• Distance 113 km
  • Elevation gain 3350m
  • Difficulty
  • Epic rating

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.

Gavia-Mortirolo: highlights

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.

Cyclist on switchback on Passo MortiroloSwitchback on the Moritrolo Pass
Cyclist cycling Passo di GaviaWhere’s Wally?! Vast mountain landscapes on the Gavia 
Cycling through the Gavia Pass summit and past the Passo Gavia summit signSense of achievement at the top of the Gavia Pass

Route notes

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!

Early morning on the road from Bormio to the Mortirolo PassEarly morning on the SP27 from Bormio
Road through villages on the way to the bottom of the Mortirolo climbClear road through the village of Madonna della Biorca on the way to climb the Mortirolo
Mortirolo Pass open or pass closed sign at bottom of climb in Mazzo di ValtellinaAt the base of the Mortirolo (AKA Passa della Foppa) in Mazzo di Valtellina

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.

One of the rare views across the Valtellina valley from the Passo Mortirolo cycling climbA rare view down to the Valtellina valley from the Mortirolo
Climb through forest on the Passo MortiroloClassic Mortirolo – narrow, wooded, steep!
Cyclist at summit of Passo Mortirolo climbThe summit of the Mortirolo Pass!

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!

Steep very narrow road down Mortirolo descent to MonnoThis is the “road” we accidentally took at around 3km after the summit. NOT recommended.
Nice coffee and bakery stop in Vezza d'Oglio en route to the base of the Gavia Pass A great place for espresso and cake in Vezza d’Oglia, after the Mortirolo and before 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.

Cycling the traverse section around Passo di Gavia climbIncredible views from the Gavia Pass
Cyclist on mid section of Passo Gavia climbGradients + scenery = the Gavia Pass!
Gavia Pass summit signSummit of the Gavia Pass

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.

Descending the Gavia past Lago BiancoDescending past Lago Bianco, from the Gavia Pass
Descending Gavia Pass by bikeDescending the Gavia Pass to Bormio

Café stops

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.

You can find more details in our Mortirolo and Gavia ride guides.

Accommodation

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.

Tips

Don’t miss our in-depth guides to the Mortirolo Pass and Gavia Pass. You’ll find lots of detail on these fearsome climbs, including the pass profiles and weather.

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.

Also look out for the Mortirolo and Gavia bike days (for non motorised vehicles). More details in the Mortirolo and Gavia guides.

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 loopBernina Pass loop and Cancano Lakes.

Check out our ultimate guide to cycling the Stelvio region and other articles, below.

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Clare Dewey

Clare Dewey is a cyclist with a passion for travel. She set up epicroadrides.com in 2018 to help make it easy for cyclists to explore the world by bike. Today her mission is still inspiring cyclists to discover new places on two wheels – and doing what she can to make sure they have the best possible time while they’re there. Clare has visited 50+ destinations around the world, many of them by bike.

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2 Responses to “Cycling the Gavia Pass – Mortirolo Pass loop, Italian Alps”

  1. What is the loop like riding in the opposite direction ? Having done Bormio to Mortirollo, was thing of Bormio, Gavia, then Mortirollo .

    • If you reverse the routes, I think the descents could be extremely difficult… pretty sure that’s why the Giro usually goes this way around.

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