Thursday, January 5, 2012

Mind Games on the Mortirolo

My thanks to Julie Gildred, founder of Ride Strong Bike Tours (, for this story of riding up the Mortirolo which she will re-visiitng again in September.

Mind Games on the Mortirolo

"Nobody has ever explained to me why suffering opens up the mind. But if it weren’t for the mind, I’m not sure my muscles could have propelled me to the top of the Passo Mortirolo today. I use the term ‘propelled’ loosely. In no sense does it imply speed or ease. It only means, I made it! The Mortirolo (traditionally known as the Passo della Foppa) is one of the toughest climbs in Europe. Lance declared it the hardest climb he’s ever done. Unaided, I’d have to agree. It’s not that it’s the longest or highest climb around. At only 12.5 km long starting from Mazzo de Valtellina, it’s not even close.

Most people who climb the Mortirolo base themselves in Bormio and enjoy a 30 km gradual descent to the start of the climb in Mazzo. It’s tempting to turn off in Grosio which, geographically, is before Mazzo and also takes you up one of the three ascents of the Mortirolo. But that’s not the real deal. So, joining 90% of the other cyclists, I start the climb from Mazzo but not before one last shot of espresso at the ‘Funny Bar’ just 50 meters from the start. I now wonder whether that name isn’t an insider joke amongst locals.

I used to tell people that if they have enough gears, they can make it up any slope. Right from the get go I slipped into my granny gear realizing that my long held belief could be wrong. It wasn’t so much my heart as much as it was the ability (or inability) to turn one pedal over…..and then the other. All climbing techniques I know and studied were inapplicable. It was all I could do to keep my front end from doing an involuntary wheelie or my back wheel from spinning out. Standing became my preferred and, actually, only way of making it to the top. I visualized I was on the stair stepper at the gym on the hardest possible setting and then just drifted off into a mind oblivion.

Of the numerous conversations and incoherent thoughts I had with myself in the 1hour and 50 minutes to the top, most are not for public sharing. Every now and again I ‘came to’ and noticed things like how easy a 10% grade felt, how much I enjoy the strong scent of pine, how absolutely beautiful the Mortirolo is and how much I actually want this climb to go on forever. Yes, it’s a sickness. But I was in good company with several other sick cyclists testing their strength and, more importantly, perhaps their mental fortitude on one of the greatest climbs in Europe."

The Mortirolo climb profile.

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1 comment:

  1. Nice bit! One of our clients counts Mortirolo as his favorite climb. Larry may tackle it this year after skipping it in favor of the Gavia the past few times.