An unprecedented climb
The climb to the Cancano lakes is a novelty for the Giro d'Italia. It is not a demanding ascent, but the fact that the top will be the finish line of today’s stage will make the race intense and exciting. The average gradient, along the 10 km track starting from the bridge over the Adda river, under Premadio, is estimated at 6.9%, the maximum at 9.5% with an elevation gain of 692 meters up to elev. 1,941 m of the Fraele towers. The road is 5-6 m wide, with rough asphalt, no mileage markers. Being exposed to the south it enjoys a good exposure to the sun - there are no sections in the shade. What makes it priceless are the views, the glimpses over the ravines and the rocky walls up to the exceptional location of the towers, the sudden change of landscape upon entering the Fraele valley; finally, the sensation of associating the ascent with the secret sign of history.
Starting from Bormio, the 4.5 km section leading to Premadio along the road of the church of S.Gallo, although short, serves as a warm up. The old bridge over the Adda announces the climb with two hairpin bends and a first ramp, within the inhabited area, close to 7.5%. Once reached and crossed the state road 301, one continues (follow the signs for the Cancano lakes) with a slightly more moderate ascent (6.5%). At km 1.2, one leaves Via Degola on the left and with a sharp bend, and starts climbing the slopes of Monte delle Scale with a first stretch featuring the highest gradients (8-9%) for about 500 metres.
The mountain side is covered with long, digitiform flows of debris and a low bush of mugo pines with yellowish patches of heather and some spots of Scotch pine. It is the Bosco di Arsiccio, whose toponym, 'burnt, dry', qualifies the arid nature of the soil and the characteristic vegetation that covers it. The road climbs diagonally up the slope so that the view opens more and more towards Valdidentro. At km 5, those who do not have competitive goals can take advantage of a picnic area (elev. 1,513 m - fountain) from which the towers and the final destination can be spotted for the first time. Then the disturbing Sasso di Prada gets closer, an imposing monolith of rock precipitated from the Monte delle Scale in remote times.
At km 5.5 and at an elevation of 1,656 m, at the junction with a road coming from Pedenosso (possible alternative route to the top), the most exhilarating section begins, namely the 19 narrow hairpin bends that overcome the dizzying ridge of the Scale. The 'aficionados' of the climbs will compare it to the famous 'Lacets de Montvernier', brought to the fore in the 2015 Tour. On the continuous comings and goings the gradient stabilizes between 6 and 7%, never excessive, highlighting the feature commont to 'military roads', that is, to maintain, at the expense of the length, a continuous and acceptable slope to allow easy towing of baggage. The last bends prelude to the most spectacular point: two short tunnels, dug out of the living rock that precede the spur of the towers. Even the most competitive climbers cannot avoid stopping to admire the fantastic panorama towards the peaks, especially on the snowfields of Cima Piazzi (elev. 3,439 m). The last hundreds of meters are flat and on a dirt and smooth road, and give access to Lago delle Scale, Valle di Fraele and the relative refreshment points and lodges.