The second rest day came around quickly and I was keen to get a ride in. Staying in Madonna di Campiglio there were well-known mountains in every direction, but I was looking for something different.
I told myself that if I was going to pick just one climb in Italy, it would have to be epic. Nothing under hors catégorie would do. So, I started searching on Strava, with the segment bar set all the way to maximum.
A couple of climbs popped up. However, one in particular, with a very steep average gradient and a length of 14km, caught my eye. On closer inspection it seemed like only one person had previously climbed it on Strava. Perfect.
So, while running rest day errands (like finding a laundromat and grabbing a decent lunch) I dropped by a tourist information booth to see if they had any bicycling maps. They did and it was very detailed - now I could plan my route and have something to navigate with.
It was after 4pm by the time I set off, so I made sure I had lots of warm kit. There was a chill in the air and clouds over the peaks. This could get wild.
Setting off using my map I took one of the highlighted routes. As soon as the road turned to a gravel track I released I was now the proud owner of a mountain bike map.
Pushing on, the gravel switchbacks and drainage gutters that were cut into the track made for an exciting descent. I had to slow at one section due to a truck parked in the middle of the track, blocking access, as two guys loaded timber that had just been felled.
I squeezed past and continued down the hill.
Eventually I was back on the main road. There were team trucks and buses everywhere, parked wherever they could fit outside their respective teams’ hotels.
The mechanics looked up as I freewheeled past with the map in one hand. I said ‘ciao’, the typical bike acknowledgement in Italy. They waved back.
As soon as I exited the town I took a sharp right, placing me on the route to Rifugio Cornisello. Immediately, the road was steep. Looking down at my GPS I saw 12-14% and the going was rough. Luckily, it wasn’t a through-road so traffic was minimal.
I tried to find my rhythm on the harsh gradient but after a couple of weeks of minimal riding it quickly got the best of me. Winding upwards through a thick canopy of dark pines I could see the tops of the mountains in the distance. I had a long way to go.
Coming around one of the bends I found myself in a tunnel. However, instead of a typical, 2-lane tunnel, this one was extremely narrow. The road was empty at the time, so I took my chances and stopped to take a photo.
After a very hard first section the road flattened out a little. There was a chalet and dilapidated ski lift that had long been left to rust away.
I stopped to investigate, peering into the locked-up lift station. The chairs had been removed and just one cable remained running away up the mountain.
Moving on, the road followed a fast-flowing river that was the most amazing blue/green colour. There must have been walking tracks nearby, with a series of quaint wooden bridges criss-crossing the water.
The grassy meadows and rushing stream along this flatter road made for some of the most enjoyable riding of the day.
It didn’t last long, however, and the next section of road pitched up at an alarming rate. As I looked up, I could see something built on the sides of the cliff. I later discovered this was one of the corners above.
This section seemed like switchback after switchback, stretching almost 10km. Every now and then I got a glimpse out from the trees at the snow tipped peaks.
Finally I felt I was making some ground. Soon after, a sign confirmed that the top wasn’t too much further.
Rounding the next bend, the view was spectacular. I could see right down the valley that I’d just climbed, and that lone ski lift cable was running up all the way to the top.
But there was a cold winding blowing and the temperature was dropping rapidly. Rain had started to fall – only lightly for now – so I put the rest of my layers on.
The road was now above the tree line with the summit of the climb at 2000m. I passed a large boulder that had fallen in the middle of the road, almost exactly marking where the tarmac finished and the gravel began.
The last section of the climb was dotted with patches of snow. The rain and wind were getting stronger with each pedal stroke. I was almost at the top when, to my surprise, a stumbled upon a red kombi camper with it’s top popped, taking in the view.
I was getting seriously cold, so I took a couple of photos, zipped my jacket up and headed back down the descent. I had to take it slow as the road was really wet and there was a lot of gravel washed across it.
My hands and feet went numb around halfway, so I stopped just to get a bit of blood back into them.
Making it back to the bottom unscathed, I headed straight back to the lodge for a hot shower and a feed.
See beardy’s coverage of previous stages below.