Passo di Gavia

The Stelvio’s ever so slightly younger and smaller brother, the Passo di Gavia has gained notoriety within the cycling community due to the Giro d’Italia’s attempts up the mountain in May and June when the road can still be banked with snow if not completely unpassable.

Dating back to at least to the 18th century the pass was used mainly by Venetian merchants on the way to Bormio and, beyond that, Germany. In the First World War, the Gavia’s strategic position, like many of the great passes, made it the focal point of intense fighting; the Cima di Vallombrina peak that overlooks the Gavia on the eastern side is still littered with fortifications used during that conflict.

Predating all of that, at the summit of the pass, is the Lago Bianco, or White Lake. Locals say that the name derives from the milky shade of the lake’s waters, itself the result of glacial lime in the inflowing stream.

The Gavia is mostly climbed by riders targeting the ascent of its bigger brother, the neighbouring Passo dello Stelvio but the Passo di Gavia has to its merit its own beauty and is well worth a visit to Bormio on its own.

The Climb in Detail

“The Gavia ascent is a voyage, an adventure, a novel - a Nordic, northern, polar journey" - La Gazetta dello Sport


The Ascents

The Gavia’s mountain pass connects the towns of Ponte di Legno and the ski resort of Bormio. The ride from Ponte di Legno is shorter by around 8-kilometres to its counterpart to the north and has an average gradient of 7.9% with a max gradient of 16%. The ride from Bormio is deemed easier as the average gradient is at 5.5% and you have a few chances to rest up before the steeper sections.


The view from the top

While anyone who has watched the Giro scale the Gavia on TV will recognize the vast walls of snow on either side of the road across the summit, only those who have set foot on this mercurial mountain will be aware of the incomparable 360-degree view from the summit: to the north the 3,678-metre Punta San Matteo and the Ortler group; to the east the immense rock face of the Corno dei Tre Signori; to the south the Val delle Messi and the aforementioned Lago Nero; and to the west, the 3,223-metre Monte Gavia.

It’s place at the Giro d’Italia

Introduced to the Giro d’Italia in 1960, the Gavia has since then proven to be the Giro’s showstopper. In May or early June, at the time of the Giro, the Gavia’s altitude means that its summit is invariably caked in snow and, often, unnavigable with dramatic and controversial repercussions. The Luxembourg rider Charly Gaul was the first over the summit in 1960 taking victory in Bormio which has often been used as the finish town along with Aprica. 


"On the way up I got rid of all of my warm clothes, my legs were bare, no shoe covers. I did have a pair of neoprene diving gloves that I kept on for the entire climb. Along the way my team car gave me a neck-gator and a wool hat.

I wanted to dry my hair before I put it on maybe 4-5 ks before the top, so I brushed through my hair, thinking I was going to wipe some water out, and a big snowball rolled off my head, and down my back.

I thought “Oh my gosh “ I'm really not producing much heat, even though I've been going up a really hard grade.' So then I had my raincoat, a super thin polypro undershirt on, so my arms were covered, but I was NOT warm at the top of the mountain. We could spend a few hours while I figure out how to describe how cold I was!”– Andy Hamptsen

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Bormio (LIN,VRN)
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