Pike Talbert is a man that LOVES the Giro d’Italia, so you can imagine his dismay when the 2020 edition was cancelled due to COVID-19.

Rather than sitting around complaining, he decided to host his very own Giro d’Italia Virtuale on FulGaz. The following words, graphs, charts, and maps are all courtesy of Pike, it’s quite a read but an absolutely remarkable ride.

You can view the rides mentioned by clicking on the header of each stage. 

Thanks PIke!

Preface

On Saturday 9 May, the day that the real 2020 Giro d’Italia was supposed to start, I began riding a Giro Virtuale. The real Giro was of course postponed due to Covid-19. In order to honour it, as well as to remain personally healthy—physically and mentally— while sheltering at home in lockdown, I decided to create my own virtual Giro to have something to look forward to each day while in isolation.

Only a few friends and family were aware of this adventure, which was just that: an adventure into Smart Indoor Cycling Training via a virtual tour of Italy. Quite surprisingly (to me at least) several people asked how I was going. Was I preparing a daily Ride Report? A What I Did During My Pandemic Isolation Report.

Background

Some six weeks ago, Sydney, NSW, Australia went into lockdown. In order to get some daily exercise (in addition to the lovely walks I was taking along Rose Bay’s Promenade) I assembled my Smart Trainer in my garage. In so doing I discovered the benefits of workouts with Zwift.

Two weeks ago, I received a notification from Cycling Australia that they had partnered with FulGaz to bring real rides (Zwift is animated) to Smart Trainers. FulGaz is an App, which when combined with a Smart Trainer provides a relatively life-like ride usually up some Pass or Col or Mountain somewhere in Europe. Interestingly, there are 28 rides in Australia. Each ride is between 60 and 90 minutes long, which is about the length of time one can comfortably sit on a bike that is stationary.

The seeds of my Giro Virtuale were sown.

The design rules for the itinerary were simple and limited by the rides available on FulGaz. Luckily, there are a large number of said rides in Italy (52 by my count). And because the vast majority of these rides ascend something, Northern Italy is geographically where they are concentrated. Thus, I am not actually “touring” (or Giro-ing”) Italy so much as I am climbing parts of northern Italy: the Alps shared with France and Switzerland in the West, the Dolomites in the East and the SudTyrol in the Central North bordering Austria and Switzerland.
Naturally, I wanted to experience as many iconic climbs as possible. This of course, almost by definition, caused the focus of my Giro Virtuale to centre in the northern parts of the country.

An added dimension of the itinerary and the route’s design was, like a good Italian Opera, building to a crescendo in the third and final week. Week 1 would warm up the legs; week 2 would build on warmth; and Week 3 would be the denouement! (And hopefully not a death scene!)

With these general guidelines in place, I sourced 20 separate rides on FulGaz that became my stages, and by splicing (figuratively) the end of one long ride with the beginning of another, I added a 21st stage. I started on the northwestern part of the country with two rides that finished at or crossed the border into France.

There is a great deal of recent precedent for starting a Grand Tour in another country; France is a logical neighbor.
A brief word about the parcours generally. Each ride (or in my case stage) is classified by FulGaz as being Mountains (where the route is straight up with very little if any descending—there are 15 of these), Hilly (an ascent or two with an intermediate descent—4 of these) or Flat (no significant ups or downs—only 2). I have tried to put more mountains into the second and third weeks in order to increase the level of relative difficulty.
Additionally, I tried to concentrate rides into general areas in order to minimize virtual travel—one of the great advantages of the Tour Down Under being located in one city, Adelaide. Thus, the first week started in or near the Alps bordering on France, while the second week’s main focus was on the Dolomites. This week is in the Southern Tyrol region of the Alps. It has a particular focus on the Passo Stelvio, which I will climb three different days over three different routes: the first from Switzerland, the second from Bormio (Piedmont) and the final from Prato in the East, the most iconic of all Passo Stelvio’s ascents.

My Giro d’Italia Virtuale!

 

Stage 1: Col du Mont Cenis (13.2ks with an elevation gain of 490m)

My first stage on Saturday started in Italy and crossed into Rhone-Alps of France. There is a great deal of precedent for starting a Grand Tour, of which the Giro is one of three (France and Spain are the others) in another country. In fact, this year’s Giro was to have done so in Hungary.

