After the Stelvio, the Mortirolo Pass and Gavia Pass are the next most famous cycling climbs in the area.
They’re both very tough and full of Giro d’Italia history. If it helps to visualise and distinguish them, think of the Mortirolo as the really steep one and the Gavia as the really beautiful one.
This loop takes in the “classic” sides of both of these monsters in one tough day out.
We don’t want to put you off… but… be ready to suffer! This is one of the most difficult one day rides we’ve ever done.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
The Gavia Pass is (probably) our favourite ride in the entire Stelvio region. It’s tough, but the pain is rewarded by mind-blowing mountain panoramas and the knowledge you’re pedalling the same roads as many of the cycling greats.
We think the scenery is as good as the Stelvio but it’s got less traffic, less people and less buildings. It’s a wild and beautiful ride.
1. Bormio to Mazzo di Valtellina (base of the Mortirolo climb): 0-30 km
It’s a nice gentle 30km ride out to the start of the Mortirolo climb. The road follows the river Adda and passes through small villages that have varying degrees of charm.
Just make sure you stay on the SP27 and don’t accidentally get diverted onto the main road that runs parallel – the SS38 is full of long horrible tunnels (more details here)…
Enjoy this leg-loosener of a start; it’s largely downhill (you lose around 650m in those 30km) and you’ve got a tough ride to come!
2. Mazzo to Mortirolo Pass: 30-42.5 km
Lance Armstrong said of this climb: “On the hardest parts, I was hurting, really hurting. The Mortirolo is the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden.”
Check out our guide to climbing the Passo Mortirolo from Mazzo, for all the details.
3. Mortirolo Pass to Ponte di Legno (Base of the Gavia climb): 42.5-55 km
From the Mortirolo summit it’s around 10km of technical descent down to Monno. This side doesn’t feel as wild as the Mazzo side, but you’ll still need full concentration for the forested hairpins. You’ll need to be used to riding mountain switchbacks since these are all on an average 8% descent.
Tip: about 3km after the summit, there’s a fork in the road. You’ll probably be going quite fast – just remember, bear left not right at the fork! Don’t do what we did and take the right… It’s more direct – but that’s not a good thing as it is incredibly narrow, ridiculously steep and no fun to ride. So remember, bear left at the fork and stay on the SP81.
From Monno you continue on another couple of kilometres down to the valley floor.
You hit the main valley road, the SS42, and follow it to the turn off for the Gavia around 17km later. It’s not the world’s most wonderful 17km, but it’s fine and the best news is that it should feel relatively flat. Use it to relax and take in some food and water; preparation for the Gavia!
4. Ponte di Legno to Gavia Pass: 55-90 km
Check out our guide to climbing the awesome Passo Gavia from Ponte di Legno, for all the details.
5. Gavia Pass to Bormio: 90-115 km
The descent from the Passo Gavia back to Bormio is challenging – but this is the easier side to descend and it’s why the Giro d’Italia always rides the Gavia this way around. Make sure you re-fuelled sufficiently and take care on the descent.
There are one or two mini climbs on your way to Bormio, but the general trend is downhill along the valley, all the way home.
The best places to refuel are the valley roads you ride between the Mortirolo and Gavia passes. The Mortirolo has a couple of possibilities, though we didn’t get a chance to check them out. There are also a few options on the Gavia, including the well-known Rifugio Bonetta.
We stayed in Bormio and did all our riding in the region from there.
Check out our article which shares the best Bormio/Stelvio bike hotels.
Read our tips for cycling in the Italian Alps before you set out.
If you want to ride the mighty Mortirolo and Gavia as part of a granfondo, how about trying the Granfondo Gavia Mortirolo which takes place in June on three routes, a long, medium and short route.
Have you done the Gavia-Mortirolo loop?
We’d love to hear from you – comment below or drop us a line.
Don’t miss our other ride guides on this region: see the related rides section above and our guides to the Mortirolo and Gavia. Also our guides to Stelvio (from Bormio), Stelvio (from Prato), Umbrail Pass loop, Bernina Pass loop and Cancano Lakes.
Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the Stelvio region and other articles, below.
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