You see the pictures of the mighty Stelvio on the Internet – especially those from the Prato side of the climb – and you instantly feel the urge to get on your bicycle.
With its 2,758 meters it’s second on the list of Europe’s highest passes, after the Iseran – a few dead ends are higher, though they might not be cycle-able with a road bike, and I do not count the artificial loop around the Bonette (the Cime)…
Obviously, the Stelvio is included in a score of Gran Fondos, and you can also climb it on days when it’s closed to motorized traffic, like during the Mapei Day.
The advantage of that is clear, but you will be sharing the road with thousands of other cyclists (or skaters, hand bikers, etc.).
Anything better than sharing it with motorized traffic – as with many of these famous passes, the Stelvio is a magnet to motorists and (wannabee) Formula 1 car drivers.
It actually is frequently used as a test course for Ferrari, but when that happens, the road is closed to all other traffic.
Also when planning to climb the Stelvio, you’d do well to inform yourself about the weather conditions.
I have experienced 30+ degrees in the valley on either side and close to zero degrees at the summit. It may even snow up there, any given day…
Starting from Prato, the Stelvio Pass has a length of roughly 25 km and an altitude gain of just over 1,800 meters.
In 2008, I climbed up the Stelvio from this end for the first time – report on that trip here.
In 2015 I had a round trip up both ends consecutively – report here.
And in 2020, I ended up on its summit three times, once from Prato – report here.
Both in 2008 and in 2015, I got on the bike at the Hotel Gasthof Stern in Prato, in 2020, I started a little further out and took the fork to Solda first.
The first eight kilometers to Gomagoi, where you can take a left to Solda, and then on to Trafoi are not too hard, although you’ll see – and feel – inclines of 10%.
Shortly before Trafoi you pass through the first 2 hairpins – these are just after the gallery between Gomagoi and Trafoi.
There are 48 hairpins in total from this end – the next 2 you encounter when leaving Trafoi, at Hotel Bellavista.
After that, you’ll cycle quite some distance through a reasonably sheltered – tree covered – area, changing between slightly winding sections more challenging bits with hairpins.
This pretty much goes on until “tornante” 32, from where the next kilometers and hairpin sections have a more open character.
From “tornante” 24, just before hotel restaurant Franzenshöhe in nr. 22, you finally get to look at the view of the remaining hairpins, winding up (far) above you…
From that point onward, until you reach the summit, you are rewarded with the ever more breathtaking views downwards, for which the Stelvio is known so well.
Once you reach the usually very crowded summit, you are “treated” with the smell of bratwurst – Bruno’s hot dog and “wurstel” trolley is the first thing you encounter.
If you want to have some good food, ride on to Albergo Genziana, just past the shopping gallery – that area is one of the biggest arrays of souvenir shops I have encountered on any summit…
Video from the Col Collective
On paper, the ascend of the Stelvio Pass from the south may look less challenging than the one from the north side, at just over 21 kilometers with some 1,500 altimeters.
I’ve done this end four times: report on the 2011 trip here / Mapei Day here, Stelvio revisited 2015 here and 2020 here.
If you consider the Stelvio from Santa Maria (CH), i.e. via de Umbrail a separate climb: I did that twice: in 2011 and as the prologue of my Giro d’Italia 2020.
Don’t be fooled by its lower ranking, because the grades are almost equal to the Prato end and the last two, two and a half kilometers are demanding, devastating if the biting cold wind happens to be a strong head wind.
Also from Bormio, you can look forward to a beautiful climb, with similarly numbered hairpins, 40 in this case – number 40 you will find when you leave Bormio and see “BORMIO m 1225” on the wall.
(The smaller sign reads 1256 s.l.m. because Bormio village is at 1225 and you have gained 31 meters up to that hairpin.)
Passing Bagni di Bormio, you turn away from Bormio and when you’re some 6 kilometers and a couple more hairpins in, you reach the series of short tunnels.
Luckily, the bike lights and reflectors for these – some of them were pitch dark – are advisable, but no longer really necessary, because they are now (well) lit, albeit still narrow.
❗️Be careful when passing through these on your way down, as they have some nasty turns inside and they are usually wet.
After you pass these tunnels, you’ll run into some short, stinging, sections of 14, 15%.
However, you also have a stunning view on the most beautiful part of the climb, the series of 14 hairpins – 28 to 15 – snailing up along the rocks.
As you climb these, looking back will give you similar views to the ones found in the top half of the other side’s ascend.
After looking back one final time, you will be able to catch your breath a bit on the fairly straight and later somewhat flatter passage towards the final part of the climb.
If you’re not confronted by a headwind that is, because if you are, it’s not so much fun… Once you get past the chapel, you can already see the start of that “grand finale” in the distance.
Approaching the top of / split with the Umbrail, the grades go up to 10% again, but after that, it gets really tough when that becomes 12, 13, 14%.
This last part of the climb seems to go on forever and if you do get a (cold) headwind there, you’ll be extremely happy once you finally reach the summit.
At least Bruno’s bratwurst smell is not welcoming you here…
A video of the Bormio climb by the Col Collective here.