We moved on from the Black Forest to make our way to Bormio, we were still trying to avoid the tolls and cut through Lichtenstein and then into Italy, this turned out to be a mistake as everybody else including 1000's of trucks were doing the same, after a couple of wasted ours gripping the car seat with my arse cheeks we were at last driving through fantastic Swiss, Italian alpine passes.
One more stumbling block as the Tom Tom was insisting we take a "Ferry" which turned out to be a "Train", back to the old technology of a map!
We stopped at a Mountain Hut for a snack (which was to be our most expensive meal of the trip SWISS PRICES!)
Every trip takes a long time in this region there are no shortcuts.... stunning tho.
Once in Bormio we followed the sat nav to the nearest campsite and crossed our fingers that there would be space. We got lucky and found a great spot in "Cima Piazza" which transales to "Happy Mountain", our first contact with very friendly Italians.
Tent installed, Pizza Installed, Beer installed all good in the hood, i sat and planned my assault on the Italian Alps.
Passo Stelvio (Bormio)
The legendary Stelvio Pass can be found in the Italian Alps, it's 2750 metres in altitude however Bormio is at 1200 metres high to begin with.
Simply head for Bormio and you will find it well signposted.
I began the climb at about 2pm which was ideal as the traffic was at its lightest, early morning is another good time.
The climb averages 7 % and dips in and out of 10 - 14 %. all the way!
I managed to stay on the big ring until about bend 29! Oh yeah I forgot to say they handily (or not depending on how much pain you are in) they mark all 40 bends on the posts complete with elevation.
I started to suffer after bend 29 as the incline increased, I needed to get my breathing and rhythm under control!
The Stelvio has awe inspiring scenery enough to take your mind off the pain and suffering.
By about bend 26 my legs and lungs held an uneasy truce which converted into forward propulsion of about 9 mph, pleased with that, this must be the fruit of controlling my breathing earlier!
Aww ....... that's cheating, I encountered several bends that were not being counted, I can imagine some wild eyed mean spirited jobs worth who enjoyed discarding these bends under some Euro dictat! He is probably a German motorist or from Surrey.
Once I got over this heartbreaking fact I started to really enjoy the climb, there is a big spell of 3% which lets you recover (or if you are keen go faster, I'm not keen).
There is a section of the climb that you can see all the bends above, this is fun and very appealing to the eye!
The final bends I was gasping for air and on lowest gear out of the saddle for the first time! The air was quite literally thin and hard to come by!
At the top what a great feeling and view, if I was half a man I would go over the other side and do that climb, but I am quarter of a man so I descended very cagily down the descent!
Great descent a a few too many crazy motorcyclists (but hey I won't be happy until all roads are cycle paths!
The road surface of the Stelvio is mostly good helped by the fact the Giro is constantly on it, however a word of warning there are a lot of tunnels and in these tunnels there are very bad potholes, couples with the fact they are dark and wet .... well just be careful.
Its a beast of a climb, I loved its drama, it shoots into second place in my favourite climbs.
It's similar to Galibier but a little kinder at the top.
Passo Gavia 2650m - Cima Coppi
I knew it was going to be a bad day at the office when the first thing I wanted after waking up was a bowl to puke in!
I don't know what has caused this trauma at both ends, I suspect the local water!
I was in a lot of pain and tried to drink and keep my breakfast down.
I kept saying to myself if I can keep the cereals down I can still go out on my bike, I am after all in cycling Disneyland and a certain character has been teasing me since I arrived the Passo Gavia.
Steeped in history with the much talked about Coppi wins and Andy Hampstens epic heroics in sub zero temps.
So it was decided, cereals formed a truce with my stomach ( at least until the first slope).
I left at midday and hit the first slopes by half past! It became immediately clear that my body was not going to play ball.
My heart rate straight in the red on the first 10% slope, I knew right then that I should have of turned round.
Next 10% saw me jettison the cereals and nearly fill my shorts with liquid adenine of the brown colour. This is a first for me and not a very welcome one.
I kept thinking that I could get control of my breathing and get my heart rate down, but what could I do about my legs, I had no power only pain and I'm in the second to lowest gear already!
