In the latest in a series of annual foreign jaunts, Velocity took a group of invited chums to scale the mighty StelVio in Italy earlier this summer, with the Gavia thrown in for good measure.
Editor David Taylor and publisher Toby Fox were joined for an early July long weekend by photographer Grant Smith, Wembley Park’s Matt Slade, Child Graddon Lewis architect James Felstead and Club Peloton supremo Nick Hanmer, basing camp for a weekend at an Airbnb in Bormio, north of Milan.
On a mixture of hire bikes (Colnago and Scott, from Bormio Ski and Bike) and steeds transported from England by Hanmer's trusty Club Peloton van, we warmed up with a Friday evening climb up Passo Cancano (14km, 689m elevation). In theory, that got us set to tackle the awesome Passo Stelvio on Saturday, with its epic 48 hairpins, tunnel (with a traffic light, seemingly set to turn red just as hard-pressed riders reach it - grrr) and glorious mountain scenery that would not look out of place in The Sound of Music. That little lot was 22km long, fact fans, with just over 1,696m of climbing at an average of 7%, reaching 12-14% at its steepest.
Stelvio is the second highest paved mountain in the Alps, behind France’s Col de l’Iseran (2,770m) and the highest finish of any Grand Tour, with the Giro d’Italia often passing through, most recently in 2017. On our sunny July day, the fog closed in and, although the terrain was only patchily snow-covered during the final stretch, the temperature dropped by a good ten degrees - shivering, we pulled out leg warmers, arm warmers, buffs and gilets in in the cafe, taking on hot drinks before speeding back down to Bormio.
Finally, on Sunday, after an evening watching England beat Sweden in the World Cup (remember that?), team V took on the marvellous Passo Gavia, dodging myriad motorbikers on the way up to the 2,652m peak, with 1,524m of often pretty steep climbing and a final flat-ish straight alongside a picturesque mountain lake and glacier. Trinkets were bought at the top, along with coffees and strudel, whilst looking at the lake but not at the leather-clad bikers.
For most of the group, each day ended with a dizzying descent back the way we had come, but for Felstead and Slade one mountain a day was not enough - they went over the top of both climbs, turned around on the far side and climbed back up. Chapeau.
In planning the weekend we had failed to spot the annual Re Stelvio Mapei event taking place on the Sunday. Before heading south to the Gavia, we cheered the 3,000 participants heading north to the top of Stelvio on bikes and e-bikes (a lot of these in the area), enjoying closed roads for the day.
Blessed by excellent sunny weather throughout, the trip was the latest in a series of mountain tick-offs, the first being Ventoux in France. Tourmalet is lined up for 2018, as we ease away from a policy of picking peaks with a V in their name. So many mountains, so little time…