(the hotel was right on the main street leading out of town towards Bormio) It was early Sunday morning and watching a couple small groups ride past in the course of 5min I had visions of stronger, fitter, faster riders blowing past me all day. I thought, "hey, just like home!"
So, on the bike cruising up the false flat from Tirano towards Bormio; (SS38 from Tirano to Bormio is entirely uphill) I was feeling pretty good enjoying the nice temps and the colour cast of the early day sunlight. I'd been looking at the map and toying with an idea through the night and with such a great day, I decided I just couldn't ride *past* the mortirolo. I didn't then, and don't now, know when I'd next get a chance to heave myself at such a (in)famous climb so when I got close to Mazzo di Vallentina I started looking to get close to the hill. From what I'd read the climb is not obvious, and easily missed as it's so narrow and seems to be not much more than a driveway between houses. It wasn't too hard for me to find though. I just followed another cyclist until he disappeared into the trees above me. At the bottom I stopped to snap a photo, noticed that the cyclist I had followed was about 100 meters into the climb and already out of the saddle rocking the bike slowly under him about. ..yikes! The profile gives a hint as to why this is considered to be one of the hardest climbs in europe. Relentless doesn't begin to cover it.
A lifetime later (about 10-15min) I came to the first numbered switchback. #26. I figured if they were equally spaced and I kept this pace I'd finish sometime in August. But, I was starting to feel a little better. My speed was still I think below 10km/h but my legs had by now commandeered all the blood and oxygen in my system so my brain didn't have enough resources to formulate complaint.
It was win-win..
Around this point I had been hit with a few really pitchy sections and while they knocked me back a bit I'd crawled through them, but the view upon clearing the first "official' switchback was nuts. I think this is perhaps the first 18% part, and while the pic doesn't capture it, it simply looked like a wall to me. The effect of the narrow path and the grade was almost claustrophobic.
Clawing up that section I could hear the tire being torn up by the road.
This is first climb I've ever done that was painted up from being part of a grand tour. In this case the Giro had passed through a week previous and the paint was fresh. It was a really special feeling to be climbing past painted 'Ballero vive Pirata for ever', 'presente sempre e coppi' the many fresh signs for Basso, older paint for Bugno and lots more.
By the time I reached the Pantani memorial, I was actually feeling pretty good. Shortly after I was passed by this gentleman who dieseled past in good form. I hung on a few length back of him for awhile but he left me handily the next time it got stupid steep. He was however, waiting for me at the top with a congratulatory 'five on the side' hand slap that was really nice. He also took the photo of me with the sign. Regrettably we could not converse as the only language we shared was the bike. Nevertheless, I count him as a friend.
From the top after a short rest I headed back down the way I came as far as the intersection that would peel north to deliver me to Grosio, a little further up the SS38 from Mazzo di Vallentina. As brutal as the climb up mortirolo is, you have to go down to appreciate how totally mental it is. I roached off way more brake pad on that one stretch than two full seasons of riding would do around here. You absolutely can not let the bike run for more than a few seconds because the acceleration from the grade is freaky. The road is only about 8-12 feet wide and you're doing well to carry mid 20's through the switches, so from exit of turn, off the brakes and in an instant you're hitting mid 60's and desperate on the brakes to get back down to the 20's to throw it into the switch.
I absolutely love me a good descent but this was kinda bewildering. Actual brake pump on a road bike. (wtf!)
Anyway, I rolled back onto the SS38 and headed north buoyed by my having knocked off a biggie climb from my bucket list. Stopped a grocery store, plowed in a couple thousand calories and carried on up towards Bormio.
To be cont..