What's Cool In Road Cycling

BEST of PEZ ’06: Riding The Gavia & Mortirolo

We saved the biggest day for last, and today was E P I C. We rode over the Passo Gavia AND the Mortirolo, and survived. After 7 hours, over 3 hours of climbing, 130km, and some serious pain, I can say that was one of the best rides ever… check this out…

The Best of PEZ – To help make brighter these darkest winter days, we’ve selected for your viewing pleasure some of our Best Stories of the Year. Who decided which of our 900-odd stories were the best? – we did of course. Through the next week we’ll present for your consideration some of the work we’re most proud of, and hope you enjoy one more look as much we do. Sometimes a glance back helps clear the path ahead. This story originally ran May 27, 2006.

High in the Dolomites, and the upper slopes of the Passo Gavia, one glance up from the road under your nose confirms you’re into God’s country.

It’s 900PM Saturday night after the Giro stage 20 to Aprica, and the Giro roadies are getting jumpy about tearing down the press room, so this one is briefer than it should be. But after a huge day, I had to get this posted… this is a ride you should do.

Gee, it doesn’t look so tough on this relief map.

We pulled out of Aprica at 830AM for a short drive of 40km to Ponte di Legno – It was a two hour ride that we though would best be avoided, considering what lay ahead. Our route would take us up to 2600 meters, back down to Bormio, then down a long valley to the Mortirolo with its feared slopes of up to 18%, then a blast back to Aprica to make it in before the stage did. Time would be tight so we’d best be moving…

Extreme Situation

While taking a dose of grappa for ‘fortification’ purposes the night before, PEZ-Man Ale Federico described the climbs, and the Mortirolo in particular… In his Eastern-European accent, he told us to expect an “eggztreem zeet-you-ay-zshun’.

…alrighty then….

Just before 930AM myself, Ale, and deputy PEZ-Man Greg posed with the mighty Gavia in the background. Little did we know the torture that awaited us.

On our bikes, we turned onto the Giro route almost immediately, and began the 18km climb over the Gavia. It’s long and pretty steep, but not as hard as I expected. The history here is legendary – Andy Hampsten won the ’88 Giro here in a blizzard. Coppi, Anquetil, Bartali, Merckx, Hinault – so many great riders have left their mark here. Today it was our turn.

I’ll let the pics take it from here:

• Well, well, well… what do we have here?

• Somewhere about 8km up the Gavia, we found time to relax and smile about life today. Okay, the smiles on the outside are only there because we stopped for a “photo-opp”, and a nice Australian chap offered to snap a shot of us… But the smiles on the inside are real… This baby’s goin’ on the fridge when I get home!

• The Gavia is a brute – 18km and 2600 meters high. The wind picks up in the last 4 km, and the bite is real. You’d probably hate it if it wasn’t so cool.

• The top of the Gavia cuts through a saddle in the mountains, that was full of snow and right around freezing.

• The top was friggin’ cold, so we stayed only long enough for a quick pic with the sign, and then pulled on wind jackets and exited stage left. It’s a long way down to Bormio – around 25km… and the road at the top is exposed, with big winds buffeting you for several kms. There’s not much guard rail, and going over the edge is not an option, so caution prevailed. And just over the top we passed the 100km to go banner. We were a long way from home.

• Off the mountain and into the valley, it’s still 15km to Bormio, but they’re all downhill – and fairly wide open, so it’s a ripper. Then it’s time for a quick panini and espresso at this fine chap’s bar, before getting on with part 2 of the adventure.

• The next leg takes you about 40km down a looooong valley from Bormio to the base of the Mortirolo. It’s a ripper too – and thanks to our new Italian bud (sorry… I could not understand his name…!) who joined my ‘domestique’ Greg for some huge pulls. After climbing the Gavia, it was a welcome treat to rock out at 50+kph for almost an hour. I admit I sat in for most of it, but hey – I wanted to be fresh for what lay ahead!

• PEZ-Man Alessandro Federico joined us for part of the ride, tackling the feared Mortirolo and snapping some pics over the Gavia. I meet this guy once a year – at the Giro, and last night he made the full pull driving 500 km after work, to join us for today. Most Pez-worthy. Oh yeah – don’t be fooled by the smile- he’s suffering like a dog – as we all were…

• The Mortirolo is now the winner of my “Toughest Climb Of ALL Time” award. As Pez-Man Jered Gruber reported in our preview, this bugger is a bee-yotch. Every time I looked at the VDO MC1.0+ computer, it read 14%, 15%, 13%….! And this went on for almost 12 kilometers! Aaaaaagh.

• There’s more than one way to scale this beast. But judging by their faces, they aren’t having any more fun than anyone else…

Somewhere on the Mortirolo – I spied Alessandro waiting ahead by the road, and I jumped at the chance to stop and rest. He took this shot while I was trying to catch my breath. It took me close to a full minute before I could speak. That was the hardest climb in my life.

• You clear the trees for the last 3 km, and the grade flattens to 6%. Here is where the crowds are thickest, and it took us some time to wade through and crest the summit. Of course the carabinieri have the summit blocked, forcing everyone to hike around through the wilderness… Everyone except the PEZ-Crew that is – it was a good thing we packed our press badges along!

• Looking back up the Mortirolo from about 4 km down the descent. Our mission was to get back to Aprica to see the race and by now it was 3:30PM. Lucky for us the roads had been closed, and there was almost no traffic – giving a wide open Giro corsa to enjoy – just like the racers!

We made it back to Aprica at 4:30 (7 hours after we started), after the hardest 10km along the valley of my life. All around an Epic ride. PEZ recommends it!

• Back at the stage finish, it’s time to enjoy the winner’s presentation. But the real action is down in front – the photog-scrum is serious biz – I watched PEZ-Photog Sabine Jacob take no guff when the shoving for position began. She’s obscured but front row here.

• Give a man a whistle and he can annoy a large crowd for hours. These guys get pretty excited after the stage, when cars, riders, race though and photogs and the rest of us just bounce around looking for that cover shot.

• The time gaps were enormous today. Riders trickled in 45 minutes after. These guys lost 22 minutes, and they weren’t even the ‘autobus’. Actually the autobus broke down somewhere on the Mortirolo.

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