Mortirolo – An Icon of the Alps

The view of the valley from the Mortirolo descent

Stage 16 of the Giro will see the “Queen Climb of Europe” taking centre stage and it’s sure to play a significant role in who’ll be wearing the maglia rosa at the end of the day and Tour.

The 11.8km climb is one of the toughest and steepest used in professional racing. It has an average gradient of 10.9%, several sectors are at 18% and there is a six-kilometre middle sector climbing at a painful 12.2%, all the while climbing 1300 metres in height.

I had the pleasure of riding Passo del Mortirolo in 2013. Having landed in Milan about eight days earlier and buying a new bike before heading to the Alps, this was to be my first ride in Italy.

There was a quick pre-ride macchiato and panino at a small town about 15km’s from the base of the climb. From there, we got rolling and were quickly onto quiet, undulating roads dotted with tiny old villages and cobbled streets with surrounding farmland and woods.

A right turn and Bang! It all starts. The group quickly exploded as everyone gets into their own rhythm.

It quickly became a countdown of how many hairpin corners were left and an intense focus on just moving forward. I know that sounds obvious, but this was now really hurting and there was a long way to go.

The things you think about in these moments are funny, the internal dialogue… I could do with a spell… do I get off, I actually need some water… I should get off… but if I get off, how hard will it be to start again…. will it be worse than if I just keep going.  And so it went for the next hour or so, I don’t even know how long it took.

It was with great relief that I rounded the last corner and everything started to flatten out a bit more. The tour Van was up ahead, a quick stop for a drink and a few photos and then I was gone for the descent, which will be forever etched into my memory. I was told that I shouldn’t take a camera as there wasn’t much to see on the way down.  This was true for a bit with trees covering both sides of the road, but then about a third of the way down, I rounded a corner and the side of the road just dropped away into nothing, opening up a view of the valleys and snow capped mountains beyond. Che Bella Vista!

We waited at the base of the climb for everyone to regroup and then rode along more of the quiet country roads until we arrived in Bormio and the awaiting Aperol Sptirz, the perfect post ride refreshment. Bellissimo.

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