This stage was not a particularly long or hard ride. The first stage of any Grand Tour is usually termed a Prologue—a cycling hors d’oeuvre—to sort out legs, nerves and equipment. Similarly, it was an opportunity to test a number of elements of my Giro Virtuale: the FulGaz protocols; my timing versus that of the cycling cinematographer who shot the video in real time; as well as other bells and whistles with respect to operating the Smart Trainer and synching it with FulGaz.

Everything worked a treat! The day was beautiful and sunny (both on the video and outside my garage) and the climb of the Col du Mont Cenis was 7.8ks at a gentle 5.5% gradient. There was a dam at the top along which I rode for the last 6ks. Historical Fact: many historians believe this is the pass that Hannibal used when he made the famous elephant crossing of the Alps.

Stage 2: Col dell’Agnello (20.3ks with an elevation gain of 1450m)

This parcours was more epic: both in terms of length (distance and time) as well as vertical elevation gain. The route had an average gradient of 7.1% and summited at the third-highest paved crossing of the Alps (el. 2744m). While the distance wasn’t overpowering, the gradient made for a long slog, which in real-time took the cycling cinematographer 1:45 hours to film (an average speed of 11.2kph).

From actual experience in the French Alps, my average moving speed ascending similar climbs was closer to 8kph and, due to the thinner air, I had to stop every 15 minutes to catch my breath. This implied that my “ride time” would be 2:30 plus stoppage (if any).

As an aside, you may be wondering what on earth one does for two and a half hours on a stationary bike. Good question! First of all, the scenery is quite spectacular. But there is only so much one can take in from a GoPro camera fixed securely to handlebars. The answer that I came up with was the Cycling Podcast. Music would have also been good but there was something comforting about three journalists talking about Giro’s past. In actual fact, it reminded me of listening to baseball games on the radio in my youth. Transcending!

Fortunately, as it was Mother’s Day, I chose to break up the ride with tea. Gluten homemade cakes hit the spot and provided the required refueling to see me through the second half.

Surprisingly, the ride took a little over two hours, in roughly equal, manageable parts, and very enjoyable. Oh, and the air density at sea level (as well as my current fitness) meant that, aside from tea, I didn’t have to stop to rest during the climb.

Stage 3: Passo Campolongo from Arabba (8.9ks with an elevation gain of 282m)

Overnight, I figuratively travelled across the northern part of the country from west to east to the Dolomites where the next seven stages will be clustered. Stage 3’s ride was from Arabba over the Passo Campolongo with a descent into the heart of the Sellaronda. At only 8.9ks and 266m of climbing, it is the second shortest ride in my Giro Virtuale and offered a welcome counterpoint to Sunday’s effort. I completed it in 32 minutes, 4 minutes slower than the video’s running time.

The next three rides will encompass a large portion of the Sellaronda: a circular ski route around the Sella massif—offering 26 km of downhill trails interconnected by lifts all of which can be skied in a single day.

A note about Stages 4 – 6

Before getting into the individual stages, I wanted to provide some background on the rides in the Dolomites and why I selected them. All of the days in the Dolomites, including yesterday’s Stage 3, form a part of the Maratona dles Dolomites, a cycling race about which I had heard a great deal. And four of the stages come together in the annual Sellaronda Bike Day held in June.

The Maratona is an annual, single-day bike road race—Gran fondo—that crests eight spectacularly beautiful mountain passes in the Dolomites, not far from Bolzano in Italy’s northeast. Thanks to the participation of 9.000 cyclists, the Maratona is one of the most important amateur cycling events in Europe. The Sellaronda attracts even more cyclists—24,000—a month earlier.

The inaugural edition of the Maratona was held in July 1987. Today, the race has three versions: a short course, the course of the Sellaronda (@55ks and 1780 vertical metres of climbing over 4 passes); a middle-distance course (@106ks with 3130 vertical metres over 6 passes) and the original Maratona (@138ks and 4230 vertical metres over 8 passes). 

The Maratona’s route is shown below. The sections circled are the portions I will ride. The names in red that identify the sections are the titles of each of the FulGaz videos, which can be found here.

Maratona Course & Elevation

The Maratona’s profile is shown above. Over the course of this week and next, I plan to ride 7 of the 8 passes (the starred climbs), which together represent 92% of the elevation gain and 62% of its distance.

The next three stages complete the passes (although not in order) of the Maratona’s Sellaronda’s parcours.

