They were aiming at the top of the Mortirolo Pass, which is more of a plateau, the same place where Charlemagne fought a bloody battle against the pagans in 773 AD. Mortirolo, a gloomy and dreadful Italian word, was named after this clash because of the numerous deaths among both Christians and the infidels. The ascent of the Mortirolo is restless in its past and present, it welcomes people of all ages, groups of friends and families with little children. They all climb the Mortirolo because its peak is beautiful, thus featuring an endless view of grassland and beeches. They all climb the Mortirolo because Giro d’Italia discovered it less than thirty years ago but it has been a legend of the Corsa Rosa ever since. They all climb the Mortirolo because Pantani’s qualities were revealed here, as he finished 4 minutes ahead of Berzin in 1994, who affirmed upon arrival: “Fortunately, there won’t be another Mortirolo Pass from now on”. They all climb the Mortirolo because it is the first ascent of the hardest stage in the 100th edition of the Giro, which was dedicated to Michele Scarponi. They all climb the Mortirolo, thus accepting its tortures, because road cycling has no costs for its fans, it just invites them to participate in terms of physical effort.
This is why the last kilometres up to the top became sort of a Cycling Maracanã Stadium. From the natural grandstands, spectators could see the Spanish rider and Scarponi's former team-mate, Luis León Sánchez, pass by first, followed by the group of champions and the rest of the peloton. Groups were very close to each other, for the race would become harsher later on. The spectators went back to their barbecue lunch while radio and TV continued to broadcast the Giro.
After Bormio, the race went on climbing the Stelvio, the highest asphalted road in Italy, riding through rugged slopes and built-up snow on the side of the road. The scenes were the same as above, though more evocative thanks to the civil engineering masterpiece of 48 hairpin turns leading to the top. The hairpin bends stuck to the rocks just like the last riders stuck to their bicycles, as if keeping them closer - almost whispering a pray for pity in their ear - could tame them. It was all useless. The brutal Stelvio overwhelmed the riders’ faces, causing them to look older and become wrinkled. If the Stelvio didn’t make it the first time, it tried for a second time. As a matter of fact, stage 16 of the Giro proposed it again after crossing the Swiss border. Here it’s called Umbrail Pass, but the mountain is the same and it overwhelmed the riders’ faces and stomachs: indeed, maglia rosa Tom Dumoulin had to stop at the side of the road for an undelayable comfort break. When he went back to the race, Dumoulin had already lost one minute but finished only two minutes down as he was able to regain some strength.
Nibali, instead, needed nothing of this. In his usual style, he tried to attack while climbing and took the lead while descending. As he rode downhill, he left everyone else behind, even Quintana. He then soloed with Landa, beating him in a two-up sprint in Bormio. Nibali reopened the Giro on its queen stage - featuring the Mortirolo and Stelvio passes -, and sent the spectators into raptures, which somehow explains why so many people had poured into the roads of the Corsa Rosa since the morning.