Claims to highest/longest/biggest etc. status usually require a little careful wording to be accurate, however, even though the Col de l’Iseran in France is slightly higher at 2764 metres and the Cime de la Bonette is higher still due to the addition of an entirely unnecessary loop of road, there is still something special about a pass so very high as the Stelvio. In fact, if I were a proper cycling anorak, I'd have known all about Stelvio beforehand since it is right up there in terms of world famous cycling destinations.
Also, there are three different routes to the top. The most ‘famous’ is the 25 km route from Prato allo Stelvio in Italy (7.4% average)which features the famous 48 hairpins and tends to get the most visitors due to it's popularity in the Giro d'Italia, however, there is also a 21 km route from Bormio (also in Italy) at 7.3% in addition to the route we would be taking from Switzerland.
Our chosen route was the shortest of the 3 but the steepest at 16 km and 8% average. That’s as steep, but longer, than the world famous Alpe d’Huez climb to put things in perspective. It also requires crossing from Switzerland into Italy a few kilometres from the top.
There is no doubt this is a tough climb. It took us over 2 hours to reach the top in roasting heat that nearly finished me off. Esther forged ahead though and by the time we met up again at the top we were both taken aback at just how busy it was. Quiet mountain roads suddenly gave way to people everywhere, gifts shops and snack bars doing a roaring trade.
We didn’t stay too long at the top before heading back down. We did briefly consider driving over the pass to try some of the other routes but decided against it for this year. Definitely one to come back to in the future though.