A pair of Englishmen sat exhausted outside their hotel, staring into the distance. Not so much a thousand-yard stare as a 155-kilometre one. Or the 4,058 metres of ascending equivalent. Rarely have I witnessed such wasted humanity where alcohol was not involved.
Nine-and-a-half-hours in the saddle can do that to a man, or a woman, for that matter. Of course, the Stelvio was hard; the cold wind blew; banks of snow lining the road received another dusting as we neared the top; skiers took full advantage of the extended season on the peak.
But it was the Mortirolo that had done the damage to our pair of Londoners. The savage gradient in the final kilometres was bad enough. Throw in a serrated dog’s dinner of a road surface and there was (whisper it) walking to be done for the backmarkers. “It was horrible,” they both agreed. “Truly horrible.”
They had, however, done what the Giro had failed to achieve nine days earlier – conquered the Stelvio – and judging by the vacant looks and slouched bodies sinking visibly into hotel furniture, it had been a testing day, to say the least.
I’d love to be able to give a first-hand account of the horror, but being eminently sensible and averse to prolonged suffering, I did the medio route, neatly swerving the Mortirolo altogether. Seeing these poor chaps confirmed it was the correct decision.
Highlights of the day: the ‘neutralised’ opening descent of the valley from Bormio, where one of our group clocked a maximum of 90kph; and possibly the finest cigarette I have ever inhaled atop the Stelvio before a chilling but thrilling descent back down to town.
Lowpoints: the grovel back up the valley road into a bastard headwind with no group to share the load; lack of fitness leading to being alone on the valley road in the first place. Time to stop smoking.
If you fancy joining us next year, leave a line below and if there is sufficient interest, we'll lead a Rouleur trip to the Gran Fondo Stelvio. There are three distances, so suffering for all, if suffering is your bag...