From The Saddle: The Stelvio

I am just sitting down in front of a computer for the first time in weeks, and starting the process of the downloading and organizing all of the shots from our Lombardia trip. I started with the Stelvio photos first because just looking at the shots again made the acid start to collect in my legs. Riding the Stelvio was one of the most beautiful and hardest things I have ever done. It is the perfect climb. From forested to exposed rock face, from hairpins to long sweeping grades, it is a climb that with the altitude is a challenge for any rider. Parts of it look deceptively easy, but coupled with the headwind and altitude your forward motion is greatly reduced. Other parts look demoralizingly hard. Looking up at what looks like a cliff of hairpins, with the Refugio clearly defined in the distance as your destination isn’t exactly the motivation you need at 12km to go. From the town triangle in Bormio the climb kicks right into it’s first hairpin and from there on up there is really no respite. In 25km you gain 5427ft to 8985ft, on an average 7.4% gradient with sections as steep as 14% (I knew because someone had kindly painted it on the road and it was confirmed by my Garmin). This was all done in 80 degree temperatures, what is that saying about mad dogs and English men. Pictures don’t do it justice, either here or on TV, it is brutal, but fantastic.

I saw Pro’s from the Colnago CFS Inox team on the ride up being tracked by their beeping team car, passing me like I wasn’t moving and they were only doing 10 mph (I got on the back for oh… all of 1km and went way into the red). I saw a 60 year old Italian on a vintage steel Coppi with a triple crank spin up it like it was a ride in the park. This was his 9W, imagine that, the Stelvio is your daily local ride. He had chiseled legs that looked like an old Gucci leather bag, I pray that I have his fitness and enthusiasm to be riding climbs like that at his age. I rode part of the way with two Germans who couldn’t understand why I kept fumbling for my phone to take photographs, then half way up they started to do the same thing. They realized it wasn’t just another climb, they were on the Stelvio and it was epic. There was snow at the top. I don’t think I have ever been that far up on a bike. Cresting the top is like entering a scene from a circus. There were pretzel and hot dog vendors, and motorcycles crammed into every foot of space on the tiny summit road. There was actually a queue at the Bormio/Stelvio sign with everyone looking for photographic evidence that they had done it (mine below), and that included the motorcyclists.

Descending was a little different. I was coming down faster than the cars, and in some cases overtaking the motorcycles by braking later on the bends. I think through the wind tears my speedo said 42mph on one of the straights and if I am honest I was caressing the brakes when I saw it. Half way down I had to stop and take it all in. There was no one up there, I was completely alone on the Stelvio. It was at that point that I thought I should wait until tomorrow to tackle the Gavia. That photo essay is up next.

You can see the full photo essay here. That is me below looking a little cooked at the refugio at the top, not ashamed to admit it.

Categories: Routes

  1. Looks like an EPIC ride! And if the ride wasn’t enough, aren’t you leaning up on a Storck? Unreal.

  2. Ah! What a ride and what a bike, Conor! The appeal of that climb is just agonizingly understandable. So real!

    michael crook

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