Mortirolo


Another dreaded, steep climb: the Mortirolo (or Passo della Foppa) with a summit at 1,852 meters. It used to be the favorite mountain of Marco Pantani.

“If you want to die, this is where you go” – encouraging words, often found when reading reports about this climb…

However, I think the Mortirolo from Mazzo di Valtellina, labeled the most difficult, is not much worse than the Gerlitzen – sadly, the latter is, or at least it was when I climbed it in 2008, hardly known to anyone, but I can assure you it’s as tough as the Mortirolo, especially the climb from Tschöran…

Nevertheless, I only managed to not nearly give up once: the first time I tackled the Mazzo ascend in 2011.

I’m not counting the Monno route, as that is do-able any day, but I’ve choked on the Mazzo – twice – and Grosio side since then.

The only time I went up from Grosio, was after I did the Monno ascend first, so that probably made it ‘a little’ more difficult.

Described here are the three ‘most famous’ alternatives, but there are quite a few ways to the top of the Mortirolo, many of which no more than goat paths and/or hiking trails.

This means that with a mountain bike, you have some more options to exhaust yourself. One alternative that is used in at least one gran fondo, is the one from Tovo, just south of Mazzo, with grades up to 26%…

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Stelvio Pass


You see the pictures of the mighty Stelvio on the Internet – especially those from the Prato side of the climb – and you instantly feel the urge to get on your bicycle.

With its 2,758 meters it’s second on the list of Europe’s highest passes, after the Iseran – a few dead ends are higher, though they might not be cycle-able with a road bike, and I do not count the artificial loop around the Bonette (the Cime)…

Obviously, the Stelvio is included in a score of Gran Fondos, and you can also climb it on days when it’s closed to motorized traffic, like during the Mapei Day.

The advantage of that is clear, but you will be sharing the road with thousands of other cyclists (or skaters, hand bikers, etc.).

Anything better than sharing it with motorized traffic – as with many of these famous passes, the Stelvio is a magnet to motorists and (wannabee) Formula 1 car drivers.

It actually is frequently used as a test course for Ferrari, but when that happens, the road is closed to all other traffic.

Also when planning to climb the Stelvio, you’d do well to inform yourself about the weather conditions.

I have experienced 30+ degrees in the valley on either side and close to zero degrees at the summit. It may even snow up there, any given day…

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Gavia Pass


The Gavia is frequently included in the Giro d’Italia – as Cima Coppi if the Stelvio or Agnel are not in it too – and it is legendary for the stage victory of Erik Breukink in 1988 and the infamous ‘bus ride’ by Johan van der Velde during that same stage.

With an altitude of 2,621m, it’s ranked 5th in the list of highest paved passes in Europe, if the Galibier is ranked without the loop over the tunnel.

You would do well to inform yourself about the weather conditions, specifically higher up the mountain.

Even with good weather in the valley, it’s not uncommon that the weather in the upper half of the climb is less comfortable – at the very least, it will almost always be chilly and windy.

Towards the end of all my ascends so far, I was forced to chance clothing and even then, I was glad I could get inside the refuge.

However, it’s not unlikely that there will be a little more comfortable days at the summit, I just didn’t get any…

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