Stage 4: Passo Gardena from Corvara (15.2ks with 592m of elevation gain).

The Passo Gardena is the last of the Sellaronda’s 4 climbs (see profile at right). The route I will ride today, last used in the 2017 Giro, goes over the Passo Gardena (elevation of 2,136m), which connects Corvara in the Val Badia with Sëlva in the Val Gardena). My ride today includes a bit of fun and is a nod to a good friend and mentor, Chris Howard. Chris believes that the only reason to climb a mountain is to descend it. Therefore, on this ride I will go up (and down) the Passo Gardena.

The ride to the summit was 8.9ks at a 6.7% gradient, and I have to say that the scenery was the best I have yet experienced on FulGaz, particularly because of the weather (more on that later).

At the summit (thanks to the intrepid cyclist taking the video), I turned around and retraced the hairpins I had just ridden up, covering the last 6.3ks in 10 minutes (i.e., at 35kph)!

An aside: One of the followers of this Ride Report asked me earlier in the week about the weather I have encountered. Great question! The good news is: the weather in the comfort of my garage is never inclement. That said, most of the FulGaz videos are taken in relatively good weather conditions. Today’s weather (that is to say, the video’s) was brilliant—the best I have experienced to date—with an amazingly azzurro sky with not a cloud in sight!

Today’s ride reminded me of another fact of life in Alpine climes: no matter what the temperature is when you start, the ascent always creates warmth even in the thin air above 2,000m elevation. Unfortunately, the corollary is also always true: the combination of decent speeds, thin air and evaporating perspiration never fails to create an uncomfortable wind chill factor for which the only remedy is more clothes. Thanks to my garage, I did not have to layer up before descending from Passo Gardena’s 2121m elevation!!

Finally, while on the subject of thin air at altitude, I am very appreciative of the fact that my garage never leaves the oxygen-rich air at sea level. I have found that I do not have to constantly stop to catch my breath during an ascent as in real life.

Stage 5: Passo Sella from Selva di Gardena to Passo Pordoi (23.06ks with 1,099m of elevation gain).

The Passo Sella is at the heart of the Sella Massif and was in three parts today:

  1. The initial climb of 10.7ks (@ a 6.7% gradient) to the Torri del Sella (el. 2244m);
  2. An intermediate -7.6% descent for 5.4ks; followed by
  3. A 6.1ks (6.5%) ascent to the summit of Passo Pordoi (el. 2126m).

With a total time of 2:03:29, this stage was the longest thus far in my Giro d’Italia Virtuale. Fortunately, the scenery kept me entertained (so did two podcasts on the best of past Giro).

Stage 6: Passo Sella from Canazei (13.1ks with 757m of elevation gain, a gradient of 6.1%).

Today, like yesterday, I rode to the Summit of Passo Sella, only this time from the South—the proper Maratona direction. Although all of the ride was an ascent, it was in two noticeably different parts. The first was to the Canazei ski resort (where I turned yesterday to ascend the Passo Podoi). This section was 7.4ks at a quite reasonable 5.3% gradient (it does not form a part of the Maratona). However, the second part of the ascent—from the junction of the SS48 and the SS242—represents the Maratona’s proper climb to the Passo Sella’s summit. This 5.4ks segment of the climb is tougher: averaging a very respectable 7.6%. gradient. I pushed the final 3ks knowing that tomorrow is the first Rest Day.

Summary of the First Week

I rode 94ks and climbed nearly 4,600 meters. During the first 6 stages. Key metrics are shown below.

Although this is not a race, I have been keeping track of my time—more for reference than anything else. In this regard, I have two benchmarks by which to evaluate my ride times: (a) the FulGaz video’s running time (i.e., the time it took the cyclist/GoPro cinematographer to ride the route) and (b) the “expected” time suggested by Ride with GPS (where I’ve “mapped” each ride). Ride with GPS’s estimate uses an algorithm based on my historic database of rides with similar characteristics of length, verticality and difficulty.

The winner: FulGaz by a mile! But based on my historic metrics, my actual cycling time for the week (8:12 hours) was only 12 minutes more than the estimate by Ride with GPS.

I am pretty pleased with that.

First week is done and dusted; 2 more to go.

Next week includes the final three days in the Dolomites and the first two (of eight) days in the Southern Tyrolean Alps.

