We were excited to yet again have the privilege to make our way over to the Mecca of Italian cycling, Bormio. Having just run a trip to Alpe d’Huez, we realised how similar the two areas are with the buzz that is around road bikes. Everywhere you look, there is a statue, flag, poster or bloke to remind you that you are in the place to be. Especially, just the week after the centenary Giro d’Italia visited.
The group of nine were met in Malpensa airport and the long transfer was made up the valley. This is both the upside and the downside to Bormio. The transfer is bloody annoying but when you get there, you realise that everybody there has made the special effort. It is not just a jump off the plane, or a diversion off the motorway. The distance away from Milan gives it the raw, exciting feel. Less punters!
Again we booked in with our friends at the Hotel dei Pini, a fabulous set up, which has now helped us host three amazing weekends at the base of the colossal Stelvio pass. The 5 course meals and the huge breakfasts mean that you have to cycle just to maintain the same body weight! The Italian twins on our trip, Erik and Leif, were at home. They were feeling a little under the weather and were trying to seek out the pharmacy at everyopportunity. However, the speeds that they ascended lead to suspicions that they were doing a Team Sky and bending the rules!
We had 3 full days to play with. A check of the weather forecast suggested rain on Sunday which meant that the only way forward was two big days in a row, starting with the Stelvio. The route was identical to the last part of the stage in the Giro this year. The event’s organisers must have checked our previous write ups and thought it a good idea. If you are struggling to remember which stage it was. Well, Tom Dumoulin had to stop off the side of the road, we thought that the farmers had been spraying their fields until we remembered.
So Stelvio followed by the Umbrail. A big effort. Two very different sides of the same mountain. One busy, Italian and one understated, Swiss. Both were flipping difficult. Andrew and Leif lead the way with Erik bridging the gap to the dads and son group (Phil and Peter, Rob and Ian). The whole group went up quickly, passing many larger, dutch cyclists on the way up. A coffee, snack and refill of water at the top and we were away. Ian showing off his downhill MTB skills on the descent. He is not scared!
After lunch and a spot of German speaking (we were in Switzerland), we headed up the Umbrail. This is not as famous as the Stelvio but just as difficult. It starts off steep, flattens off and then winds its way back up, with never ending bends. Phil, who had not been feeling well, got in the van. A good decision as it meant that he did complete the whole of Saturday’s ride. It was funny to hear him encouraging almost everyone on the way up to stop and keep him company. I think it did the opposite and spurred people on. Peter, who lost the Phil ball and chain made his way up comfortably and probably stopped off to do a bit of knitting (he was making headbands all weekend, perhaps he has been living in Denmark too long). A good day. Finished off with another great meal. Phil and Rob could retell their adventures to Judy and Julie, who were out for a relaxing holiday whilst their husband’s cycled.
Now if they thought that was bad. Saturday was the Mortirolo followed by the Gavia. The Mortirolo is steep but stays quite low. You never get the feeling of isolation. It is stunning though. We stopped off at our favourite café in the alps and then made our way to the base of the Gavia for lunch. This time it was Rob’s turn to get in the van (I needed the company). Off we went. In the town of Ponte di Legno, we couldn’t follow the cyclists as it was a one-way system for cars. We were diverted and got stuck in traffic; the reason being, a lady in a bikini was cleaning her windows, only in Italy!
We were a third up the Gavia when Phil said that the previous few kms were pretty steep, he was glad to have conquered that. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that the 14% section was looming. It must be disheartening when you are climbing these hills on a few grand’s worth of bike when a group of about 10 Czech super cars overtake!
Still, everybody made it up and that meant that everybody could justify an aperitif in the beer garden of the hotel. Oh, and the Champions League final was on. A perfect end to a difficult two days. No trip to Bormio should happen without a short bust up the mini Stelvio toward Torre di Fraele. The view back has to be seen. We timed it well. A late start on Sunday, missed the rain. It is great when a plan comes together.
And there we have it, a magnificent weekend with some lovely people. We are already looking forward to next year.