The peloton of the inaugural Haute Route Stelvio set off at 7:30am this morning from Piazza Cavour located in the pedestrianised town-centre of Bormio. On the programme of today’s 83-kilometre stage: the Passo Umbrail (taking the first 18km of the Stelvio ascent from Bormio) and the 25km climb up to Passo Stelvio from Prato allo Stelvio.
After a 5km loop out of Bormio to stretch the legs, the riders started the first difficulty of the day. Winding out of the valley, the Haute Route Stelvio peloton passed through a few narrow tunnels as they snaked up the side of an imposing mountain-face with a relatively constant gradient.
True to the DNA of the Haute Route, there was a great atmosphere within the Haute Route peloton right from the beginning of the ascent. Passing fellow riders on the way up, Mark Blewett from the UK was cheering on other participants including Bernard Assaud, an Haute Route regular from France. “Come on, come on – you can do it!”, Mark shouted.
A few kilometres further up, a smiling Lorenzo Brown from USA was delighted to be there: “Shake the cobwebs out. Tomorrow that’s the test! This is a good preparation for the double this summer – Pyrenees and Alps!”
At 5 kilometres from the summit of Passo Umbrail, the slope eased off slightly and enabled the riders to recover before the road ramped again after turning left 1km from the top. Refuelling atop Passo Umbrail at 2,510 metres above sea level, British rider William Wakefield who lives in South Africa was delighted to ride on the same roads as so many of cycling’s legends: “That was crazy, amazing! It’s like going back in history.”
Riders gathered in small groups to continue their journey on an untimed and winding descent into Switzerland. After a few kilometres in the Swiss valley where they enjoyed a flatter section, riders were back into Italy and looped around the bottom of the mountain to take on the other side of the ascent from Prato allo Stelvio. Despite having included the Stelvio multiple times during the 7-day Haute Route Dolomites-Swiss Alps, this was the first time the Haute Route peloton climbed the Stelvio from this side.
With its famous 48 ‘tornanti’, the climb rises 1,846m in 25km. The first 8 kilometres of the climb were relatively easy compared to what ensued with the gradient rarely dropping below 8% in the second half. Tomasz Zarzycki from Canada even took the time to take a selfie in this first section and shout to us: “Awesome, it couldn’t be better!”
At the back of the peloton, the Lanterne Rouge Hiroshi Franchi was helping the riders to make it to the finish line. He said: “I rode with a few riders for a while but now I will wait for the very last riders to help them in the ascent because there are two very steep sections ramping up to 14%.”
With the final 1.5km averaging an impressive 9.5% with 5 ‘tornanti’ to go, riders paced themselves to reach the finish line at 2,757 metres of altitude. Standing atop Passo Stelvio, Eva Synnestvedt Hansen travelled from Copenhagen in Denmark to participate in her first Haute Route event. She said: “It was really good. I felt very strong in the first climb. Stelvio was beautiful even with the mist. The mist came at 3 kilometres from the top so you could actually get great views.”
Jean-François Bacmann from France has already ridden seven Haute Route events but the Haute Route Stelvio is a great oppourtinity for him to discover new climbs: “I started slowly in the first ascent and paced myself also in the second one. The ascent from Prato allo Stelvio is more difficult than the other side. I tried to count each turn but when I looked at my GPS device I realised that there was still plenty of turns to go and I told myself that it must ziz-zag a lot near the finish. I’ve already done the Stelvio form Bormio and the Umbrail Pass so now I’m happy to have done the Stelvio by its three sides.”
Reflecting on tomorrow’s stage, he added: “Tomorrow we have the Mortirolo. This is a big day! I’ve never done it before but I train on a climb as steep as the Mortirolo but shorter back home. But I think I will be alright!”
At the front of the race today it was Callum Clarke from the UK who took the overall stage victory and first leaders jersey. In the women’s category Italian rider Arianna Marchesini did likewise. The fastest Duo team in the Men’s category was Estoril Bike and Fitness Maréchal in the Mixed category. All will have to defend their position as leaders for the two remaining stages if they want to be crowned winners on Sunday.
With 122km and 3,800 metres of climbing, tomorrow’s second stage will set off again at 7:30am from Bormio and take riders to the foot of the demanding Mortirolo before summiting the Passo Gavia to finish the stage.