Retro gallery: The Gavia Pass turns a peloton into ice cream
Stage winner Eric Breukinck.
During the pandemic, Dutch cycling veteran Cor Vos regularly scanned his extensive archive of old race photos. This week, the emblematic Gavia stage of the Giro d’Italia 1988 made the selection.
Over time, the stages and years of a Grand Tour fade in memory until one looks very similar. But there are exceptions – victories so moving, scenes so vivid, a time so wild that events become definitively etched in cycling mythology.
The 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia 1988 was one of those stages.
With dark clouds rising above the Alps, the peloton had an appointment with the Gavia pass at 2,600 meters. The night before, a huge amount of snow had been dumped on the pass and the race organizers had scrambled to clear the road. The Giro would run as planned – rolling straight through some of the most gruesome conditions in the history of the sport.
26-year-old American Andy Hampsten (7 Eleven) attacked at the foot of Gavia. The snow turned to squalls of snow and then a downpour, and the muddy roads grew whiter and whiter. Hampsten went ahead, followed by young Dutchman Erik Breukink.
The stage is now synonymous with Hampsten, but it was Breukink who won that day. He caught up with his American rival 7 km from the summit, before the race descended from the heights towards Bormio in the valley below. Breukink won the stage by seven seconds, but Hampsten won the maglia rosa.
He would become the first (and only) American rider to win the Giro. Later in his career, Hampsten won a stage in the Tour de France and finished in the top 10 of the six Grand Tours, but it was at the Gavia du Giro de 88 that he entered cycling folklore.
Over 33 years later, all of this is obviously not news. There is no connection to current events – no anniversary, no route announcement to accompany this gallery. But as I was looking this week in a photographic archive for another story, I came across this collection of photos and they stopped me dead.
No snow and static speckled TV footage, but crisp images of big helmets and friction shifters, from a time when Delta was a brake rather than a virus. Cor Vos does not have any finish line plans to tell a full story of the stage; just a handful of snapshots of a moment on the Gavia, where tall men in iconic jerseys were reduced to shivering wrecks by a historic racing day.