From The Saddle: The Gavia

I rode the Gavia the day after riding up the valley and doing the Stelvio. I headed out earlier as the day before the heat was killing my Irish air-conditioning. I am just not built to ride in that sort of heat at that effort, I need about 10 bottles of water to feel “normal”. The Stelvio, despite being tough, was a really beautiful climb to ride, but the Gavia from the start felt completely inhospitable. It kind of meanders out of the back end of Bormio, without the grand entrance of the Stelvio with its beautiful sweeping hairpins. It just goes straight up through a series of villages layered with some cobbled streets. It then enters what seems to be an endless section that winds through cow-covered pastures that have an extra strong smell of cow dung and a cacophony of flies to accompany you on your journey upwards. This section hurt a lot, and getting buzzed by the Moto Guzzis wasn’t helping me any.

Just when I was getting sick of swatting flies off my sweaty arms I rounded a bend and was confronted with a daunting-looking cliff face with a very narrow 18% road clutching onto its side and views into the National Park. Out of the saddle for this bit, keeping the pedals turning was about all I could manage, the gradient popped between 12 and 14%. At this point I still hadn’t met one other rider. Passing along this cliff face there were little memorials carved into the rock for people who had died on the mountain, driving, hiking and riding. This drops you onto the last phase of the climb with a real sense of humility. This is the section in the Giro that had the snow banks piled along each side a couple of feet above the riders’ heads. Looking up the valley at that last 5km, it should have been easy, but a rising headwind, poor road surface and just general lack of energy made it a grind. You are surrounded by the most spectacular views. Glaciers covered in snow in June, reflected in frozen Alpine lakes. You ride past the famous crucifix that tells you you are nearly there. It is probably the most unspectacular summit road I have ever gone up. The gradient just kind of stops and you are there, next to a very muddy car park. It feels pretty inhospitable and cold up there and I didn’t really hang around.

The trip down was taken very cautiously. Lack of guard rails and a sketchy surface made it tough to let loose until I hit the villages again and was able to stop and de-layer. Sitting here now looking at the shots again, it is a must-do climb. You fight it all the way up and never feel comfortable. It is cold, windy and remote, but it gives you a serious sense of you “beat it” when you get back into Bormio and roll past the hotel where Andy Hampsten stayed. Chapeau Andy I can’t imagine doing that in a snow blizzard.

You can see the full photo essay here.

Categories: Routes

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