Week Two Overview

This week begins with the final three stages in the Dolomites and concludes with the first two stages (ridden as three) in the Southern Tyrolean Alps. While comprised of only five stages, this week clusters three of the Giro Virtuale longest rides in Stages 7, 10 and 11 (below).

Stage 7: Passo Valparota (known as the Fodom Loop is 35.8ks with an elevation gain of 1,075m)

Distance-wise, today’s stage is the longest of this Giro Virtuale. Starting at La Villa under sunny skies, the parcours is segmented into three roughly equal parts: the first and second of which are an ascent and descent of the Passo Falzarego (el. 2,209), concluding with a gradual rise into the town of Arabba.

With an estimated riding time of over 2 hours, this stage is also the longest time-wise, most of which would be spent climbing up the Falzarego’s 7.5% gradient. The scenery and cycling podcast kept my mind occupied while my legs numbingly spun a consistent cadence in the 80s. I mentioned that because a prior to Turbo Studio’s training, I would have used a much lower (and ultimately tiring) cadence in the low 60s.

My cadence was 0 (zilch, nada) on the descent, which led to an interesting outcome: I stiffened up. In retrospect, I should have kept spinning. Therefore, I found the ascent into Arabba to be even more challenging despite the fact it was only 1.5%. (It may have also been because I was in the big ring!)

Stage 8: Falzarego (19.1ks with an elevation gain of 1,050m).

Today’s ride ascends the side of Passo Falzarego that I descended yesterday. The weather was picture perfect and I was a little tired. Other than that, it was another great day in the Giro Virtuale. The gradient was the same 7.5% as yesterday’s ascent but seemed tougher. (It was forecast to take just under 2 hours and I completed it in just over, a 13 minute differential). Not my best stage but not my worst. Perhaps I was a little tired from the back-to-back 7.5% efforts, 44ks and over 2,000 vertical metres.

Stage 9: Passo di Giau (8.2ks with an elevation gain of 671m).

Passo di Giau (el. 2,236) is located about 10ks to the southeast as the crow flies. The route ascends from the northeast, and compared to the weekend’s rides, this was a bitesize 8ks in distance. That said it sported an 8.2% average gradient, the fourth toughest of the three weeks. Unlike the Falzarego, it was tough to tell what kind of day it was because most of the ascent was through a forest. The abundance of trees meant that there was also very little scenery. Thus, the podcast was a critical diversion.

The other interesting diversion was the cycling cinematographer. For the first time, the cyclist spoke. He—it was a male cyclist—carried on a conversation with every rider we passed (lots) or who passed us (only one).

We—it is funny how I now think of myself as riding with another cyclist to the summit—stopped at the top with a bunch of other cyclists who obviously knew him. Unfortunately, the video ended before congratulations were exchanged.

My time in the Dolomites is complete. It has been a fantastic experience, one I would very much like to replicate in person at some point. I understand from others, who have both been there with Trek Travel, that the area is one of their favourite cycling destinations anywhere. Who’s up for it?

Off to the Southern Tyrolean Alps… an 80k (1:15hr) drive northwest from La Villa to Vipiteno, the start of Stage 10. The first two of the next eight days will feature the second and third longest rides of my three weeks at 34ks and 29ks, respectively. The two rides are connected as the finish of the first one, San Leonardo in Passiria, is the start of the second.

San Leonardo in Passiria (i.e., the Passeier Valley) is a market town located in a valley basin at the parting of the roads to Passo Giovo and to Passo del Rombo on the border of the Gruppo di Tessa Nature Park.

Stage 10/11: Passo Giovo (also known as the Jaufenpass: 36.5ks with an elevation gain of 1,111m)

Today’s ride ascends the Passo Giovo (el. 2,094m), the northernmost pass in the Alps that is completely in Italy. The ascent is 16.5ks long at a gradient of 7.4%. The remaining 20ks (of the video) is a descent of –6.7% into San Leonardo. It was a sunny day with high clouds in the late morning when I got started. The change of location geographically was immediately noticeable in that the road and its surroundings looked better kept. The area definitely looked more affluent—or at least more money had been spent on infrastructure maintenance—than in the Dolomites.

The ascent’s gradient was consistent (aka relentless), and when the trees permitted, the vistas across the valley (the Val di Racines) were reminiscent of Austria: softly rolling, lushly green hills with and scattered farmhouses in the distance. It was certainly a stark contrast to the craggy Dolomites I just left.

