KoM Giro — The Mortirolo Triple Ascent

The Mortirolo triple ascent, where to begin? With three gruelling days in the Dolomites and the double Passo Stelvio ascents preceding this day, it’s safe to say there were some tired guys on the tour! Was it purely mental or a combination of both, being physically tired and sore?!

The Mortirolo, or Passo del Foppa as it’s known in Italian, is without a doubt one of the hardest and most ruthless climbs in Italy, and probably up there on the list of toughest climbs in Europe — it is after all the climb Lance Armstrong dubbed the hardest he had ever ridden. The group were apprehensive: do we tackle one side and take a rest day, do we attempt all three sides and see how we go, or do we throw caution to the wind and go all out!

Rolling 30km down the valley from Bormio to Mazzo di Valtellina is the perfect way to start the day! We had a solo breakaway launch early on the valley road, while the rest of the group rode it as a peloton! Once they hit Mazzo it was a quick water refill, arm and knee warmers disposed of and time to begin. The climb kicks straight away and it’s tough, relentless and unforgiving gradients very quickly sorted the group out. The tornantes are steep (thirty three in total) and punctuate the Mortirolo’s 12.7km of climbing! At an average of 10.5%, it was going to be a tough day. The group spread out, some going in with the view of getting the first side ticked steadily and then carrying on with ascents two and three, others were just trying to survive! We had a mechanical in the form of a broken spoke for one of our riders at the 3km mark — it almost seemed tactical as the support van, raced back down to the base to collect the spare set of wheels and then get the rider back on the climb! Said rider took the opportunity to have a well deserved rest…..!

Usually on sustained climbs the tornantes can result in some respite — the Mortirolo is a whole different story. The tornantes were steep and with no respite, even on the exit they were proving to be challenging! The forest sector which is about two thirds of the climb is the toughest, the roads narrow and serious suffering was experienced through here: “I couldn’t get my cadence above 55″ to quote one of our riders.

The Pantani memorial comes on tornante eleven at approximately 7km into the climb. It’s quite a monument to the Pirate and allowed the riders a quick breather as they huffed past! The steepest, and most sustained section comes between hairpins five and six where the road would stay at 18% — there was some snaking going on through here, while others just took the most direct route up! The final 1.5km opens up and so provided some much needed respite for our group. With drinks, food and plenty of tunes blasting at the top in the form of AC/DC and similar, we’d gotten one ascent ticked off.

There were a few broken people who’s fate had been sealed and joined us for lunch (handmade pasta and lasagne from a local restaurant) before heading back down the mountain and up the valley back to Bormio, via a long afternoon tea with a local cycling club: the beers went down very well with some local cheese and cured meats.

For those choosing to continue, the descent down to Edolo (the Giro also descended this side in 2015) gave riders a chance to rest and recharge mentally and physically before the supposed easiest side of the Pass! A de-laminated wheel on the descent nearly finished one rider’s day, but the support van was in tow, so with a quick wheel change he was on his way again! The initial sector of the climb is punchy, sitting at about 9% for the first few km with long uphill drags, the complete opposite to the Mazzo ascent. Once through the villages and after having negotiated a tropical rain downpour they pressed on, the middle sector of the climb was negotiated without too much difficulty or the need for a sticky bottle. The climb then flattens right out and this was where the group made good time and even had a few digs at each other, all in good sport. Even the series of tornantes at 4km couldn’t shake the guys as they powered through them (these are savage). After a refuel, a coke and some rest, it was time for the descent down to Grosio knowing that they were only one ascent away from completing the three ascents challenge!

The descent is technical with some tornantes essentially going back on themselves, a few fast sectors followed by more time riding the brake pads — not an ideal descent in the knowledge that they were about to be going back up it! A quick undress and we were off! The kilometres ticked by slowly as the group of five worked together, the facial expressions that were showed were some of the best I’ve seen during my time as a guide! The Grosio climb proved to be the toughest: was it because it was late in the day or was it actually tougher than Mazzo? I think it was fatigue more than anything. The group splintered inside the final few km, no time to be with your mates at this point: there was a pair of socks (one of our King of the Mountains awards for the fastest three three ascents) and bragging rights on the line! Sure enough the attack came…… or was it just holding a steady tempo? Either way we had a breakaway that stuck, securing the prize and bragging rights! The AC/DC Tunes were called upon again as the day neared conclusion with those final few km to negotiate — it provided the necessary stimulation to the guys through!

And there we have it, five riders completing the Cingles de Mortirolo! There were a few dark moments for each of our riders, but they each pushed through with a massive sense of achievement at the top knowing it was all downhill to Mazzo for a cold beer and a short drive home for the night!

116km, 3600m and three ascents of Passo Mortirolo destroyed!!

If you would like to attempt the triple ascent of the Mortirolo as part of ourKing of the Mountains Giro challenge please click on the link below for more information, or alternatively if you are interested in a Bespoke tour in Italy including the triple ascent of the Mortirolo please email laura@ledomestiquetours.co.uk and we will build your dream tour for you:

King of the Mountains Giro

Originally published at www.ledomestiquetours.co.uk on July 24, 2015.