After the first three days of unbelievable of cycling in the Dolomites it was hard to imagine somewhere having a more challenging and beautiful environment than Arabba, however Pasquale’s excitement was indicative that the best was yet to come. Despite riding and racing together day in day out in London, the mountains drew out a different set of strengths and weaknesses for each of us. It was really exciting to see who favoured which type of climbs and the subsequent fresh [light hearted] rivalries that formed within the team.
Day 5 – Bormio – Stelvio – Santa Maria – Stelvio – Bormio
Having driven up the Stelvio the day prior, we had a pretty good idea of what we were in for; George and I decided to cruise up our first ascent of the Stelvio (from Bormio) at a steady pace so that we would have something left for the afternoon’s prestigious pass from the North, Gomagoi.
The changing landscape and narrow tunnelled sections broke the climb up nicely. As we approached the final few kms before the summit, the temperature dropped by nearly 10 degrees and at over 2,700m any increases in the pace seemed to have an hugely exaggerated effect on the heart and lungs. As we regrouped at the pass, packs of motorcycle riders and German sports car drivers were also huddling around each other, all buzzing off their own ascent, it was clear that this was a really special climb for anyone on wheels!
The descent back down into Santa Maria (Switzerland) was quick; the long sweeping bends provided great visibility of road ahead as Alex and I were clocking over 90 km/h as we chased each other down the mountain before dropping into town for some lunch.
After a mountain of Swiss priced coffee and pasta we headed for Gomagoi which marks the real start of the Stelvio ascent from the North. The group were pretty quiet as we started to climb, maybe something to do with anticipation of what lay ahead. Just as we approached the first switchback (48 to go), we were joined by four Team Garmin Cannondale riders complete with team car entourage. The team were out to trim up for the Vuelta and were also on their second repetition of the day, something tells me they didn’t have the same 300g pasta lunch that we did!
The concrete turreted sidewalls of the switchbacks gave the road the relentless and aggressive feel of a fortress and the gradient was savage, the only way of varying the difficulty was to take wide lines through corners to either create a shorter ramp up, or skirt around the outside for a couple of easy pedal turns. As we approached the final group of switchbacks, I heard the Garmin rider Alan Marangoni shout “f#%k the Stelvio!”, that seemed sum it up the last 60 minutes quite succinctly.
#restsorrynotrest day – Bormio – Tirano – Miralago – Arnoga – Bormio
Our fifth day cycling was planned as a rolling rest day, approximately 80 km with a few rolling hills. After setting off down the valley we descended for most of the morning and as we caught a glimpse of the beastly Mortirolo to our left, suspicions were building that we may well have a full afternoon of climbing on our hands.
After stopping in Tirano for a quick bite, we turned west [and more relevantly, upwards] towards Miralago. The gradual ascent through the valley provided some welcome variety to the aggressive climbs that we’d been hitting all week, and as we passed through some of the small villages, we took every opportunity to stop for a snack and fill our bottles with cleanest and coldest fountain water imaginable.
With about 30 km to go, the heavens opened and we had to don the spray tops for the first time; thunderstorms in the mountains seem to elevate you up into the heart of the thunder and lightning, creating a charged atmosphere, it was pretty exciting.
Day 7 – Bormio – Mortirolo – Vezza d’Oglio – Gavia
The Mortirolo is 12.5km long and an average gradient of 10.5% however some of the kicks go as far as 18%, it’s a giant. We were all in high spirits and feel fairly fresh after our easier day previously, and it was also great to be joined by Pasquale’s friend Diego De Francesco who joined us for the day. As we hit the foot of the Mortirolo the excessive gradient becomes immediately apparent and each of us bunkered down for what was to be a brutal climb.
There was some relief as the quite narrow road was shaded by overhanging trees provided a complete contrast to the open and exposed mountains we’d been scaling all week.
There was still some residual moisture on the road from the day before and I could feel the rear wheel slipping on the steep sections. As we passed the 1500 to go, road began to flatten off and the trees opened out and we each gave it our all in a final dig across the finish line. Unlike all the other climbs covered that week, the summit was perfectly sheltered from the elements by the surrounding forest and it provided the perfect place to sit and debrief on the hardest sections before headed down to Vezza d’Oglio for lunch.
The final climb of the day [and the week] was the Gavia, there was no need to hold anything back on this one, the route from the summit would be downhill all the way back to Bormio. The ascent was a steady 8-10% and with the narrow road having no barrier in most parts, it provided some unbelievable views of the mountains and valley below as we knocked off each of the switchbacks.
As we approached the final kms it was so challenging to prevent yourself from mentally preparing for the finish and subsequently the legs began to stiffen up in anticipation. Turning the last hairpin bought the summit restaurant into view and with a final 250m push, we were there.
As Luke mentions in Part I, it was an amazing place to go for training but the trip was really all about incredible food (and booze), extravagant places to stay, beautiful scenery, iconic climbs and above all riding with your mates.
A huge thanks to all our supporters for helping us up and over the mountains – in particular Workshop for coffee, Vita Coco keeping us hydrated and adidas for the awesome kit, we put it to the ultimate test. An even bigger thanks to Angus Sung. Not just an amazing photographer and friend but support driver, soigneur and mechanic – we couldn’t have done it without you.