Somewhat of a veteran when it comes to the Haute Route’s seven-day events, contributor Lorena Jones was recently invited to check out the Haute Route’s three-day format - on the world famous Stelvio Pass in Northern Italy.
Carved into the Italian Alps, the ‘Passo dello Stelvio’ is one of the highest paved passes in Europe, and arguably the most beautiful. Rising to 2,758m and boasting 48 gloriously breath-taking switchbacks, it’s no wonder the Stelvio pass has become a bucket-list climb for many cyclists, and a chosen location for one of the Haute Route’s three-day events.
Branching out from a central location, the Haute Route Stelvio provides the perfect blend of challenging cycling terrain and relaxing holiday activities. Add delicious local cuisine and Bormio’s natural spas into the mix, and you have everything you might want from a mini-break destination.
Is this the recipe for the ongoing success of the Haute Route three-day events? Almost certainly.
Day one, and the highly-strung weather, typical of an Italian mountain range, gave way to a stormy setting during our first approach towards the Passo dello Stelvio and marked what would be a rather cold and wet descent as we veered left towards the Umbrail Pass. Met at the summit with delicious treats and plenty of cheery Haute Route staff to help us navigate our numb fingers into our raincoats and gloves, we made our way down the other side towards Prato.
Here, the cold wet air soon gave way to breaks of sunshine and a very fast road into the following town. Funny how quickly those damp moments are forgotten once you are sharing some warm, smooth and fast tarmac with fellow riders.
The river, at the base of the mountain in Prato offered some refreshment in the humidity but didn’t last long as we wound our way up the second climb of the day; another humbling ribbon of road.
Full of character and lined with intriguing albeit rather creepy totem pole faces, the Stelvio from this side is unforgettable from the first kilometer.
The infamous Mortirolo took center stage on day two. Most affectionately referred to as the ‘Queen climb in Europe’ by Herrera Lucho back in 1951, there are a couple of ways to approach this whip-cracker.
The path taken by the Haute Route from Mazzo is that which famously bears a nod of recognition to Marco Pantini in a statue of his form, and has been enjoyed by Lucho and many other pros during the Giro d’Italia. Another bucket-list climb ticked and efforts well rewarded with incredible views.
Day three; time trial day. Back up the Stelvio from Bormio, but this time directly to the summit, without any deviation towards the Umbrail pass. The frequent highlights; the old spa, the new spa, the bridges and waterfalls, not only served the perfect distraction to our already singing legs, but provided progress points for those of us that had paid attention on day one. Up and over the finish line, I hear the Haute Route team and earlier participants warmly celebrate my arrival, as we do for those that follow; a true sense of comradery in our shared achievements.
"I hear the Haute Route team and earlier participants warmly celebrate my arrival, as we do for those that follow; a true sense of comradery in our shared achievements"
Riding a handful of the world’s most renowned climbs alongside the support of the official cars, the Mavic crew and the medical team – all of whom are well-rehearsed in supporting pro-level athletes through the Tour de France and similar– the Haute Route Stelvio allows you to fully immerse yourself in the life of a pro cyclist. The sense of challenge, excitement and, most of all, achievement is incredible and, whilst the offer to join the sharp-end of the peloton is there, the three-day events allow for a certain level of curiosity to be sated among those who might be intimidated or time restricted by the Haute Route’s original seven-day format.
Facilitating both the pure sharp and pointy and those who aim to soak up each and every moment of this life-changing experience, this shorter format is ideal for those who don’t have so much time to train, who want to add a bit of cycling to a family holiday, or those who simply want to give it a go and see what happens.
Of course, anyone looking to stretch their legs, so to speak, is in the right place too; taking in this picture perfect mountain, not once, but twice, would make any cyclist a bit giddy. Now throw in the Mortirolo, the Umbrail Pass and the Gavia for good measure and suddenly, it is everything you might expect from a Haute Route experience.
Indeed, the DNA of the Haute Route is clear throughout: elevation; distance; breathtaking routes steeped in history.
“The people that are looking for the challenge are right there where they need to be," Julie Royer, the Haute Route’s New Event Manager, explains. “What we are providing is the support to get them there. If they want to do it in three hours, we’ll be there. If they want to do it in seven, we’ll still be there."
Whatever your motivation, I can guarantee the Haute Route Stelvio will leave your heart singing just as much as your legs – almost certainly more in fact!
The Haute Route runs three-day trips everywhere from the Mavic Rockies to Alpe d’Huez; from Oman to Ventoux. For more information, go to hauteroute.org