The Stelvio Santini Gran Fondo is a bucket list ride and one I’d recommend to any cyclist. There are three routes to choose from: 60km, 137.9km or 151.3km which all sounds fair enough until you look at how much climbing you’ll need to do. We chose the medium route which gave us a healthy 3053m of climbing. The difference between this and the long route was the addition of the Mortirolo: on of the hardest mountains to ride: In 12.5km you’ll climb 1300m. Hard enough on it’s own but add in the Stelvio Pass as well and you’ve a big day ahead!
From the UK to the Start Line
We flew with Al Italia- Heathrow to Milan Linate and took our own bikes (23kg luggage is just enough for your bikebag) and hired a car at the airport. The drive to Bormio takes about three hours and once at the hotel we reassembled our bikes and went to race HQ to register.
A 10 minute walk from our hotel to the HQ which was really well organised. We soon picked up our race packs which were full of goodies (jersey, bidon, inner tube amongst others) and had a look at the stalls that were doing a roaring trade. Being central to Bormio is great and we soon found a traditional cafe for a home made lunch with some of the local wine.
Race morning. 0530. Our hotel laid on an early breakfast- there were a lot of cyclists staying for this event and the hotel was on top form for looking after us all. There was plenty of coffee and a massive selection of fresh food. By 0630 we were on our way to our starting pen for a 7am start. (note: each rider also gets a kit bag to send their winter kit up to the top for them to collect, Yes, really and make sure you do! Our hotel delivered these for us: One thing less to think about).
Riding the Stelvio Santini
So here’s the good news. The first 30 miles of the 85 mile route is downhill. It’s fab. Tuck in and enjoy it. The weather was perfect. Rain which was forecast, held off and we had a cool 15 degrees C. As we all know, if it’s downhill to begin, there’s payback coming and it did in the form of the Teglio: a ‘hill’ that’s 6km of climbing with an av grad of 8% maxing out at 15% in places. Tough in spots but don’t worry, there’s a feed station waiting at the top and boy are these well stocked! More local produce, pizza, pie, cheese, fruit- you name it, it’s there! Over the other side for a fun descent- just be careful and don’t overcook the switchbacks!
So now we head back to Bormio and Stelvio. This, as i’m sure you’ve realised, is now a slow slog back up that steady gradient you enjoyed at the beginning. For the heroic (or mad) few there’s the right turn to tackle the Mortirolo while the rest of us carry on to Bormio town square for another food stop before tackling the mountain we all came for: The Stelvio Pass. There are two ways of thinking about this: 1. Only 12 miles to go or 2. ARGH 1500m of climbing! (you have already steadily climbed to 1200m from Teglio!)
I’m not going to kid you, after 70 miles this is not easy: 27 hairpins, av grad 7.1% maxing out at 14%. You know how cyclists say they enjoy suffering?… you are really gonna enjoy this! As a Lincolnshire ‘flatlander’ who feels quite at home on the pavé of Roubaix, riding up a hill such as this is crazy. I loved every minute: The hairpin bends, the tunnels, the camaraderie and the views… the views are amazing.
With 6 miles to go I was suffering. I was stopping on every other hairpin to take pictures and, I’ll put my hand up, I walked some of this too. Don’t do as I did and forget your armwarmers as at this height you really need them and the cold was taking its toll on me. By the final feed station (4 miles from the finish) it was sleeting and my energy was being sapped by the temperature drop. I borrowed some kit from my mate thank goodness. This last little section is a killer as you don’t get much change in gradient from 10% to the end and the last half mile my legs were cramping so bad that the finish line was all that was keeping me going.
You can hear the tannoy and someone reading your name out and people cheering- it’s brilliant and that is what carries you to finish. I collected my finishers cap and was pointed toward the area to get my winter clothing…. up another gradient! Check your bike into the bike park and you’re given your kitbag. Theres a huge [warm!] marquee to get changed in as well as food and drink available.
Once sorted, I met up with my friends and we had a look around the shops selling all sorts. From cowbells to cima coppi jerseys. Also, take this opportunity to have a look at the Swiss side of the Stelvio…. brilliant view!
So, race over. That was the finish. But we haven’t finished as we still have the descent! One word. WOW! To start, you go down steady-ish until you get confident with the hairpins. Once that happens the fun begins. It is really enjoyable. Be careful of the tunnels though: these are only wide enough for one way traffic and they do get bottlenecked PLUS the road surface is not good and it’s very wet! Dodge through the tunnels, round the last bends and you’re soon back in Bormio with a massive pasta party waiting for you back at HQ.
Now considering registration for this event is €50, compare this to a British sportive! Worlds apart in value. I’d recommend everyone to ride in Europe. It’s such a cracking experience: great roads, historic routes, drivers that respect cyclists and Gran Fondos that are fantastic value and brilliantly organised.
Gran Fondo Stelvio Santini has something for everyone. If you just want to ride the Stelvio Pass, do the short route or you can dig deep and have a go at the medium route. If you are properly bonkers for hill climbing you can really go for it with the long route. One things for sure, this event is really well organised with ALOT of friendly volunteers making it a perfect day for any cyclist from any part of the world. A beautiful part of Italy. Don’t think about it, just do it.