PASSO DELLO STELVIO
The Stelvio Pass: 24.3 km long, 48 serpentine turns, an average grade of 8%
The most difficult of the three Passes in the Italian Alps – coveted by cyclists the world over. I had ridden the Stelvio Pass twice before this third attempt. The first ride, while difficult, generated a good personal time. However, a friend pointed out that Alvis and I didn’t actually begin at the start of the Pass. Ggggrr. The second attempt was disastrous, as I ran into some heavy mechanical problems, which cost me over 35 minutes in time. And so, while training for this third attempt, I tried to take into account any and all eventualities, including inclement weather.
Here is an account of my third climb up the Stelvio Pass.
Shortly after starting off at the bottom of the Pass, I had to pull over and start peeling off the layers. Alvi had been monitoring the weather on the Pass for a week, and the weather prediction was not good for today. So, we were wearing and carrying all kinds of foul weather gear – just in case. However, my birthday dawned bright and sunny if a little brisk. As I started riding, all of the layers came off….here….
The bottom part of the Pass is not so hard. It is not steep, the serpentine road flanks a glacial river, which serves to cool the air. So, for riding, it is very pleasant. At least it was today.
Arriving to the village of Trafoi, where on my last Stelvio attempt, I ran into mechanical trouble. However, today – nothing but smooooooooth riding…. :0)
A visual depiction of the average grade on a turn.
I have now entered the forested section of the Pass. I like to think of this as Section Two. Cool, green and shady. Perfect for today, as it was starting to really heat up. I was feeling strong, confident, and happy at this point. I even ran into Alvi in the forest section. That is a first – for me!
Looking back from where I’ve come – and loving the views. I am feeling strong at this point, and am even enjoying moments of solitude – no traffic – not even another cyclist. Wonderful!
Despite having ridden now for well over 15 kilometers, I still cannot see the actual top of the Pass. However, the scenery along the way is nothing short of majestic.
Lots of blind curves on the Stelvio Pass. I am always mindful, and try to stick to the right wall. During my first Stelvio climb, I was almost flattened by an extra wide German tour bus on a blind turn.
Now I find myself in Section 3 of the Pass. I am out of the forested section and am now exposed to the elements, which today are extreme heat and sunshine. The temperatures are in the 30’s – even this high in the Alps – which makes riding interesting. Section 3 consists of these long gradual uphills, with lots of traffic. Motorcyclists drag racing each other, double wide German RV’s vying for space, tour buses chugging along…… and me just trying to get up the Pass in one piece. At this point, I feel myself starting to overheat. So, I make a quick pit stop – I drink and eat a sugary rice crispy treat with chocolate. Yum!
There is the Summit!
I debated long and hard when to stop for another photo. I thought maybe I should stop at Tornante #24 – the sort of halfway point. But, that’s actually not the halfway point of the whole Passo. I had just eaten that crazy sugar laden ‘granola bar’ and within a minute I could feel a surge of energy. I didn’t want to waste it, so I rode until Tornante #19. Only 19 switch back turns to go!
On the way to Turn #16 I run into Alvis- who has a flat tire. While changing his tire he realized that his replacement tube was also punctured. I arrived at a good time for Ali. I gave him my spare tube, ate another super sugar laden thingy, and went on my way – leaving him to tend to his flat. Sorry Alvi!
A look from where I’ve come, and how far I still have left to go. Now, I am so hot, I am considering removing my helmet. I am soaked through my cycling shirt, and I fear I am overheating. While the summit looks close, it also feels very far away.
At Turn #5 I was really struggling. I was overheated. I had eaten all 3 of the energy bars. I was only 5 turns away from the summit, but about 1 km away. After having ridden 23 or more kilometers already, one more seems like a lot. My hands were shaking, which is why this photo is out of focus. A lovely Frenchman passed me and said “Almost there. Are you coming? I will wait for you.” I said, ‘Merci, Senor”, I am coming with you.” Yes! I said Senor to a Frenchman…. I was exhausted, had been speaking all manner of languages all day, and couldn’t think of the word “Monsieur” in the moment.
The view from Turn 5 to the summit. On the one hand I am elated that I am almost at the top. On the other hand, I am shaky, at times I am steering my bike into the wall, and the summit still looks very far away. However, I kept pushing. At Turn #2 I stopped for 30 seconds to re-inflate my posterior. As a small peloton of 20 somethings passed me, one young fella shouted out to me, “Come on, don’t give up! You are almost there!”. Chico, I said, I am not giving up – as I resumed riding.
As I wheeled my way up to the top, the Frenchman greeted me and jogged with me to reach the very top – The Passo dello Stelvio summit sign – and he held my bike as I snapped this photo – and checked my official time. A personal best for me: 3 hours and 52 minutes. As I parted ways with the Frenchman, I made my way back to find Alvi. On my way the 20’s somethings congratulated me on my ride. Igual, dudes!
Here’s a look down at the Pass. The feeling of satisfaction is indescribable.
An out-of-focus photo of my Alvi arriving at the Summit. My hands were still shaking, so not a great photo.
The traditional ‘Summit Selfie’.
Today I turned 50. Alvi and I had a great day riding the Passo Stelvio. Happy Birthday to me!
(I was so exhausted, I got my hand signals mixed up…..The correct photo is below….)
Below is how I really feel about Turning 50….
Alvis and I will ride the Stelvio Pass again next year – on August 19, 2019. Come on out and join us!