Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The hardest ride of my life: Stelvio 2011

The Adige bike path in the early morning
Entering the Stelvio National Park
Pass open? Check.
I was going through my old GPS log files and discovered this gem which I hadn't uploaded to Strava yet: A log of the hardest ride I've ever done (No. 2 is this one, I think). We spent the summer of 2011 in the North Italian Alps. We primarily went hiking, but on the second to last day of our trip I rented a fancy crabon road bike and set out for a ride up the famous Stelvio pass. The original plan was to save myself some of flatter parts of the route by taking the train to Prato, at the bottom of the pass. When I arrived at the train station at 6 am, however, I realized that one couldn't buy tickets on the train. Oh well, what can you do -- I just got going, telling myself that those 42 km wouldn't make that much of a difference.

The bike's lowest gear was a 34-27 which is not bad for a road bike, but for 25 km of constant 8% gradient it wasn't exactly what would have been good for me. Well, the spectacular scenery and the loads of other cyclists (some slower, some faster) pushed me on and I actually rode up all 48 switchbacks to the pass at 2750m with just one stop.

For the way back I went down the slightly less spectacular but still scenic and quiet Umbrail pass. Once I reached the Adige valley again I was already pretty spent. But there were still about 50km to go. While they theoretically were all downhill, the typical hot wind that blows up the valley made my life miserable. In addition, my butt was really sore from being on this tiny racing saddle for many hours.

Well, after 150km, over 3500m of climbing and 9 hours in the saddle I made it back to the hotel in the end. Unfortunately, my suffering wasn't quite over yet. I obviously had overexerted myself enough to compromise my immune system and caught a nasty stomach bug. For almost a week I couldn't eat anything solid. But hey, it was still totally worth it.

Some remnants of the brutal fought here

Blurry picture of the first switchback

The valley opens up, providing great views

Plenty of cyclists

Nice, smooth pavement

Ortler. At 3905m the tallest summit in this part of the Alps

The iconic view of the final switchbacks. At this point you've already climbed for a long time

Time for a rest break before tackling the final climb

The pass is tough on everyone and everything. Stranded RV.

Switchback No. 1. Woo!

Top of the world (almost).

Turn off to the Umbrail in a picturesque Swiss village

My crabon wonderbike

Re-entering Italy

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