Is 5,500m too much climbing?

by jamesgraemer   July 30, 2014  

Ok, very subjective question. And depends on a lot of things. But hear me out...

Planning a day of cycling in the alps at the end of August. Staying in switzerland but close enough to the Italian border to potentially take in Stelvio so feels like too good an opportunity to miss. I've planned out a 180km route, which strava says is 5,500m climbing, but just concerned I'm being a bit over ambitious!

I do 100+ milers pretty regularly (about one a month at the moment) anyway so not too concerned about the distance. But I've topped out at about 4000m climbing in one day (The Fred Whitton) and definitely never done anything like Stelvio.

So, based on your experience... how hard is Stelvio, really? How much of a step up is 5,500m in one day vs 4000m? Anyone ridden around here and got any other advice?

Planned route is mapped here if you're interested.

All advice welcome! Thanks everyone.

20 user comments

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Are you a big chap or a lightweight. ? If you are doing 100 miles outing once a month you are obviously on the more serious end of cycling. I doubt you would have any problems at all.

posted by CXR94Di2 [725 posts]
30th July 2014 - 21:35


That's a shitload of elevation, depends on the grades, or at least it does for a fat bastard like me. Most I've done recently is 3000m over 105 miles.

Might have done more, but until the GPS era, we were all guessing.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [895 posts]
30th July 2014 - 23:14


Reasonably lightweight (70kg ish), I don't fly up climbs but don't mind them either. The grades question is one of the big ones for me as I just don't know how I'll find 24km at 7.6% average as I'm only really used to the shorter, sharper stuff in the UK. Anyone who's done Stelvio and can give me an idea of what it's like would be great!

posted by jamesgraemer [34 posts]
30th July 2014 - 23:28


Not sure how much use it will be to you but when Graham Little was presenting the Cycle Show he did a bit about the Stelvio

Otis Bragg's picture

posted by Otis Bragg [170 posts]
30th July 2014 - 23:47


Otis Bragg wrote:
Not sure how much use it will be to you but when Graham Little was presenting the Cycle Show he did a bit about the Stelvio

Ah! That is the feature I had half remembered, well done. Probably more useful than Dan's piece.

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posted by Simon E [2421 posts]
30th July 2014 - 23:53


I ride a 39/28 at my weight, at that distance, in that gear, I can't do much more than 7% without boiling my brain or having a CV meltdown at 70odd kg, I might manage it with a few 30 second stops.

All Campag

posted by Flying Scot [895 posts]
31st July 2014 - 0:07


Assuming your bike is unloaded, I think you'll be able to enjoy your epic day ride. I did 2700m recently with luggage. It didn't kill me, but slowed me down and had to walk a climb or two (Peak District). Get your food and water right and in the worst case you can stop for a rest or push it up the final sections.

Judging by your route you are wisely doing the Stelvio in the first half, then one other big climb and 25km of downhill at the end. Hope you have a backup plan though, taxis are expensive in the Alps!

posted by chokofingrz [403 posts]
31st July 2014 - 0:33


Well for a comparison I did the Club Cingles earlier this year. I did 4,555m of climb and in a shade under 8 hours (it was 150km of ascending/descending).

I'm not a natural climbers build (I would call myself athletic in comparison with a real climber). That route was either 7-10% for most of it, with no flat transitions.

I wouldn't say that 5,000m+ is not possible, but it will be a slog. I think what made my Cingles worse was that my ride partner bailed on me due to sickness, so having someone there will make the whole thing more enjoyable.

Probably the crucial issue is the gradients of the climbs. Averages of less than 7% will be exhilarating, but upwards of that and it will begin to grind. The question is what are you hoping to do before and after the 5,500m?.....

posted by Colin Peyresourde [1623 posts]
31st July 2014 - 0:52


Cingles does look like a really tough day, and I'm guessing very dependent on the weather. I'll be riding with a couple of other guys and we'll be stopping a few times, not pushing the pace too much. So a long day but there's also a bail out point to jump on a train before the final pass!

Cheers for that cycle show video, definitely gives a good idea of what we're in for!

posted by jamesgraemer [34 posts]
31st July 2014 - 9:15

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It seems to me that you won't have any problems, if you take things easy and don't race up Stelvio. Speaking from experience, having a couple of other guys around may be helpful or it may prove to be disastrous.

