Haute Route Stelvio riders took to the start line in Bormio this morning ahead of Stage 2, ready for 2,500m of ascent over 87.7km. All too aware that ‘the beast’ was waiting for them down the valley, riders headed out towards the much-anticipated Mortirolo climb via Mazzo di Valtellina to find out exactly why so many professional cyclists claim it is the hardest climb they have ever done.
Thanks to its famous reputation as one of the toughest climbs in Europe, Haute Route riders were careful to pace themselves from the get-go. With the lush and dense forest closing in around them on the quiet roads, there was nothing else to focus on but the steep road ahead and its average gradient of 11%. For some, the goal was simply to keep turning the pedals without putting a foot down or stopping, whilst others were prepared to push some extra watts to gain time on the duo leaderboard.
With no respite or let-up in the climb, riders encouraged their duo-partners and other competitors as they struggled up gradients reaching 18%. After passing the Pantani Monument on the 11th hairpin – a memorial dedicated to the late Marco Pantani and the climb where he made his mark as a champion - it was time to take encouragement in the fact that the worst was behind them as riders continued to count down each hairpin bend before the left-turning to signal they had completed the hardest part of the day.
Ticking off this bucket-list climb, riders then took the chance to refuel and spin out the legs on the descent before making their way back through Bormio ahead of the final ascent of the day to reach the finish line. Despite being one of the lesser-known climbs, the Cancano climb quickly earned the Haute Route riders respect as they wound their way up the spectacular switchbacks, glancing up towards the two old medieval towers which signaled the end of the timing zone and looked down at the climb they had just conquered.
Beyond the timing there was another treat instore as riders rode a further one kilometre along a gravel path to reach the Haute Route finish line, overlooking the magnificent Lago di Cancano.
Find out what the riders had to say about their day here:
At the start line in Bormio ahead of Stage 2:
“The legs are a little bit sore but not too bad – I had a good massage yesterday and managed 12 hours sleep so I should be pretty well-recovered. I have ridden the Mortirolo before and don’t remember it being too bad but everyone else has been saying it will be awful so maybe I have a false memory or something. I am riding with my son, so the objective is to not get dropped too!” - David Lane (UK)
“There is not a single stretch of rest for the legs on the Mortirolo so it is pretty demanding. It is one of the toughest climbs I have ever done in the Alps because there is not a single stretch where you can give your legs a rest. I have never climbed Cancano but the Haute Route Race Director promised it was unforgettable at yesterday’s briefing so I am looking forward to it. My first objective is to survive Mortirolo and then to go and enjoy Cancano” - Gernot Wolfram (UK
“You can be afraid of the climb but at the same time, this is why you do this. I am excited! I just want to go out there, suffer a little bit, push myself and enjoy it. Of course, I have seen the red sections of the Mortirolo on the profile so I am apprehensive but I just want to take it all in. You feel so alive when you do this!” Ben Cattaneo (UK)
At the finish line at Cancano after an incredible stage:
“I have been to Bormio 5 times and I think the Cancano is my favourite climb. To me it is like a mini-Stelvio and I love the finish up here at the lake, everyone absolutely loved it. Now it is time to soak up the nice weather. This is a holiday for us too so it all about relaxing and enjoying ourselves. We are not professionals, so we do not have any pressure on us. Time for a coffee, to soak up the nice weather, take a massage and look forward to the time trial tomorrow.”
“You see all sorts of tactics out there, but you are only as strong as your weakest member. Sometimes you are the hammer and sometimes you are the nail. You have to ride together not just for the speed and the pacing but also to cheer each other on. No matter who you are you everyone will go through some hard moments, so it is good to cheer each other on and know when to shut up too. We had some great laught out there today.” - Kelly Servinski (Canada)
“Well, five hours and 37 minutes later I am still standing so that has got to be a good sign right? I am very happy! I kept it slow and steady and kept breathing deeply. Now I am off to make the most of all the services – a massage, dinner and I am even going to make the most of the mineral pools at Bormio Terme before the briefing anda good nights sleep” – George Croft
“Wow, the Mortirolo was tough. I would be lying if I didn’t say it was hard. Me and my duo partner have stayed together for the whole thing which has been great. I don’t want to climb on my own, it is not as fun so we wait for each other. Now looking forward to the time trial tomorrow” Michelle Bletso (UK)