request to RCS to host a stage of the 2021 Giro that would hopefully include the climb. With the route not yet announced, we’ll all have to watch this space.