The Stelvio Pass & Mont Ventoux

Whilst on holiday at Lake Garda I took the opportunity to ride the legendary Selevio Pass, whose 48 hairpin bends have featured many times in the Giro d'Italia and also on Top Gear as one of Jeremy Clarkson's top European driving roads .
The climb starts in Prato allo Stelvio* at 950m, some 2 hours drive from my base at Lake Garda, and finishes at 2760m giving an height gain of over 1,800m (* the Giro climbed the Stelvio from Bormio in 2012). The profile can be seen at Climb by Bike. The Stevio Pass is the 5th highest road in Europe and the second highest pass (see table below)

I have ridden many climbs in the French Alps but this was the harder, mainly due to the heat. With a long drive up from Lake Garda I didn't start the climb until about 10:45 by which time the temperature was already knocking 30C. The climb can be split into the 3 parts:
Lower Section - a steady gradient below 7% normally suits me but the temperature and lack of shade made the lower section really hard work. There was a faint breeze following me up the valley but not enough to be of any assistance or cooling benefit.
Middle Section - some shade at last but some vicious ramps in a section of a dozen or so switchbacks where some serious altitude was gained. At least the switchbacks offered some sections into the wind for some additional cooling. The gradient increased slightly, and while the average over each kilometre may only show a 9.2% maximum, there were some sections around bends 34 and 36 that must have exceeded 15%
Top Section - the famous section of 22 hairpins taking the road up the final 600m ascent. Back out in the open and getting steeper at the top. The road is also very narrow, so despite being popular with motorcycles and sports cars in my opinion this is not really a great driving road. From my motorcyling days, I would rate the Col de la Faucille (N5 from Dijon to Geneva) and the Col du Mont Cenis (from France to Turin near the Frejus Tunnel) as far better driving roads. Unlike their French Counterparts, the Italian climbs do not have many signs telling cyclists of the gradient and height, but near the top the last 5km are marked on the road until finally the summit is reached:

The infamous top section of the Stevio Pass - 22 hairpin bends climbing 600m

For our second week, we were based near Avignon in France, only an hour away from Mont Ventoux. I rode Ventoux from Malaucene four years ago, so this time I took the classic route from Bedoin (290m, rising 1622m to the summit at 1912m, profile from Climb by Bike) that Le Tour usually takes. I started early to avoid the heat of July, leaving my base before 7am to start the climb by 8am. The first few kilometres along the vineyards are straightforward but as soon as the road enters the forest the gradient ramps up to an 8km stretch between 8 and 11% all the way. Finally Chalet Reynard is reached. Here the gradient reduces slightly for a couple of kilometres before getting steeper and steeper until the final two kilometres where gradients in excess of 10% are met. There is no shade above Chalet Reynard and I am glad of that early start. Four years ago it took me almost 3 hours, this time I climbed Ventoux in 2hrs 20 mins. After a fast descent back to Bedoin, I was back in Avignon by lunchtime. What a way to spend a summer's morning.

At the summit of Mont Ventoux

There is no shade on the upper reaches of Mont Ventoux

The highest roads* in Europe are
Rank Name Height Location Comments
1 Pico Valeta 3,380m Sierra Nevada, Spain Track over the summit, unmade over 2,600m? Access forbidden down the southern slope.
2 Otzal Glacier Road 2,830m Tirol, Austria Dead-end road
3 Cime de la Bonnette 2,802m Southern Alps, France Mountain loop road built just to be the highest paved-road route
4 Col de l'Iseran 2,770m Central Alps, France Highest true pass in Europe
5 Stelvio Pass 2,760m Alps, Italy Highest road in Italy
6 Kaunertal Glacier Road 2,750m Tirol, Austria Dead-end road
7 Col Agnel 2,744m France / Italy Highest border crossing
8 Col de la Bonnette 2,715m Southern Alps, France The true pass at the foot of the loop road to the Cime (summit)
9 Col de Restefond 2,680m Southern Alps, France Close to the Bonnette (and on the same road), an alternative route via the unmade Col de la Moutiere
10 Col du Galibier 2,645m Central Alps, France Iconic route often featured in Le Toue
* There are higher unmade paths and tracks accessible my 4x4 and mtb
Martin Harris
July 2012


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