Andy Hampsten’s Passo di Gavia ride at the 1988 Giro d’Italia was sensational. In the legendary stage fourteen of the 1988 Giro d’Italia with its crossing of the Aprica, a 120-kilometer trip part way up the Tonale and then a left turn up the south face of the Gavia pass with a final steep, technical descent into Bormio. The day was wet and cold. Until the start, Torriani had been considering an alternate route because of the possibility of bad weather. It would end up being, in the words of La Gazzetta, “the day the big men cried.”
Over the first two climbs, the cold, wet riders stayed together. When they began ascending the Gavia with its patches of fifteen percent gradient (back then, only the Gavia’s switchback turns were paved), it began to snow and as the riders continued up the pass, it got even colder. Johan Van der Velde, in just shorts and short sleeves, was first over the top. He was followed a few seconds later by Breukink, Hampsten and then by Chioccioli and Marco Giovannetti.
Breukink and Hampsten had dropped the Italians well before the summit and crested together. The conditions were appalling; the road was frozen and when the riders began the descent, their brakes wouldn’t work on the frozen rims. Some had their gears jammed up with ice. Van der Velde gave up, dismounted his bike, waited for warmer clothes to be brought from the team car and descended the steepest part of the pass on foot. He lost 47 minutes that day.
Hampsten and Breukink pressed on down the steep, icy descent and into Bormio where Breukink won the sprint.
Andy Hampsten became the first American, and non-European, to win the Giro d’Italia.