Riding the Haute Route Stelvio 2018

above: Le Grand Départ!

Barry is back from his ride of the Haute Route Stelvio 2018, three days of pain and pleasure on the spectacular, iconic climbs of the Alps.

The perfect opportunity to test out some of the latest gear, both hardware and clothing. Look out for some reviews coming soon. Here he takes a look back at some highlights from the trip:

below: proper Pro-level support

Day One

Bormio - Passo Stelvio

Distance: 84km

Over 3300m of climbing

A start at 7.30 and immediately into a 20km climb at 7%; that means you need to eat breakfast crazy early. You do not want to be climbing on a freshly filled stomach!

We had a freezing descent of Umbrail pass - I met a chap who said he has never been so cold on a bike, and he was from Iceland...

We always stress the difference between valley and mountain temperatures, but this was perfect proof that layering (and breathable windproofing) are the way to go if you want a chance of remaining comfortable (a relative term on these climbs!).

As we descended into Switzerland and hit the valley we started to warm up - and then immediately went through farms that had hoses on, watering the crops (and us). So... wet again - not amused :(

Climbing the Stelvio from the hard (iconic) direction, and seeing MTBers - that's a long day out. Chapeau to those tackling it on chunky tyres. Me, I'll settle for low rolling resistance and light weight, thank you.

Day Two

Bormio - Passo Gavia

Distance: 121km

Over 3800m of climbing

I find myself riding in a group with Simon from Sweden and Birvik from Iceland. This is what the Haute Route is all about….

The Mortirolo is very steep - but not as bad as I expected. And the last 1km when it opens out are amazing; so lush. Its also on a plateau, so a lovely ride for 15km as you slowly descend. It's not all suffering up here in the Alps, there's breathtaking beauty alongside the breathless climbs.

Gavia - the middle section is an absolute bastard; cars stuck in a traffic jam doing 3-point turns around a hairpin bend! Re-enacting the Italian Job is all very well, but I'd rather not end up hanging over the edge of a cliff thanks.

Incredibly steep, seriously challenging - this is one of the many places during the trip where I'm grateful for the reassurance of disc brakes.

There's a dodgy tunnel before the Gavia - 2500m up, and you are knackered, and then in a tunnel for what seems forever; and because its on a bend you cannot see any light - really messes with your head… Tunnels are definitely more fun to drive through than to ride.

Amazing weather and glorious views, going through towns at full pelt with Cabinerai stopping traffic for us - this is the life!

Compressing all the organisation and support of the classic Haute Route into a three day package was a genius stroke, and we look forward to a lot more of these events to come. I really can't recommend them highly enough, and the fact that the Stelvio trip was full of familiar "Bespoke regulars" speaks volumes.

Day Three

Individual Time Trial

Distance: 21km

1549m of climbing

My start time was 10am; so a welcome chance for a long lie in after previous day's early starts.

Day three brought us the TT up the Stelvio. By now we had the hang of the Stelvio; knew its steep bits (14% in some ramps) and where it's flatter. There is a glorious false flat section with 6km to go which is a wonderful respite for what is to come.

It's amazing how your perception changes; after two long days and 7000m of climbing we viewed a quick blast up the Stelvio as an 'easy day'. And by now our legs were properly acclimatised, so any tiredness was soon forgotten.

I was feeling at a loss in the afternoon after the TT; did not now what to do, so went for another 3hrs riding!

An event to remember

Riding at altitude is a total pig for those of us hailing from less elevated terrain - the last 4-5 km of every climb was very tough; you could see your power drop, and not just from fatigue. Studies show that at 2500m power drops c 15% - you feel it… the pace is crawling. Local riders and those from Switzerland seemed to put minutes into me at the end.

The climbs are LONG. 21-25km climbs are no joke; you can never 'attack' them - you are always going at Endurance/Tempo pace max. Even the ITT was a 85 minute effort… A decent power meter (the Tarmac SL6 has one built in to the cranks as standard) is an absolute boon here, allowing you to judge your effort and avoid burning out.

Conversely cycling in French Alps a couple of days later was easy. The valley floor was just 500m elevation; so you felt superhuman breathing wonderful rich air again, that extra oxygen makes all the difference!

The overall feeling was an amazingly well done event. You felt like a Pro; ride all day, descend to HQ, book a massage, eat something, later a proper dinner, sleep and repeat. As a result, my legs never felt that sore in the morning, and it's wonderful being able to concentrate on the riding knowing that you're fully supported and everything is catered for.

There were some bling bikes; for a bike geek it's absolute nirvana! A lot of the European riders are on carbon tubs; they take their riding seriously.

If you'd like to experience the Haute Route for yourself, and we highly recommend you do, there are still several events to come this year, including a 3-dayer on Alpe d'Huez next month - check them out at https://www.hauteroute.org/events

photos courtesy OC Sport - hauteroute.org