Our group of 10 strong riders had decided to participate the Dreilander-Giro in June 2011, starting in Austria, crossing into Italy, then Switzerland before returning to the finish back in Austria. Based in Nauders, Austria which is a ski town set at 1300metres in the mountains, it is very popular with the German, Italian, Austrian and Swiss riders with only 26 UK riders registered in the 3000 rider field.
The draw of the event is the climbing of the Passo Stelvio within the route. Climbing from Prato side of this beast of a mountain with its 48 hairpins, 28km long, 1808m height gain, average of 7.4% climbing upto 2758metres at the summit.
3000 riders waiting to start
The start in Nauders immediately begins with a gentle, leg warming climb of the Reschenpass, which at 4km long and 4% its nothing too much to concern riders. At the summit is the border crossing into Italy, the road traverses a very large reservoir under a few avalanche bridges before a 50mph+ descent entising riders into Prato and the start of Passo Stelvio.
Now before entering this ride the thought of climbing the Passo Stelvio filled me with dread, I’d seen the photos and videos of the top third of the climb, I’d read nightmare blogs of were riders had ‘blown’. Not built for mountain climbing I’ve been prepared to ‘give it a go’ and gearing of 34 x 27 seemed adequete to get me up most climbs I’d attempted so far. A recce of the climb on the Tuesday did wonders to reassure me I could climb this beast as I marvelled at the engineering of the road itself and the jaw dropping scenary. My brother and I had paused for photos, bit of video and a coffee before tackling the final exposed third of the climb.
Back to the event, leaving Prato the road consistantly rises before you, passing the eerie looking garden with the totum poles either side of the road, don’t photograph, an angry man appears and chases you up the road !!!
Part of the first 8km upto 1st hairpin
I felt this first 8kms to the first hairpin seemed to just go on and on, the views are beautiful and the mountain stream next to the road tends to distract the mind of the increased efforts to turn a favourable pedal. A blind eye must be turned to the mountain goats that dance on their pedals and glide past the masses. The long avalanche shelter comes into view which spits riders out at hairpin 48, its a big land mark, one third down, just two thirds to go :O
Hairpin No 1
Hairpins 48 and 47 are close but riders have a slightly longer wait til No46 and 45 in Trafoi (feedstop available) After this the road enters the pine forest and the hairpins come thick and fast. There are a few steeper pitches on this section that breaks the rhythm, the forest section only gets a fleeting mention in reports / blogs etc but don’t dismiss the middle third of this climb, it zig-zaggs its way in the forest up the mountain. Each hairpin allows riders to look back along the pitch they have just negotiated to assess progress but don’t stay too close to the edge, height is gained sooo quickly that it plays havoc with your vertigo
Hairpins 20 to 23
Although it feels you’re lost to the forest, riders are released onto the exposed switch-backs that the Stelvio is famed for, careful, don’t strain your neck as the final 22 hairpins rise before you and your head sinks further back between your shoulder blades as your eyes try to spy the top of this monster.
”Steady as she goes”
Thankfully there are some shorter pitches between the hairpins on this final push which see the number boards tumble, the payback is a few of these pitches steepen to over 12% forcing a few out of saddle efforts to maintain speed ! Reaching hairpin one, riders gather at the feed stop, the view back down the road as thousands make their way towards the summit, inspiring ! One final pitch and the descent starts, interrupted by a brief rise as riders enter Switzerland over the Umbrailpass, then its fun fun fun
Is this much fun legal ?
The descent switches left and right on good tight hairpins, the route then has a 2km rough road (forestery road) were extra caution is required on any slight changes in direction. Back on smooth tarmacadam and the hairpins flow one into another, I question is enjoying yourself so much on a bicycle actually legal ?? My face cheeks ache from smiling sooo much then abruptly we reach a tight left turn at St Maria (feed stop available) and the road rises in front of us.
Underestimate the Ofenpass at you peril
The road continues to climb for 4 /5 kms before riders pass the official start of the climb of the Ofenpass. This was tougher than I and probably most of the first-time riders anticipated, from St Maria to the summit is approx 14km, its not to be under-estimated but my legs feel the previous efforts of the Stelvio. Reassure yourself that once at the Ofenpass summit it is mainly downhill. The summit is a welcome sight, hooking up with a multi national group of 4 we start the descent. The speed is fast, and as we share the front I struggle with my 50 x 12 as their 53×11 are very evident Sweeping bends with stunning views are endless, a brief long drag interrupts the descent and I’m able to contribute at the front as we all grab handfulls of gear levers.
Speeds are 50mph+ as we approach the feedstop at Zemez, water bottle refills are a must for me so I let my mini group continue. As my final bottle is filling, I see the blur of a fast moving group in the reflection of a shop window. I remount and chase for all my old bones are worth, a slight tail wind assists with a 30mph+ pursuit, latching onto the back of this group was hard work but well worth the effort as we maintain high speed for a lot less effort sat at the rear of the ‘train’ The initial efforts are rewarded as later down the valley we catch the group of 4 I’d ‘let go’ at the Zemez feedstop.
Words are so often over used, awesome, beautiful, stunning but these words don’t do justice to the Swiss valley we are descending, the pine tree lined hillsides and turquoise mountain river running next to the road, it simply takes you breath away.
Fast moving line-out
The pace eases as riders eat and drink, signalling the fast approaching border crossing back into Austria but more importantly the final 6km climb before a 1km descent to the finish. I had ridden this climb twice during the week preceeding the event so knew exactly what was in store. The group implodes as everyone climbs at their own pace, some had obviously pushed their boundaries only to have to back off on the final rise. Once at the top Nauders quickly comes into view and riders can reflect on a superb event before crossing the finish line.
At the finish, riders and supports lounge around lying on the grassland, sitting at picnic tables and enjoying post ride refreshments Hand back you timing chip and you recieve your event cycling jersey.
Final climb recce
This event is a must do, a hidden gem, it compares very favourably with La Marmotte, L’Etape and the Maratona. At 50Euros entry it is excellent value for money, the start / finish town is lovely. We went self catering and there is a new, modern supermarket for supplies and speak with the locals and there are some fine, hidden eating establishments within Nauders. There is a bike shop in Nauders and two in Prato if required for any emergency repairs. We found the locals very friendly and welcoming !!!
Below is the links to Mike Cotty’s report from Cycling Weekly, Event website and Youtube clip I did of the recce of the Stelvio