The drop down from the summit of the pass into San Leonardo was fun, although I think a 17k descent in the drops is more exhilarating in person than on a stationary bike. Certainly, the 16 hairpins would have been, not to mention the 5.4k of relatively straight road. But then again it was a lot safer (no matter how fast I went)!

Stage 11/12: Passo del Rombo (also known as the Timmelsjoch: 29.4ks with an elevation gain of 2,027m).

Starting at San Leonardo, yesterday’s final destination, the parcours is one long ascent to the Passo del Rombo at the Austrian border (el. 2,509m). The overall climb has a gradient of 6.9%, and at 29.4ks, it is the third longest parcours in this Giro Virtuale. As such, I decided to break the climb into two sections (over two days): the first segment covered 10ks (to the town of Moso) and the second the remaining 19.4ks, both of which, it turns out, are the same 6.9% gradient.

First segment: the ascent to Moso was very pleasant on a wide road with tall trees on the right and a lovely valley on the left. Unusually, the gradient varied significantly over the 7ks from 2 – 3% to over 8+%. The little town of Moos extends nearly a kilometer on both sides of the road. Moos ended abruptly at a hairpin and the long slog to the Austrian border began. I will complete this tomorrow.

Second segment to the Austrian Border ~22ks with 1500m of vertical gain. The summit (el. 2474m) is the highpoint of the second week and third highest standalone climb of the tour. (As the Table below indicates, the Passo Umbrail is climbed as a part of the Stelvio from the Austrian side of the Alps.)

I am familiar with the look of the area because during the summers of 1968 and 1969, I ran a summer camp in Mayrhofen, Austria. As the crow flies, Mayrhofen is only 45ks northeast of the start of today’s ride at Tunes, Italy. Coincidentally, Stage 9 of the 2009 Giro finished in Mayrhofen having departed from Bressanone/Brixon, a mere 20ks from Tunes to the Southeast.

It was raining at the start of today’s ride, which marks the first time it has done so since the start two weeks ago.

As Alfred E. Newman famously quipped, “What, me worry?” I was in my garage: dryzabone. Within the first 30 minutes, the rain had passed, and the sun came out.

Like the first segment, the average gradient was very misleading, jumping from ±5% to well over 10% at times. Unlike previous climbs, there were a number of tunnels through which we passed, including a particularly long one near the border. The border crossing itself was open air.

The quality of the road surface and the stonework of the guard rails was of a very high standard. There was also more traffic on this route then on previous climbs in the Dolomites. Perhaps it was because of the border with Austria. Motorbikes outnumbered cars 20:1 (not that I was counting). We passed very few cyclists.

The Week in Review: Week 2—Completare!

Although I was a little apprehensive about the tick up in ks and time in the saddle going into the week, I found the combination of scenery, trying to keep my cadence and power as consistent as possible as well as the distraction of the Cycling Podcast, all helped to speed the passage of time. Next week will be even tougher still.

The algorithm that Ride with GPS uses to calculate estimated time is remarkably accurate. Were it not for one long stage, the Fodom Loop, with a long descent that I absolutely smashed, my riding time would probably only be a few minutes more than RWG’s estimate, amounting to only a few seconds per kilometre.

It is sobering to put the past two weeks into the perspective of a professional cyclist’s riding commitments:

  • The total distance covered during the first two weeks (a bit over 220ks over 11 stages) is equivalent to the average distance of 1.3 Stages at this year’s Tour de France; and
  • The total vertical metres of elevation gain over the two weeks (10,150m) is equivalent to the average metres climbed during 2.3 Mountain Stages in the final week of this year’s Tour de France.

Third & Final Week

My rides this week are grouped in an area to the southwest of last week.

As the map on the below illustrates, the week begins with a relatively short but ridiculously steep (10.8% average gradient) ascent of the Passo Mortirollo. The following stage climbs the Gampenpass to the northeast.

The final 4 stages involve the Stelvio to the west. The 14th starts from Prato allo Stelvio and climbs to the ski resort of Solda on the lower slopes of the Stelvio. The following day the parcours leaves from Switzerland and first ascends Passo Umbrail before summiting the Stelvio for the first time. The penultimate day is an ascent from Bormio to the South. And on the final day in the Alps, I climb the most picturesque route from Prato, which because of its length (second longest of the three weeks) and altitude gain (the most of the three weeks) is the Giro d’Italia Virtuale’s Cima Coppi.

