The Stelvio Santini Gran Fondo is a bucket list ride, highly recommended for any cyclist. There are three routes to choose from: 60km, 137.9km or 151.3km, which sounds fine – until you realise how much climbing is involved! We chose the medium route which gave us a healthy 3053m of climbing. The long route adds in the Mortirolo: one 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 and you’ve got a big day ahead!
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.
The race HQ was only a 10 minute walk from our hotel. 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. Central Bormio is a great location, with quaint traditional cafes serving delicious home made lunches and local wine.
Race morning. 0530. Our hotel provided an early breakfast for the huge cyclist contingency staying there. Plenty of coffee was downed and a massive selection of fresh food disappeared. 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. Really. Make sure you do! Our hotel delivered these for us).
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 there’s a feed station waiting at the top and boy are these well stocked! More local produce, pizza, pie, cheese and fruit- you name it, it’s there! Then 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 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!)
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! Riding up a hill such as this is crazy. The hairpin bends, the tunnels, the camaraderie and the views… the views are incredible.
With 6 miles to go you’ll be 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 arm warmers, the cold will take its toll on you. 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 the 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. There’s 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 variety of shops. From cowbells to cima coppi jerseys. You will also get the opportunity to have a look at the Swiss side of the Stelvio, it’s truly breathtaking!
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 Granfondos that are fantastically 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 A LOT 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.