Having a bail out point is smart.

Get your food & drink strategy right, listen to your body and you will have one hell of a cycling story to tell at the end.

Good luck.

posted by [13 posts]
31st July 2014 - 16:10


I have ridden up the Stelvio on motorcycle. From memory the hairpins can be very steep on the inside corner so go wide around each of them. The straights weren't dramatically steep , after 24km that might be a ill judged comment Smile

posted by CXR94Di2 [725 posts]
31st July 2014 - 17:19

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That sounds awesome! I think I'd need CXR94Di2's motorcycle option, though!
Blog and GoPro videos

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posted by Suffolk Cycling [73 posts]
31st July 2014 - 18:07


It's a beautiful route you've planned and you should be fine. The Stelvio is relatively early in the day and although it's a long one (48 hairpins!) I did not find it particularly hard, there are few really steep bits over 10%. You will probably find the climb from Süsch to the Flüelapass harder as the kilometers have started to add up by then. Main thing to remember: the descents are also long and should be used to refuel, ample supermarkets/shops in Sta. Maria, Zernez and Süsch. If you need to bail: the Swiss postbusses in the area have bike racks, taxis will be horribly expensive. The bit from the Ofenpass down to Zernez is particularly wild and beautiful, on perfect roads.

posted by joopi [7 posts]
31st July 2014 - 21:33


If you've done the Fred then you should survive. It is a massive day out, do not underestimate it and do not go out to hard or the finish will be hell. Don't go over geared either, the gradients may not be steep but tired legs need easy gears.

Have fun!

Ah! Condor

posted by Bedfordshire Clanger [346 posts]
31st July 2014 - 22:00


Yeah sticking to 34x28 to get me over the toughest bits. From what I've read, the swiss national park stuff on the other side of Stelvio down to Susch does look pretty incredible. As you say, hopefully a great day! Thanks for the advice everyone.

posted by jamesgraemer [34 posts]
31st July 2014 - 23:14


This new Sportive in Wales:

reckons it's tougher than the FW with 4200m over 190km, yours is an extra 1300m but then again the climbs are longer, steadier and considerably bigger rather than this one which is short sharp ups and downs.

I'd say it'll be a hard day out but certainly not insurmountable, especially if you're used to that kind of distance.

posted by crazy-legs [657 posts]
1st August 2014 - 11:07

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I'd largely agree with all the above - if you got round the Fred you'll get round this, though i'd suggest that height gain over big continental climbs compared to the ups and downs of Cumbria are two different things. I haven't ridden the Stelvio but have ridden similar in France (Ventoux, Bonette, Cayolle) and the sheer relentlessness does, for me, require a different mindset to a 20% pull up Honister Pass. Mind you, for my money, once you've ridden the combo of Hardknott and Wrynose with 90 miles already in your legs you can manage most other things.

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posted by ragtimecyclist [156 posts]
1st August 2014 - 13:55


I've done the Stelvio from the other side - its a good climb - nothing outrageously steep - but it goes on and on. My ride was only about 40 miles for the day - up to the top and back again. We couldnt go over the other side as snow had avalanched and blocked the road.

Be well equipped for the weather - you'll need layers for the descents and look for options to shorten the route if the weather turns.

If you can do the FW - you can do this - if you're sensible.

Have fun and stop to take in the views. Its not all about segments !

posted by fenix [266 posts]
1st August 2014 - 17:16


If you do 100+ miles regularly and got round FW you'll be totally fine. Just make sure you have the right gearing, at least 28 at the back and clothing to suit both extremes of temperature. I did Marmotte this year (5000m of climbing) and got round fine, and I probably do a bit less cycling than you. The hardest ride I'd done prior to that was Etape du Dales. Hills in the UK can be tough, don't forget that! Have a great time, sounds superb.

posted by consciousbadger [43 posts]
1st August 2014 - 17:51


Just returned from the Alps myself though not done the Stelvio.
A major factor to consider is the elevation. My power curve dropped by 10 - 20% up there and I noticed breathlessness at comparatively smaller heart rates. This will take a toll on an epic ride such as the one you have planned.

As for gearing I'm 102kgs on a good day and I coped fine with 39/28 for 3 weeks up there. Most of my days out had about half the elevation gain you have planned however.

posted by Hugor [12 posts]
2nd August 2014 - 5:26

1 Like