Lance rates it as the hardest climb he has ever raced over. Marco Pantani made it famous when he demolished the field of the Giro in 1997 on its slopes.
The Passo Mortirolo is at the heart of the Granfondo Marco Pantani which is held in the Italian Alps. It is truly one of the great cycle sportive events of the calendar and features a further two epic climbs: The Passos Gavia, and Aprica.
On Sunday 27th the 2010 edition of the race was held and La Fuga was there with a group of hardy riders ready to take on the challenge. Cameron reports after having completed the Medio Fondo at 151km and 3,800m of ascent.
The scenery is breathtaking in Aprica, in the heart of the Italian Alps. A 7am start time meant that a pasta breakfast at 5:30am washed down with several espressos was a somewhat familiar start to the day.
The race has one of the most interesting starts to a grandfondo in that it descends from Aprica down into the valley for around 10km. The road is fairly wide and smooth but with some improvements being made this year the race speed was limited to 40kph in order to negotiate the temporary traffic lights. There was of course a fair amount of break squealing and well as Italian squealing in those first few downhill kilometres.
Having hit the valley floor in Edolo the road then widens into blissfully smooth, black tarmac and then begins to climb gradually to the foot of the first big challenge of the day, the Passo Gavia. At 17km long, it averages 7.4% with a maximum of 15% – a good wake up call!
The scenery on the mountain is what amateur and professional photographers dream of. Pine trees on the lower slopes and glacier snow at the top. The 400m tunnel at 3km to the summit signifies that the pain is almost over, for at least a while. With a quick pit stop to pick up a sandwich at the summit feed station it was time for the 20km descent to the picturesque ski town of Bormio.
The route sweeps through the town and its still downhill through the valley with some small undulating sections. By this point I was in a group of 100 doing 45kph. This is what it would have been like in the Giro only a few weeks ago as the lead riders jostled for position before the next mountain pass.
As I cruised through the town of Grossio only one thing occupied my mind – the formidable and narrow Passo Mortirolo. A personal message from Lance himself telling of how hard he found I was worried from the start. At 12km long its average gradient is a leg breaking 10.5% with some 18% sections in there for good measure.
At the town of Mazzo, there is a left turn onto cobbles where I gave it some gas like Cancellara did on the pave albeit without the motor. Another left and there it is – the wall. It took me another hour and thirty minutes to grind my 34 x 25 gear up the mountain. Wish I had put on the 27 tooth.
The memorial to Pantani is located on the right hand side at around 4km from the summit. It was a relief to see the summit appear and a well earned drink at the summit feed station made for a more comfortable final 20km in the 30 degree heat.
From the top of the Mortirolo the country road traverses the ridge through pine forest and there are some cries as the road ramps up sharply in some places, but its generally downhill. Only at about 7km to go is it a proper descent back down onto Aprica and there is a gradual but leg stinging rise into the town for the ‘Arrivo’.
With 151km in the legs I have to grin as the ‘lungo’ course riders keep going to descend from Aprica and then climb back up the Passo Aprica to the finishing area having done a total of 171km.
Marco Pantani was undoubtedly one of Italy’s greatest cyclists and the Granfondo in his name matches his talent in epic riding and scenery.
A ‘must-do’ in the calendar of cyclesportives.
Medio: 151km Lungo: 176km
Gift Pack: *****