Like this site? Help us to make it better.

Video: Mike Cotty takes on Italy's highest road, the Passo dello Stelvio

Latest Col Collective video features one of Europe's mot iconic passes - but tackled from less famous Bormio side...

The mighty Passo dello Stelvio is without doubt one of the most iconic climbs in cycling. Mike Cotty has been there riding it for his latest Col Collective video – but this time from its less familiar side, starting in Bormio.

It was from the other direction, in a stage that finished in Bormio, that it first figured in the Italian Grand Tour, more than six decades ago now. That day, it was one of the sport’s all-time greats, Fausto Coppi, who crested it first, on the way to taking his fifth and final maglia rosa.

As Italy’s highest road pass, each time it features in the Giro – it’s not on the route of the race this year – it’s designated as the Cima Coppi, the prize awarded to the rider who crests the highest point of each edition of the race at the front.

Three years ago, on the penultimate day of the race, it was from the Lombard side – from Bormio, as Cotty rides it here – that Thomas De Gendt took a fine solo win to set himself up for a podium place in the closing day’s time trial in Milan.

Here’s what Cotty has to say about tackling one of Europe’s most famous mountain passes from its lesser known side:

Whatever way you look at it, the Stelvio is a spiritual cycling experience like no other. First featuring in the Giro d’Italia in 1953 its long history and sky high credentials make it a mountain of legend and unique lure for every rider that dares to tackle its serpentine slopes.

Not only is it the highest road pass in Italy at 2,758 metres above sea level but it’s also the highest finish of any Grand Tour stage. That aside, it’s the architecture of the climb that really makes it famous and sets it apart from the rest.

Bend after bend with a relentless gradient, jaw dropping waterfalls free-falling on a non-stop trajectory towards the valley below and a vast expanse of mountain mystique the higher you climb. That’s the real beauty of the mighty Stelvio, a true test of physical and mental strength all the way to the summit.

I’ll never forget the first time I rode the Stelvio from Bormio, in true Cotty fashion this was meant to be a “transition day” to get over the delights of a day of travel.

We set off late in the afternoon with the original idea of spinning our legs out for a few kilometres just to loosen things up for the days to come. The higher we climbed the more inspired the ride became. When it was time to turn around neither my buddy nor I had it in us to say, ‘let’s stop’.

I mean, they’re the rules right? ‘Don’t start something you don’t intend finishing’.

As the light began to dwindle and the temperature took a sharp dip, unintentionally we made it all the way to the top just in the nick of time as the final shops were shutting their doors for the night.

The wind was bitter and we were well under dressed for the occasion. No time for selfies at the summit but just enough money for two cotton caps and a couple of copies of La Gazzetta dello Sport to stuff under each jersey to help against the wind chill (Giro style…..or so we thought).

Watch out, the tunnels on the way down are dark and damp, even worse when you’re shivering like Frosty the Snowman. What a ride, what a climb, what a memory. Wouldn’t change it for the world!

Vital Statistics

Start: Bormio
Length: 21.5km
Summit: 2,758m
Elevation gain: 1,533m
Average gradient: 7.1%
Max gradient: 14%

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

Add new comment


vito | 8 years ago

How cycling has changed, I was using a 42 x 29 when I rode it in 1993!

Latest Comments