Ascending the iconic climb three times in a row
Sunrise is still an hour away, at minimum, when our ride leader, Andrea Gennari, motions to our group to turn off our lights. Soon after, we’re climbing Italy’s legendary Stelvio Pass entirely by moonlight.
We are in the early kilometres of the Triplo Stelvio, an event challenging riders to climb each of the three sides of Stelvio Pass in one day. The pre-dawn start has given us empty roads. Since leaving our hotel in Bormio, we have been passed by a single car. Aside from the Triplo Stelvio support van, only one other vehicle will politely glide by us in the dark before we reach our first summit.
In the cool early-summer morning air, occasional conversations drift off into periods of quiet as we each focus on the climbing, pacing, and then taking in the experience of being alone on this iconic mountain. Our small group of six, representing four continents, is part of a larger group of just 25 riders taking part in the Triplo Stelvio. For now, we have the road to ourselves.
Gennari breaks the silence. Smiling, he turns to us and points up the road: “We have rabbits.” Far up the road ahead of us, we can see little clusters of red and white lights zig-zagging steadily through the dark. It’s another group working its way back and forth across a series of steep switchbacks.
The staggered start is planned so that all 25 of us reach the summit together at dawn. Triplo Stelvio’s organizer, Cecilia Mendes, has been clear since everyone arrived that this is not a race, but a challenge that we are all working to accomplish. With roughly 5,000 m of climbing scheduled for the 130-km ride, her warning that “just to ride is challenge enough” proves quite accurate.
We have a sense of our common goal instead of competition. As the pre-dawn light begins to illuminate the ridgelines surrounding us, and as we collect riders into our group, everyone is supportive and encouraging despite the effort of the climb.
The group arrives at the top of the pass with perfect timing. As we crest the last pitch, we’re greeted by the sunrise’s golden light. Triplo Stelvio’s event staff hand out our jackets and warm clothes. Espresso waits inside the small café at the summit.
Layered up and caffeinated, we start descending the iconic 48 switchbacks of Stelvio’s more famous approach from the northeast. Descending the quiet roads in the soft dawn light is sublime.
We still have two more climbs to go. Each reveals a distinct personality of the mountain during the course of the day. For now, though, the speed is free and all thought of climbing is pushed aside as we focus on finding the perfect line through the next corner.