By Alasdair Fotheringham
POLSA, Italy (Reuters) May 23 - Two major climbs have been axed from Friday's key stage 19 of the Giro d'Italia because of snow and ice on their descent although the main stage finish at Val Martello remains in place, race organizers said on Thursday.
The Gavia and Stelvio climbs, with summits at 2,618 and 2,758 meters above sea level, have been cut from the course.
The new route for stage 19 still has its original start at Ponte di Legno and finishes on the Val Martello climb but, with two of Friday's three big climbs canceled, it will now be 160 km, 21 km longer than first planned.
Race organizers said that as well as the changes, freezing temperatures and heavy snowfall in the Dolomites could put Saturday's most difficult stage of the Giro, which finishes on the emblematic Tre Cime di Lavaredo, under threat.
"We're at least hoping to save the finish at Tre Cime di Lavaredo, we're monitoring the weather and road conditions closely," race technical director Mauro Vegni told the cyclingnews website (www.cyclingnews.com) on Thursday.
The bad weather sweeping northern Italy and the Alps has already resulted in one climb, the Col de Sestriere, being canceled last Saturday and Sunday's stage finish on another climb, the Col du Galibier, was relocated to four km short of the summit after snow partly blocked the high mountain pass.
The Giro d'Italia, currently led by Vincenzo Nibali of Italy, finishes on May 26 in Brescia.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)