There are some mountain passes in the world that every cyclist dreams about conquering, and in the picturesque alpine town of Bormio, you will find three of them, all lined up and ready to welcome you with open arms! The mighty Gavia Pass, the Stelvio Pass and the Mortirolo Pass are all right here in the Lombardy region of Italy, and if you are looking for a short and sporty cycling break in one of the most beautiful areas in Europe, Bormio could be the perfect destination for your next cycling trip.
While predominantly a ski resort, Bormio attracts thousands of international cyclists each year who come here to follow in the footsteps (or should that be cycle tracks) of their Giro D’Italia heroes. The mountain passes in this part of the world are known to make the strongest professional climbers weak at the knees… quite literally, and so they are more than a challenge for us mere mortals, but with determination, training, and a will to succeed, any keen cyclist can reach the top, as we found out last week…
Cycling the Gavia Pass from Bormio
The Passo di Gavia is a beautiful ride and a great warm up for the more demanding passes ahead. Starting right in the heart of Bormio, it’s impossible to miss, and with an average gradient of just 5.5%, it is one of just a few alpine passes that even newbie climbers can attempt. While figures vary ever-so-slightly depending on the device you use, the statistics for the Gavia Pass are as follows:
- Length of climb: 25.6km
- Average gradient: 5.5%
- Maximum gradient: 11% (which starts at 21km)
- Elevation gain: 1404m
It starts with a gentle ride along the river before ramping up slightly to Santa Catarina. There are a few cobbled sections along the way, just enough to get you out of your comfort zone, but in general, the going is good, and the gradients are doable. There are a few switchbacks to keep you on your toes, but once you have scaled those, the Gavia pass winds its way slowly but surely upwards towards a spectacular glacier. At km 21, things go pear-shaped. The road ramps up to 11% without warning and stays that way for a good couple of kilometres. However, once you’ve done that, you are home and dry. The final stretch along the banks of the beautiful lake is as flat as an Italian pancake – and the café at the top is the cherry on the cake!
Cycling the Stelvio Pass from Bormio
As one of the most iconic climbs in Italia, cycling the Passo di Stelvio is a bucket list dream for many. Both sides of the pass are open to cyclists, and the both offer different challenges, but the road from Bormio is much less crowded, and so it is a great choice for cyclists who are looking for a more peaceful ascent. During the summer months when temperatures are high, it’s a good idea to get cracking early, leaving Bormio no later than 07:30am. Here’s the stats:
- Length of climb: 21.5km
- Average gradient: 7.1%
- Maximum gradient: 14% (at 10.5km)
- Elevation gain: 1533m
As with Gavia, the Stelvio Pass starts directly in Bormio, and so there’s little opportunity to warm up, so you may want to go for a short spin before you start. The road is well maintained here (unusual for Italy), and there’s hardly any traffic if you leave early. The gradient is a steady 7 percent with a few jumps here and there to remind you that you are climbing one of the toughest passes in the Alps, but it’s only really the 14% ramp that comes just after the 10km mark that really tests the legs. After completing the switchbacks, you come to a relatively flat section, but don’t let that draw you into a false sense of security! The last 3 kilometres are the toughest part of the entire climb, with 10% – 15% average. However, glory is waiting for you in the form of an ice-cold shandy and a sausage sandwich!
Cycling the Mortirolo Pass from Bormio – via Mazzo
They say all roads lead to Rome, and it seems like many lead to the top of Mortirolo with 5 different routes to keep you entertained, but if you want to do it like the Giro D’Italia professionals, there is only one way to climb Mortirolo, and that is via Mazzo. To say this is a tough climb is an understatement. In fact, I’ll share the stats with you before saying any more…
- Length of climb: 12.8km
- Average gradient: 11.8%
- Maximum gradient: 20%
- Elevation gain: 1315m
From Bormio, you have to cycle +/- 28km to Mazzo di Valtellina where your climb will begin. It’s all downhill on the way out, which may sound great, but that mean’s it’s all up hill on the way back, so bear that in mind when planning your journey. From Mazzo, Mortirolo Pass jumps from 4 percent to 9 percent in the blink of any eye and stays that way for the first 4km until you reach San Matteo Church, where things really start to get exciting (or should that be painful!). From here, the gradient soars to almost 14 percent and stays that way until you reach the Marco Pantani Monument at the 9km mark. You’re cycling through a forest tunnel at this stage, so you are fortunately sheltered from the sun, but its hot, its tough, and you may ask yourself why you even cycle… this pass has grown men in tears. Your last 4kms average at around 9 percent, and so there’s really no respite until you reach the top. Unfortunately, there is no bar at the top of Mortirolo, so take a photo at the sign to prove you really did it before making your way back down to curve number 4 for a much-needed cold drink. You’ve done it – you are a superstar!
Sound like your perfect cycling holiday? Book your Bormio 3 Mountain Pass Challenge!