What happens next is mad one of the villages had cobbled streets, cobbles and barely held in liquid poo not great bed fellows. The cobbles were real bad and I got to thinking that they are the best kept secret and perhaps they go on for miles....
They ended unlike my toilet troubles which continued to plague me.
Constantly on my mind was just turn around, but this would be a first and my pride and stupidity forced me on.
I reckon I'm about halfway, constant 10% forcing me to get out of the saddle but this was scant relief to my dead legs and warring lungs.
It was time to deal with the Etna that was my arse, I had no pride left by now.
5 lb lighter I got back on the bike I was so slow it was painful, I am literally doing track stands on the Gavia, snails overtaking me and at one point bushes, soon realise that it's just me rolling backwards.
Ok it's time for a rest, I'm sitting down for 15 minutes, how much further is it?
I remount the bike to realise that the rest hasn't helped one jot I am fu@cked on a truly monumental scale, not the bonk yet but it's in the post! Totally fatigued.
I am usually quite good at motivating myself and controlling my mood and breathing, but not now, a black mood had descended and every hairpin just bought bad news, every sign the same!
Little did I know by this point that I was still only a third of the way up! That knowledge would have of crushed me.
I tried to think of Hampstens epic ride and Coppis exploits, no good! I
just wouldn't be lifted.
I am taking regular stops now, my progress is pathetic, everything hurts now, shoulder head, legs and left arm! Is this where it ends? Fitting....
Then like a hammer
blow came a sign 4.5 kilometres, iI cannot express the magnitude of another 4 kilometres In my mind.
Just one more hairpin lets see how the terrain is, good news it flattens right out for a klick I reckon.
Still track standing I am just grateful that nobody is around to see this!
I have been pedalling but putting no pressure on my pedals for miles.
I am on the home straight I want to cry but it's too much effort ... The Gavia is kind at the top, if it wasn't I would not have bagged my climb.
There is a clue on the sign, I thought the climb was 1850m ... Cruel trick of the mind....as its 2650M.
But i made it, no ride to be proud of but i made it!
I ordered a coke and a coffee which would not stay down, I made my way down the exhilarating descent.
Not 1 more inch would I go passed the Gavia sign, to think earlier I had flirted with the idea of doing both sides.
It's a nice climb with a body that's working, very scenic a little rough under tyre, I will remember this climb as the day my body stopped working!
The last 4k you really do feel as if you are riding in the wheel tracks of history, it's an amazing pass!
The hardest climb I have ever done.
Apart from sickness and the squits I don't think I had recovered well from the previous days efforts, it's hard when you are camping sleep is not deep and eating options not the same as home.
They say a man who does not take his own advice has a fool for an advisor!
If you are I'll it's not training!
For reference look up on YouTube Andy Hampsten a Passo Gavia, what a ride.
Passo Foscagno 2290
I also managed to sneak in the Passo Foscagno which again was over 2290 metres a very nice climb with quite heavy traffic, if you venture further on you cross the border into the principality of Livigno which is a tax free zone and had some very good bike shops which give you a good Euro to pound valuation. You will see a lot of riders on this climb!
My last chance for a ride so i chose Bormio 2000 a new route for the Giro for 2000 a brand new Ski resort for the area.
A lovely steady climb with no traffic whatsoever, if all roads could be made this way!
Italian Alps Summary
The Italian Alps is like Disney land for cyclists, the main characters being Passo Stelvio (which can be climbed from 3 sides) the Passo Gavia with its history and the Passo Mortirolo made famous by the late Marco Pantani.
There are several more climbs that are very accessable from Bormio, the area of Bormio has lots to do, and would be great with a Mountain bike as well, the people are VERY friendly and they maintain a nice way of life, the food was relatively cheap as was the campsite.
Everyday was like riding a sportive hundreds of cyclists in full regalia, i was however a bit dissapointed with the bike shops, lots of Scott and Specialised outlets but very little genuine Italian equipment on sale, this is due to how competitive the American suppliers when supplying franchising materials and deals, still a bit of a shame i thought.
1 last thought we wnet in August which is when the whole of Europe or on Holiday including the Italians, i would avoid this to limit the traffic and in particular the Motorbikes on the Climbs.
But as the great man said "I'll be Back".