Umbrail Pass

At 2,501 meters it earns a top 10 spot in the list of highest paved passes in Europe and it is the highest paved pass in Switzerland.

The Umbrail was a side-trip into Switzerland during the Giro of 2011 and the start of my Giro of 2020.

I started the climb in bad weather during my Tour de Suisse 2019 too, but found it was blocked by a landslide some 5 or 6 kilometers in.

The Umbrail from Bormio is actually (all about) the Stelvio, so short of visiting the summit sign, I’ve done that four times 🙂

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Passo Giau

With a summit at 2,236 meters, the Passo Giau doesn’t earn a high ranking in the list of highest (paved) passes in Europe.

However, with an average of 9.1%, the climb from Selva di Cadore is a tough one.

Climbing the Giau is also part of the long version of the Maratona dles Dolomites, the “Percorsa Maratona”.

I managed to ride that by myself, as it’s near impossible and expensive to get an entry to the official event, during my Giro d’Italia of 2020.

Besides, the event was cancelled in 2020, due to Covid-19…

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Another dreaded, steep climb: the Mortirolo (or Passo della Foppa) with a summit at 1,852 meters. It used to be the favorite mountain of Marco Pantani.

“If you want to die, this is where you go” – encouraging words, often found when reading reports about this climb…

However, I think the Mortirolo from Mazzo di Valtellina, labeled the most difficult, is not much worse than the Gerlitzen – sadly, the latter is, or at least it was when I climbed it in 2008, hardly known to anyone, but I can assure you it’s as tough as the Mortirolo, especially the climb from Tschöran…

Nevertheless, I only managed to not nearly give up once: the first time I tackled the Mazzo ascend in 2011.

I’m not counting the Monno route, as that is do-able any day, but I’ve choked on the Mazzo – twice – and Grosio side since then.

The only time I went up from Grosio, was after I did the Monno ascend first, so that probably made it ‘a little’ more difficult.

Described here are the three ‘most famous’ alternatives, but there are quite a few ways to the top of the Mortirolo, many of which no more than goat paths and/or hiking trails.

This means that with a mountain bike, you have some more options to exhaust yourself. One alternative that is used in at least one gran fondo, is the one from Tovo, just south of Mazzo, with grades up to 26%…

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Monte Zoncolan

As part of my Giro d’Italia of 2011, the infamous Monte Zoncolan (1,750 meters) was included in the road book.

I took on the ascend from Ovaro, after a three hour drive to get there – shortly before 1pm, with a temperature of well over 30 degrees Celsius at the foot, I got on my bike.

The fatigue from the stages the days before, coupled with the temperature – rising to 37 degrees while climbing – made this the only ascend to date, during which I thought several times that I would not make it…

Report here.

For the Giro of 2015, I considered a new attempt at the Monte Zoncolan – better prepared this time – but I wisely put a lid on that.

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Stelvio Pass

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…

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