A quick word about the Cima Coppi. Named in honour of Fausto Coppi, it was first awarded in 1965 (the Stelvio) to the first cyclist over the tallest climb in the Giro. Since then, the designation has been given to 18 different climbs. Passo Pordoi holds the record for the most appearances, while the Stelvio is a close second. 

My Giro Virtuale will climb a third of the passes representing 61% of the appearances.

Stage 13: Passo Mortirolo – 12.1ks with an elevation gain of 1303m)

FulGaz describes this as “one of the hardest climbs there is’. It is around 11.5ks and averages nearly 11% to the 1,852m summit. The maximum gradient is 18%.” Well, they were accurate with that description.

The FulGaz description goes on to say that the route “started life as a goat track, and it’s not much wider now.” That is also accurate.

Maybe I am getting fitter or jaundiced but I actually enjoyed the climb. Within only a few hundred metres of starting out there was a hairpin with a sign that said “31”. I initially thought this was the route number of the road. However, it didn’t take me long to figure out that the hairpins were numbered. I had 30 to go. Because these indications of progress came along every 400 metres or so, there was a regular sense of movement towards the summit.

The road was lined with trees with relatively few vistas. The ambiance was quite rustic, dotted with farmhouses. The road itself was not in great shape, gravel-strewn sections were everywhere. Fortunately, there were very few cars, motorcycles or cyclists. Interestingly, I came across one walker—the first one I’d encountered so far.

Unfortunately, the summit was pretty non-descript. Instead of a collection of cyclists congregating at the top celebrating the ascent, there was a gaggle of bikies.

Stage 14: Gampenpass (an 18.7k climb with an elevation gain of 1195m). The Gampenpass, German for the Passo delle Palade, as it is known in Italian (el. 1,518 m), is a high mountain pass in the South Tyrol, northern Italy. It connects the Adige valley and the Non Valley. The pass is open year-round. The pass road has a maximum gradient of 9%.

Did you know…

In case you have been wondering why some of the FulGaz routes have Italian names and others German, it is because until 1918 the area of Southern Tyrol was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The Allies promised the area to Italy in the Treaty of London of 1915 as an incentive to enter the war on their side. Occupied by Italy at the end of the war, it was annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1919. The province as it exists today was created in 1926 after an administrative reorganisation of the Kingdom of Italy.

Reflecting its Austro-Hungarian lineage, 62.3% of the population speaks German; 23.4% Italian, mainly in and around the two largest cities (Bolzano and Merano); 4.1% speak Ladin (a Rhaeto-Romance language); and 10.2% speak another first language (mainly recent immigrants).

Today, South Tyrol (also known as Alto Adife in Italian and Sudtyrol in German) is one of the two that make up the autonomous region of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. Located in the northernmost part of the country, it is Italy’s second largest, and is bordered by Austria to the east and north, and by the Swiss canton of Graubünden to the west. The Italian provinces of Belluno, Trentino, and Sondrio border to the southeast, south, and southwest, respectively.

As I have been experiencing, the province’s landscape is entirely located in the Alps, therefore dominated by mountains. The highest peak is the Ortler (3,905 m) in the far west. Even more famous are the craggy peaks of the Dolomites in the eastern part of the region.

The province is granted a considerable level of self-government, consisting of a large range of exclusive legislative and executive powers and a fiscal regime that allows it to retain a 90% of revenue, while remaining a net contributor to the national budget As of 2016, South Tyrol is the wealthiest province in Italy and among the wealthiest in the European Union.

In the wider context of the European Union, the province is one of the three members of the Euroregion of Tyrol-South Tyrol-Trentino, which corresponds almost exactly to the historical region of Tyrol. The other members are Tyrol state in Austria, to the north and east, and the Italian Autonomous province of Trento to the South.

As for my ride, it was a tough day. Nothing felt right; everything was out of synch. I am led to believe that every rider in every Grand Tour experiences an off day. Mine was today. The fact that it was a long one didn’t help. While not as steep as yesterday, its length made it feel more difficult.

That said, the road itself was in very good nick and appeared to be used as a main thoroughfare in the region. This was particularly true in the final two thirds of the ride when the road’s width and construction certainly reflected the province’s retained wealth. Traffic was also quite heavy, including several large 18-wheelers, the first I’ve seen on FulGaz outside of the starting towns.

All in all, a stage I am glad to have behind me.

