PASSO del GAVIA UNI ASCENT
Passo del Gavia is a high mountain pass in the Italian Alps. It is the 10th highest paved road in all of the Alps, and is famous for its inclusion in many Giro d’Italia tours. On the previous day to this ride, I rode the famous Passo Stelvio, which is in an adjacent valley to Gavia. We stayed in Bormio after riding Stelvio, a resort town that reminded me of Aspen, Co. Starting in Bormio with clear blue skies and mild temperatures, my 29er uni rolled smoothly up the Valfurva valley. The riding was on a well-developed broad road passing through several small mountain villages. After some small steep ramps I reached the village of Santa Caterina. Ski lifts ascend all sides of the valley here, reaching towards the receding glaciers high above. I take a break to absorb the Italian Alps, and the beautiful countryside that surrounds me. I feel right at home here in these awesome mountains.
Immediately, after getting back on the unicycle, the real work begins. These Italian switchbacks are endless, one stacked on top of the other. Thick healthy forests with an occasional meadow fly by me as I spin up the steep mountainside. Passing under ski lifts, I dream of coming back here someday in the winter to telemark ski & snowboard the Italian Alps. I find myself digging deep to pedal up some of the steeper ramps, 14%-16% grades. The lower riding elevation works for me here, as most of my riding in Colorado is much higher than here. With these steep grades though, elevation is gained quickly; as the glacier topped Alps come into clear view.
The scenic factor of the ride now goes off the charts, as I pedal my 29er uni above tree line. Waterfalls cascading below glaciers disappear, then reappear into more spectacular waterfalls. The high elevation mountains are shimmering gold in the early afternoon light. The deep blue (topaz) of the glaciers can be seen in the distance. Hugging the inside of the one lane road, the pedals push over in slow motion. This is the crux of the climb; a steep narrow road that is filled with frost heaves from edge to edge. Weaving back and forth I push through the hardest part, thankful for zero traffic.
The road flattens as I see the summit ahead in the distance. Smiling, listening to my favorite Pretty Lights song, “I can see it in your face”
I cross over the summit of Passo Stelvio where there are many motorcyclist waiting for me. Another successful ascent of a big mountain in Italy, on my unicycle! Life is so good in the great outdoors, no matter what country you are in. So grateful to have ridden two of Italy’s most famous hill climbs - both by unicycle first ascents.
Top Elevation - 2621 meters, 8,599’
Ascent - 1424 meters, 4,672’
Unicycling up both Stelvio and Gavia I couldn’t help but think of the stories I had read about stages during different Giro d’Italia races, the same roads that I had just ridden on. It kind of brought Goosebumps to me, I was so stoked to have not just ridden but been successful on these famous roads!
This is the recap from the most famous Giro d Italia stage when the American Andy Hampsten took over the maglia rosa in a BLIZZARD on Gavia. The you tube video is classic, never has so much suffering occurred in any of the Grand Tours by so many world class athletes.
Sunday 5 June, 1988 - Stage 14: Chiesa in Valmalenco > Bormio, 120 km
The fourteenth stage saw no sunshine, it was either raining or snowing for the whole stage. The Dutchman Johan van der Velde attacked early on during the climb. Andrew Hampsten attacked shortly after Van der Velde, and Erik Breukink and Franco Chioccioli marked his move.
Van der Velde crossed the Gavia Pass just 30 seconds before Hampsten did. However, shortly after Van der Velde was forced to stop due to the principle of freezing, finding refuge in a camper. He would arrive at the finish line far back, trailing by 46’49". Hampsten crossed the summit about 45 seconds before Breukink. At the summit of the Gavia, Hampsten received a musette bag with various skiing items to help protect him from the elements. Breukink passed Hampsten as he stopped to put on his gear, but Hampsten caught up on the descent. 7-Eleven-Hoonved was the only team that had good protection from the elements, according to Hampsten, they purchased all the warm weather/skiing gear they could find prior to the stage. For 12 km of the 25 km descent of the Gavia Pass it was snowing. Breukink and Hampsten quickly passed the Van der Velde on the descent. Although Breukink did win the stage, Hampsten finished seven seconds behind and claimed the maglia rosa. In doing so, he became the first American to have the maglia rosa in the history of the Giro d’Italia.