Stelvio - the Alpine Italian Job - Part 1

Passo dello Stelvio is called the greatest driving road in the world. It's also one of the most epic climbs in Giro d'Italia, so it's on the bucket list of every cyclist in the world. I got the chance to ride it this year. It as an epic Alpine Italian Job.

from passo dello Stelvio towards Bormio

The drive 
Tunnels toward Bormio
To ride up Stelvio from Italy, you can ride from Prato (north side) or from Bormio (south side). I chose to start my ride in Bormio because I rented a nice bike from a local shop instead of lugging my bike on my car for thousands of kilometres. Bormio is surrounded by the Dolomite Alps, and the Italians were as busy as ants. Most of the way there are tunnels bored through the mountains, so I drove through at least 30 kilometres of tunnels.

More tunnels

The unexpected peak 
Passo Mortirolo, not a great view, forests all around
Everyone got lost by their GPS navigation app at least once. My GPS app decided to go haywire and stuck me into a small alpine village with narrow streets and drove me in circles. When I asked some locals how to get to Bormio, they told me I need to drive to Mortirolo. Now that was a piece of good news! I get to see Mortirolo, even from a car!
I must confess that I want to come back especially for Mortirolo. It is by far the nastiest climbs and descents I've seen. The incline is very steep and the road is so narrow, two cars cannot pass each other. I drove through tens of hairpin turns going through dense forest where visibility is only to the next bend. Regardless whether you are on a bike or in a car, you just pray there isn't someone coming the other way on every turn.

Uphill on the bike
Hairpin 40, counting down to 0 at Stelvio Pass
In Bormio, i picked up my bike for the day - a nice Trek Domane 4.3. The weather was just right for the climb - partly cloudy and cool. Everyone is quite nice - both drivers and other riders. The cyclists greet you whether they pass you or you pass them, and if you are stopped everyone asks a simple "OK?". The drivers wait patiently for the cyclists to be safe, and pass the bike with a lot of space between the car and bike. The climb on the south side has 40 hairpin turns, with the first 3 at the end of Bormio. After that it goes gradually steeper until it settles between 7-8%, but never rises above 12%.
Towards the unseen tops of the Dolomites

Tunnels everywhere
There is a huge number of cyclists riding up Stelvio. Most groups of cyclists were obviously on training, and wearing matching team kits. The hairpins could be seen in the distance, but the road first had to pass through a series of tunnels. There is very little space in the tunnels, and cars can barely pass each other. Cars don't overtake cyclists in the tunnels, just crawl behind them. While riding through one, I heard a very loud repeating honk, which was unusual since nobody honks at the cyclists. The reason for the honking became apparent on the next bend. A touring bus was descending through the tunnel, and it took up the space of the entire road - wall to wall. It went very slowly and honked in warning. There was no way for the bus to pass the cyclists. The cars behind us started backing out, but the cyclists in the tunnel had a better idea. We all hid in the alcoves dug in the tunnel walls so the bus can pass.
The tunnel where we had to hide in the alcoves on the left

Halfway there, in the hairpins
The hairpins seen from the tunnels
Halfway up the climb, i reached the hairpins. Riding the hairpins is very interesting - you always have a great view, and the turning the bend provides a nice levelling of the road for a bit of rest. You can push up or just relax and enjoy the view. The mountain started showing it's power - It greeted with rain, cooling me off but the weather was getting visibly colder. Some riders stopped to put on rain gear. Others, including me hoped for better weather so we kept on. The hairpin turns are loved by drivers as well as cyclists. I was passed by a group in matching 4 Mazda MX5 (Miata) racing up and cornering hard in the hairpins. They were followed by another group in 3 Lotus Elise. They provided a fun view of car racing, although not really safe. Hope they are having as great time as the cyclists.

The most interesting set of haipins

There is so much to write about and publish so many photos. Read the second part of this story here!

Share on Google Plus

About Bozidar Spirovski

    Blogger Comment
    Facebook Comment