Passo dello Stelvio – 3 ways
This mountain has to be on the bucket list of all cyclists. It’s the highest road pass in Italy, standing proud at 2,758 metres. The Passo dello Stelvio needs very little introduction. It’s the stage you look out for in the Giro d’Italia and it’s a ride you just have to experience for yourself.
Back in 2016 I had the pleasure of a weekend getaway to Italy with some friends to explore the region.
Based in a lovely ski chalet just outside of Prato, this is the main way to access the climb most people think of when they think of the Stelvio. The road from Prato leads up to the 48 hairpins carved out of the mountain seemingly going on forever.
Away from this classic route there are also two different ascents to reach the Stelvio summit, one just over the border in Switzerland heading up the Umbrail Pass, then over the other side of the mountain range you have Bormio climb. Each of these are amazing climbs in their own right and well worth the effort if you are ever lucky enough to ride there.
Day 1 – Stelvio Pass – Prato climb
Elevation gain: 1,829m
Average gradient: 7.6%
Max gradient: 14%
This is famous for a reason, and in my mind the ultimate cycling climb. From Prato its 48 bends carve their way up the mountain in what appears to be an endless road towards the sky, constantly switching back and forth the higher you climb.
We rode this early in the season at the end of May and if you’ve ever seen the Giro you know it can still be snowy in the mountains. Officially the road was still closed so we had no traffic to contend with, but we had the risk that we would not be able to make the summit.
Unfortunately late snows and delays to road clearing meant that we were only able to get 40 of the hairpins up before meeting a wall of snow and no way through.
Disappointing, but we can’t control the weather. Just gives me an excuse to come back again!
Mike Cotty from the Col Collective can show you in a far better way what this road is like this video.
Day 2 – Umbrail Pass & Stelvio Pass (from Bormio)
Following from the previous day’s unsuccessful attempt at summiting the Stelvio we decided to head up over through Switzerland on the Umbrail Pass then up to the top of the Stelvio from there. This gave us the option to head back down the Umbrail for a shorter ride, or head over the top and down to Bormio – then back again!
I opted for the longer route to drop down to Bormio, grab a bite to eat and then back up again. To date (and 4 years on) this is still the most climbing I’ve ever done in one day 4180m in 106km of riding. Phew! The only other ride coming close is the Maratona.
Umbrail Pass from Santa Maria
A lesser known route up to the top of the Stelvio is the Umbrail Pass. The Umbrail Pass stands at an elevation of 2,501 metres on the Swiss Italian border. It is currently the highest paved road in Switzerland. This is a great road and I’d totally recommend ascending and descending this if you have chance.
Elevation gain: 1,475m
Average gradient: 8.5%
Max gradient: 39.4% (!)
Stelvio Pass (from Bormio)
Elevation gain: 1,526m
Average gradient: 7.1%
Max gradient: 39.4% (!)
After climbing the Umbrail Pass, descending the Stelvio Pass to Bormio is a brilliant experience. It’s a long beautiful descent despite often being referred as ‘the other site of Stelvio’. BBC’s Top Gear paid the road a complement by describing it as “15 miles of Asphalt spaghetti draped on an Alp”.
We sped down the hill in time to pick up a pizza in Bormio, all with the knowledge we needed to climb back up the 25km we’d just descended.
Cycling the Stelvio-Bormio side of the pass is allegedly the “easier” way. But don’t discount this side – it’s still a challenging and enjoyable climb and it also has a good dollop of Giro history.
All in all the Stelvio Pass is an awesome cycle climb whichever way you get to the top.
Bonus Giro Stage
Obviously being in Italy in late May meant we were able to see a little bit of the Giro to watch Valverde win Stage 16 to Andalo.