The 2018 Haute Route Stelvio peloton enjoyed almost perfect conditions on the mighty Passo del Mortirolo and Passo Gavia as they climbed up two of Italy’s most renowned climbs.
After the Umbrail Pass and the Passo dello Stelvio yesterday, the ascents of Mortirolo and Gavia were a fitting follow-up ahead of tomorrow’s Individual Time Trial which will take riders back up the Stelvio from the city centre of Bormio.
Riding out of Bormio, the international peloton of the inaugural Haute Route Stelvio headed south for 30 kilometres, crossing a number of charming Italian villages such as Grosotto with its ancient castle and vineyards before taking on the challenging Mortirolo, a first in the history of the Haute Route.
Attacking the ascent from Mazzo, the climb stretches for nearly 13km, has 33 ‘tornanti’, and averages at 10% with the slope rarely dropping below 11% from kilometre 3 to 9, including long sections above 13% and a 1km stretch averaging nearly 14%. For the majority of the riders it was unknown territory, and for nearly all it was a mental battle but huge achievement to reach the summit, as expressed by Lorena Jones from the UK: “It was more mental. I stopped twice before even starting the climb and stopped again at the bottom. I just couldn’t beat this. And then I told myself ‘stop it’ and I made it!”
“I was so scared by all the talk about how hard it is. It’s not easy but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. And I even didn’t stop in the ascent, just at the bottom”, she added, laughing.
Waiting for his friend to cross the timing mat atop the Mortirolo, fellow rider Alexander Milekhin echoed Lorena’s feelings: “This was probably the most difficult uphill climb I have ever done in my life but I actually feel good, which is surprising. It’s the first time I do this climb and the Haute Route. My friend suggested we do this race together and we subscribed back in January. I am very pleased to be here!”
At the top, riders were rewarded with an amazing view for their efforts on the climb and were able to rest and refuel at the feed station as the descent would be untimed. Throughout the next 15 kilometres of rolling hills, the participants enjoyed impressive views of the valley and the snow-capped mountains – some of them stopping to capture the moment – before descending into the Camonica Valley. In small groups, they then started to ride up again along the Oglio river between Edolo and Ponte di Legno to reach the foot of the imposing Passo Gavia.
The 16.5km climb offered little respite to riders with its narrow tree-lined road and multiple tight hairpin bends before they broke through the trees into a magnificent rock-strewn terrain with snow walls lining either side of the road. With an average 8% gradient throughout the ascent, riders were delighted to reach the summit at 2,652 metres above sea level, where they were greeted by a panoramic view.
Swiss rider Christoph Rohner, who completed the Haute Route Alps last year, was very pleased by his ride today. “Surprise surprise”, he said. “Yesterday I knew the race, today was kind of a big surprise and the Gavia was very nice.”
David Humbert from France also had a blast on the second stage: “What a day with such mythical climbs! I’ve done the Stelvio once but never did the Mortirolo nor the Gavia from this side. Both together are awesome!”
The stage winner was once again Callum Clarke, finishing three minutes ahead of fellow rider Rupert Graham. In the women’s division, Arianna Marchesini from Italy maintained her lead with her second stage win ahead of Laetitia Roux, a ski-mountaineering champion from France. In the Duo’s division, Black Spokes and Fitness Maréchal respectively won the stage in the Men and Mixed categories.
After completing today’s stage, the participants rode down to Bormio to enjoy their post-ride lunch and massages at the Event Village to prepare for tomorrow’s last stage.