From a few time with my friends we talk about the “Stelvio Day”. This year the weather forecasts are very good: a high pressure bubble guarantees good weather and zero degree above the 4000m of altitude. Ideal conditions for a bicycle trip at the 2.700m of Stelvio Pass. Unfortunately until Friday no one was avaiable for the challenge, so I decide to go alone. Saturday August 27, wake up at 5.15 ready to drive from Brescia to Bormio.
At 8.46 I hook up the pedal for this ride. Surely it will be fantastic day. From the first meters in the center of Bormio, you breathe air of celebration, smell of a day dedicated to cyclists. All the roads to Stelvio are closed to the cars, only bicycles until four in the afternoon.
Just after the crossroads to Livigno, it start the ascent closed to vehicular traffic. Really there is a lot of riders, some estimates give ten thousand total cyclists on three sides of the mountain. The first kilometers are still in the shade of the mountains, I turn right and left to watch the wonders of these places. It’s been eleven years since the only time I came here and sometimes the memories are not accurate.
After ten kilometers I am at the first tunnel, my lane is still in the shade but the opposite side is already brightened by the sun and begins to reserve splendid views worthy of being photographed, so I grant the luxury of a couple of quick stops to a clicks. The climb is long and too many stops interrupt the pedaling pace and increasing the strain: I will have to do less stops if I want to finish the ride I have in mind. The dream is to get to the crossroads with Switzerland border and climb up 2,503mt of the Umbrailpass and to get down at Müstair, crossing Glurns and go back to Stelvio pass from Prato. In this way, the first ascent will be three kilometers shorter than “Stelvio from Bormio”, however it is a climb of 18km with an average slope of 7%. Up to the cascades of Braulio torrent, the slopes are steady, but when the valley opens and the hairpin turn begin, the slope go sometimes in double digits. I continue to admire the landscape and look for the right spot where take pictures. I will take more pictures at reentry in the warm light of the afternoon. Coming on the first hairpin turn near the waterfall I did not resist to take a snapshot. I promise that the next one will only be after I have reached up the slight slope. I climb all the hairpin turns, up to the plateau and here the view opens up to the surrounding mountains. Just now I have passed the 2,300mt and I need to be careful not to push too much on pedals, the rarefied air decreases considerably the lung capacity and consequently the endurance. Numerous studies indicate that compared to the sea level at this altitude you already lose more than 10% of your threshold power!
Fortunately two miles with slopes around 6% help keep a quieter pace and enjoy even better the colors of the mountains and the sky. Crossing the plateau, three hairpin turns lead to Umbrailpass (2,503m). I have a break to eating cheese and bresaola sandwiches (valtellinese food) that I had prepared. Self-timer of rite and let go downhill without wearing windstopper, today temperatures are pleasent. Just a kilometer of the descent and again I stop to capturing images of the mountains and the road.
The descent is very beautiful, even the last stretch of gravel road has been tarmacked and you can safely reach very high speeds (I do not!). When I come down I find that we are a fair number of people who have decided to face the double Stelvio. A bit of company make me happy, there are other people who like to ride and to watch around. Arrived at Müstair, the Swiss guards make us pass on a road crossing the fields without passing through the highways of the country. Here I immortalize this beautiful Swiss valley that I will tell to my daugther Alice to be that of Heidi (famous cartoon of the ’80s). I continue the descent, past the customs and quickly come to Glorenza, the smallest municipality in South Tyrol with degree of city. Particularly famous for its ring of walls of nineteenth century, still perfectly preserved. In Glorenza there is the saying: “Our city is so small that we must go to church out of the walls.” In fact, the cathedral is out of the ancient walls.
I stop near pedestrian bridge to eat a second sandwich and start to Prato where the toughest rise will start: 24km with average slopes 8%, straight to Stelvio pass (2,758m). The hightest in Europe. Along this stretch almost flat, sometimes I’m overtaken by bunch of cyclists who pull as fickle as they were making a really race! It is not my style. Above all a sky so clean and a climate that would be appreciated differently, but everyone has his style to deal with bicycle outings: honor to them who have the capability and courage to work hard on the plains knowing what we have to do next!
Finally I arrive in Prato and I enter the valley leading through Gomagoi and Trafoi at the Stelvio pass. Now on the clamour of Rio Solda torrent accompanies my pedals and it will be for some miles. The temperature has risen to 30 ° C, and if the slopes of first 7km are never lethal (6-7%), instead is deadly hot the stone wall in support of the mountain on the roadside. I am a lover of heat, I like to sweat smiling to think that even up there will not be cold! After 10km, passing the Trafoi village, it start seriously: I’m only at 1,600mt of altitude and I have to gain 1,200mt in 14km. Slopes will never fall below 8%, except for a few tens of meters along some hairpin turns. I will see long stretches, between a hairpin turns and the next, with slopes well above 10%. Stelvio from Prato is not easy! It is very hard to resist today and I have to stop several times to take pictures. It is an amazing day, the Ortles-Cevedale glacier overwhelms me in all its splendor and in all its majesty.
A cause the rarefaction of the air the panoramas are breathless. I stand twice to fill the bottle and to eat something solid. I predicted that (including stops for take pictures and eating) it will take about three hours to get to the top. At the last fountain where I stop just to fill the bottle, I take a pic to the valley that makes the idea of what wonderful day I have found today.
Only a few kilometers to the summit, but the surprises are not lacking. Here are lurking on the edge of the last hairpin, photographers agency specializing in sports events ready to immortalize our exploits. I do not know how they did it, but it certainly is all about the photographer and here I look like a professional cyclist.
I am now at the 1st hairpin as stated in the road sign and I have to stop to take the picture of the glacier the valley and the endless switchbacks I just path just now that I am at 2,700mt . Now the last meters separating me from the great square of the Stelvio Pass: the satisfaction is great, but there is still all the way down to go and I must not lose focus. Three in the afternoon and the square is full of cyclists are just after. I stop, calmly wear my sleeveless windstopper, and then, above, the one with the sleeves. The day is gorgeous, the sun is warm, but the air is still cool and to downhill 20km with completely sweaty dress can be insidious. Beginning the descent and after the first kilometer I take pic of Pizzo della Forcola which with the warm light of the afternoon assumed an intense reddish color, I take pics all those places I had given up this morning.
When I come near the waterfall not just take a pic, but I stand still and silently contemplating the mountain for a few moments. Now fatigue is over and I can relax and fully enjoy all that surrounds me.
It takes a few minutes, I take a last deep breath and go. It’s been past four o’clock in the afternoon and I’m back in Bormio’s vehicular traffic. I arrive at my car, change, refresh, eat. Next destination Garda lake, there are three people waiting for me, who I also stole precious time today to give me my solitude.
Technical detalis: UmbrailPass,Glurns,StelvioPass