Thursday 5 July 2012

Italy Part 4: Stelvio, take 1

After the single climb of the previous day, that eased us into the big mountains, there was something a little more interesting on the plan.

  • Passo Bernina, 2310m
  • Passo something else, 2286m
  • Passo Stelvio, 2758m. That's a bit high.
  • Total distance, 117km
  • Total ascent, 2881m. That's a fair bit of climbing.
  • See the route here!
The day dawned hot. Clear sky, blazing yellow-white thing hanging in the blue. Hot wasn't something I'd experienced this year, as the UK had donated its summer to the USA. Sun cream was carefully applied - factor 15 to arms and legs, factor 30 to the neck upwards. Special attention to the back of the neck, and the ears. Burnt ears aren't much fun.

Bernina was a grind, only enlivened by an oh-so-typical Swiss train. Phill and Christina were held up by it, they claimed. For some crazy reason, the train went through the pass slightly lower than we did. Unfair.

Coming off Bernina was a blast, on the oh-so-typical Swiss tarmac. David and Tony were enjoying it so much they decided to continue down it, instead of turning left towards Livigno. There was a wry smile that passed our lips as we sat down for a mid-morning espresso on the outskirts of the town. They'd have to climb all the way back up - another 800m of climbing or so... 

Rolling out of town it was just getting hotter. Flies were relaxing in the shade. Lizards were wallowing in mud pools. Englishmen were out in the midday sun. Only one thing for it... grupetto.

The grupetto ("little group", I guess) is the pack of riders who trail the main bunch up the big mountain climbs. Although we only had eight on the road, three of us hung back slightly and took it easier up the next ascent. It was almost tolerable. We chatted. We exchanged snack foods. We tried to look Italian and stylish, a tricky exercise to pull off with legs as hairy as ours.

At last, the top. Still sunny, but at 2300m it wasn't hot any more. The wind was getting up and we were cooling rapidly. Lovely view though.

In addition to the view, there was possibly the worlds best cafe/hotel/restaurant - at that moment in time, for us. It did thick hot chocolate.

Even better than that, when we started pointing out the plates of mini-profiteroles, the barman gave us a couple of platefuls. Free. He was also fairly relaxed about charging us for coffees - clearly impressed by our withered, sweaty bodies and minor feats of mountain climbing.

David and Tony still hadn't caught us, but they were on their way. The guides started preparing lunch and as we dived into another picnic we spotted David and Tony on the road... as they plummeted over the top of the pass and started down the other side. Oops. We screamed, shouted, whistled, waved. David noticed and turned back to join us for food, Tony didn't. I think he was enjoying all the extra climbing.

Clearly this was the case - as we descended off the mountain (through some disturbing rain showers) we spotted Tony... coming back up. I was starting to realise why he was so quick. At the bottom of the descent we stripped off all the extra layers we'd put on at the top and considered the final climb of the day - Stelvio. The "easy" side, apparently.

35C. 20km of distance ahead. We were at 1300m, so only 1400m more elevation to gain to the top. How hard could it be?

I started slowly, and got slower. As I got higher, I got colder. I think there was a stretch of about 2km where the temperature was about right. Above that, the wind hit, the rain hit. I demonstrated supreme riding skills by managing to get both of my arms through the correct holes in my gilet without stopping. Obviously I had to stop to zip it up. I'm not Danny MacAskill.

Finally, the top. Cold, raining, cloudy. Hence no pictures of the iconic wiggly road. However:

You'd think they'd clean the stickers off.

Tomorrow - touching greatness.

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