Hunt Open Dev team member Chris Hall was lucky enough to spend a few days tackling some of the biggest climbs that the Italian Dolomites have to offer. Chris reports on his trip:
A few days in Italy, it would be rude not too! On a ride organised by Traverse Aravis a group of Ripcor riders ventured on this search for the best climbs that Italy and The Dolomites have to offer.
The Dolomites are a mountain range located in north eastern Italy. They form a part of the Southern Limestone Alps and extend from the River Adige in the west to the Piave Valley in the east. Also known as the "Pale Mountains", they take their name from the carbonate rock dolomite, itself named after the 18th-century French mineralogist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu, who was the first to describe the mineral.
Day 1- Stelvio and Passo Umbrail
Our first day in Italy was a big one, climbing the legendary Passo Stelvio out of Bormio and descending into Switzerland for lunch before climbing back into Italy via Passo Umbrail.
The Stelvio; with its elevation of 2757 meters, and roughly 25km in length is a big one to get the legs turning over. From leaving the chalet we were climbing up with the 48 hairpin turns creating the wall effect as you look up the mountain climb. It's one that appears to go on and on, but the scenery does not disappoint as you head higher and higher nearing the cafe at the top.
Upon reaching the top and taking a much needed coffee stop, the descent was quick, flowing and beautiful in equal measures. We descended into Switzerland with some riders having to stop intermittently to cool down their carbon rims from overheating. A huge bonus of disc brakes is not having any concerns of this.
Arriving at the base we knew one thing... it was a case of heading back up! The Swiss side of the Dolomites was green, luscious and full of farm land as we waited at the base of Passo Umbrail for lunch served by Michael from Traverse Aravis
Once we were fuelled up we began climbing again. Steeper than Stelvio and having already climbed a huge amount in the morning, the legs were quickly burning winding through the forests. Finally we joined back on to Passo Dello Stelvio to descent what we had climbed that morning.
Day 1 complete.
Day 2: the 'rest' day
We were supposed to be taking it easy today, after our previous ride and what was in store for day 3, however competitiveness and excitement always takes over and wins. The Passo Torri di Fraele, or the Mini Stelvio as it is also known, was our first climb of the day. We rolled out towards Stelvio for this one, remembering what we had achieved the previous day. It quickly became a race to the top, Ripcor vs Crondall Rouleurs, and of course Ripcor Won! The climb itself has many similarities to Stelvio, sharp hairpins with long stretches. Its a fantastic and quiet climb often missed by many people. Check it out if you go!
Lunch had to be one thing, Pizza. We descended into the centre of Bormio and of course decided to have pizza for lunch. A few of us then decided we had the legs for one more local climb, Bormio 2000. This climb is a bugger. It isn't the longest, but there is some steep points in this one as you cycle up to the ski lift.
This one, broke me. A hard effort in the morning, jet lag well and truly setting in from a return fight from Australia, tired legs and out of food and water. I arrived at the top drained, but taken back by the view. It was still worth it.
Day 3- The big one. Passo Mortirolo and Passo Gavia.
Two of the 'big boys' in Italy in one day. Mortirolo, the juiced up Lance Armstrong famously said this was 'the toughest climb' he had ever done. Everyone was understandably a bit nervous about this, but equally excited to be climbing one of the Giro d'Italia's most legendary climbs. First of all you have a long descent from Bormio early in the morning to the base of Mortirolo. It was an early start with purple skies as we watched the sun rise.
We arrived at the base knowing one thing for certain, this would be a tough one. Knowing what was coming I decided to take this climb a bit easy and enjoy it. It's one I have seen on TV for years so I wanted to lap up the moment so to speak. It still didn't make it an easy one. The climb largely starts in the forests; snaking its way skywards and eventually clearing into a valley before the final few steep turns until the top.
We started the climb from Grosio, The actual climb to the summit starts at Grosio and is 14.8 kilometres long at an average of 8.3% (height gain: 1222 m). Some of the turns kick in at 15% plus so it's definitely a lung buster.
Upon reaching the top there was a short 200m roll down to our first cafe stop. What a stop this was with beautiful views.
The remaining descent was fast towards the base of Passo Gavia. The temperature had really ramped up in the latter half of the morning through to lunch. There was concerns that climbing this big one could be a crippler and it was. The climb really starts at Stadolina, riding along a mix of A roads and through cobbled towns.
As we climbed, it started to become noticeable that the temperature was decreasing, the skies became overcast and the heavens opened. 2600 odd meters in the rain were going to be tough.
The rain came, and came and came, along with the thunder. Gavia itself is a steep long climb, with worsening road surfaces as you get up higher and higher making getting out the saddle slippy at points.
As you reach closer to the summit, the roads open up and the elements start to hit you from all side. Climbs like this often seem like you are cycling to the gates of hell at points when the rain hurts as it hits your arms, the body steaming as you are sweating but soaked through to the skin. You know the moment you stop you will start to feel the cold instantly so you've just got to keep ploughing on. Still that sense of achievement is priceless. Reaching the top, cheering your mates in, the hot chocolate, laughs and sense of 'what just happened?' make it worth it. One of the toughest climbs and days in the saddle.
The Descent back to Bormio can be summed up very quickly. Sharp turns, bad road surfaces, glaciers, a cold snap that runs through your body. It was a case of layer up and hold on. You can't help but admire the rural nature of this climb compared to any others in Italy. It really is its own beauty and the beast.
The last day of the trip left enough time for one more climb in the morning. Ele and myself decided to get up early with one aim, to head up to the top of Stelvio for breakfast. So that's what we did, Stelvio for breakfast.
We started on the bikes around 6:30, with the aim on being some of the first on the road. We really wanted the climb to ourselves for the morning, or for as long as we could. The roads were clear, the weather was mild and the sun as it rose warmed up our spirits and legs.
There was no real rush. It was about enjoying the climb and the company. We took time to take photographs of the scenery and once at the top reminisced on what a brilliant few days it had been.