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High on Bike

As spectacular as a photo may be, there is no substitute for the view when combined with the feeling of exhaustion, sense of achievement and thinning of the air atop the Stelvio.  I dug up my Mortirolo – Gavia ride as an appetiser for the next stage of the Giro.

This particular ‘ride’ is probably more to bite off in a single day than for most but that’s why it’s personally memorable. There is nothing memorable about flat rides on familiar roads,  but you never forget getting rained, hailed or snowed on, been blown into the gutter by gail force winds, blistering heat and ‘popping’ like a bag of crisps because you didn’t consume enough gear earlier in the day.

The day previous I’d ascended the Stelvio from Bormio just to awaken the legs before blowing them apart today.

UpDave had kindly passed on the route he’d taken with his lovely lady which I more or less copied. I will add that Dave and Adele covered the route is less than favourable conditions.

The route is only 111km in total, and a few up and down squiggles on the map. No worries I thought.

 

THE HARD WAY OR THE EASY WAY.

I left before dawn. Dave said it had taken 10 hours to complete the loop so I figured the earlier I leave the better. I rolled out of Bormio without a stir from the town or it’s people. A sole cafe provided my first espresso of the day. I slammed it down in local fashion and departed.

Following the river south, I was headed for the town of Mazzo, the base of the Mortirolo a mere 30km ahead. Though the profile shows ‘it’s all downhill’ from Bormio, that’s only if you take the expressway. The alternative route bobs up and down, turns into a bike path before rejoining the road 10km from Mazzo.

 

It was along this fast descent I came upon another cyclist. A local, who spoke little english, I told him my plan. His eyelids peeled back faster than the 40 clicks we were going. ‘Oi yoi yoi!‘.  Unlike the Dutchman the day earlier who told me it was impossible, the local asked me if I wanted to take the easier and popular ascent of the Mortirolo, or the ‘hard’ way.

With a nod, he led me all the way to Mazzo where the climb began. A grazie and moving handshake and we went our seperate ways. Within the first turn of the climb I came across road works. A young lad in a bobcat reeled off directions on how to get to the Mortirolo. I kindly shook my head knowing full well only 1% of his instructions registered.

I went the way I thought I should go towards a ‘Castelli’ which had a road of 23% leading up to it. I prayed this was the right way as this was just the kind of morning detour which I’d pay dearly for in the afternoon. I was grinding in the smallest gear possible at less than walking pace. At the top – dead end.

I went back to my friend in the bobcat and asked again for directions. I heard a word I’d seen – Sparso and it clicked. 30 mins later I was where I wanted to be.

Only a solitary tractor keep me company the entire climb. Steep doesn’t do this climb credit. From the otherside it’s stupid steep. If you can average anywhere near 15kph up it you are flying. Only pro’s and only some of them can dance up this like they are on fire.

On the nastiest few hairpins of the climb is a momunent to the man who mastered it – Marco Pantani.

The 2012 Giro D’Italia Queen stage was molto brutal. It climbed the Mortirolo in the stupid steep direction, but not before ascending Passo Del Tonale, then finishes atop the Stelvio. It’s one thing to ride this distance, but to race it is testament to the amazing ability of the riders.

 

Each hairpin on the way down is numbered, and 11-8 reminded me of the technical switchbacks on a downhill course. I drifted through the first two sideways and not deliberately.

Once I finally reached the bottom, the valley ascent began, but not before another stop for coffee, a bag of chips, and confirmation I was riding in the right direction.

It really sucked to be me right now. I sat down in this knee long grass, ploughed though a ritter and a banana, finished my bidon and reflected on just how ‘colourful expletive’ good life is.

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Strangely, my appearance did not reflect my disposition.

I remounted my trusty/squeaky Trek and began THE GAVIA.

If I had more energy at the time I would have taken a picture of the sign saying the road narrows to a mere 2.5m in sections, and the hilarious traffic jam that occured when cars from oncoming directions want to pass at these constricted parts.

I rode the majority of the Gavia in the smallest gear on offer and at a pace of just under 10kph. Just to give you an idea of the ‘size’ of the beast.

What’s not shown in this image is the second ‘galleria/tunnel’ which is 14% in gradient and is in pitch black darkness. So dark you cannot see your hand in front of your face. All you can see is a pin of light far in the distance. A trailing motorbike provided a flash of light, and a deafening roar as it passed, returning the tunnel to darkness again.

This is just about the point when you want to stop, but is the last place you should.

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When I did get out of the ‘hell’ section I saw a familiar sight. Campagnolo Shamals. Two lads from Milano had loaned their Dad’s bikes, and escaped for the weekend. Their partners relaxed in thermal spas, and the lads ground out the Gavia. One of them had only 39 x 23, and was riding a classic Moser. The only rode an MTB in sneakers. I empathised with their bikes, for as classic as they were, I was happy to have a compact 34 x 27 on hand. The pair were only riding the Gavia and were well and truly shot.

It was like a classic car rally at the top, and the Gavia had taken it’s toll on even the drivers.

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I relaxed in brilliant weather at the top. Another coffee, sandwich, pastry, coffee and it was time to roll back to Bormio. Earlier in my mental planning I’d considered adding the Stelvio to this loop to go one better than Ugly who’d also highly recommended this difficult loop but I’d realised I’d had a belly full of climbing this day.

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From the Gavia it is ALL downhill to Bormio, and the last 15km can be done easily at 60kph without even turning the pedals. A great finish to an amazing day on the bike.

When I did arrive in Bormio it was only mid afternoon, I saw the sign for the Stelvio… and headed straight for the shower.

Just like all the great bitumen rollercoaster rides of the world, you can ride this one for free but not everyday of the year. Always make sure you pack well, even if that means not packing light and plan your ride. It can all end in tears if you don’t. If you plan to ride solo you should always let your loved ones know the route, and how long you think it may take.

Choose your own adventure.

More photos in the gallery at the top.

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