As a footnote to today’s ride, the weather in Alto Adige was a “hot summer day” according to FulGaz, and certainly the bright blue sky supported that description. However, the weather outside my garage was anything but as Sydney experienced a once-in-a-decade storm with wind gusts >100kph, ten metre swells and a windchill-adjusted temperature in the low single digits. For the first time I kept the garage door down for protection and rode in the dark.

Stage 15: Prato allo Stelvio to Santa Maria (25.4ks with an elevation gain of only 529m).

This is a late addition to my Giro Virtuale, largely because I have only just found it on FulGaz, in the Hilly section. I have inserted it for several reasons. Selfishly, after yesterday, I need a transition day. And given its starting and finishing towns, it is a perfect segue to the Stelvio tryptic.

Prato allo Stelvio (German: Prad am Stilfser Joch) is a 1 hour drive due west from Nalles, yesterday’s starting point. The commune of Prato is at the beginning of one of the three routes to the Summit of Passo Stelvio, all three of which are on the menu over the next 5 days. Today’s ride however is a relatively flat, counter-clockwise semicircle to Santa Maria in Switzerland. Santa Maria is at the base of the northern approach to the Stelvio (via Switzerland) by way of the intermediate Passo Umbrail. The shortest of the three ascents, I will climb it tomorrow. Despite being the shortest, it is the hardest on a combination of metrics (see table below).

The first part of the ride was on a narrow bike track that ran alongside a train track. I was listening to a Cycling Podcast about the 2014 Giro TTT won by Orica-Greenedge, and as the tension in the podcast built, I found myself going faster and faster through narrower and narrower spaces.

It was crazy! As I turned west into the Val Mustair and entered Switzerland, the gradient ticked up a bit. Still, in the big ring, I was having a better day than yesterday, for sure. While the weather in the video was excellent, my garage door remained shut. Another awful Sydney afternoon.

Stage 16: Santa Maria (Switzerland) to Passo dello Stelvio via Passo Umbrail (15.9ks with 1273m elevation gain)

After spending the night in Santa Maria, Switzerland (not really), I was heading south and up to the summit of the Passo dello Stelvio. Along the way, I would crest the Passo Umbrail (el. 2501m).

The Passo Umbrail is on the Swiss-Italian border connecting Santa Maria in the Val Mustair with Bormio in the Adda valley. On the Italian side of the border, it also connects to the Stelvio. The Passo Umbrail, named after the Piz Umbrail, a nearby mountain peak to the west, is the highest paved road in Switzerland. Interestingly, the last unpaved section was paved prior to the 2017 Giro d’Italia’s Stage 16 from Rovetta to Bormio.

Another beautiful day in the Sudtyrol with clear blue skies and no wind. At least I couldn’t feel any wind because, once again, I was in the comfort of my garage while outside Sydney was experiencing lashing rain and gale force winds. The ascent to Passo Umbrail represented the first 12.9ks of today’s climb. It had an average gradient of 8.5% and was not what I expected. The steepest part was at the beginning with several ks up foothills. There were constant hairpins and I passed a lot of cyclists, both of which made the time pass quite quickly.

3.5ks into the grind, the road seemed to straighten and climb up through a valley rather than the sides of hills. Everything about the ascent was clearly laid out in front of me.

Towards the rim of the valley, there was a quick descent of a couple of hundred metres and a junction with another road. After the gradient kicked up again, I realised I had just passed over the Passo Umbrail even though I was still surrounded by mountain walls.

The ascent continued for another 3.0ks when suddenly, just before the apparent summit, the video stopped, congratulating me for completing the climb to the Stelvio summit. I don’t think I was actually at the Passo dello Stelvio, but after 2 hours of climbing it was close enough for government work. I called it a day.

Today was a good day on the bike; one of my best (of this Giro) I think. I hope it continues tomorrow when I tackle the slightly longer, albeit less steep, ascent from Bormio.

Stage 17: Passo Stelvio from Bormio (20.8ks with an elevation gain of 1478m)

Bormio is a town (and comune) located in Lombardy region of the Alps in northern Italy. The centre of the upper Valtellina valley, it is a popular winter sports resort. Bormio is a regular stop on the World Cup circuit, usually with a men’s downhill in late December. The Pista Stelvio, named after Stelvio Pass, is one of the most challenging downhill courses in the world; it is second-longest on the World Cup circuit, behind only the Lauberhorn in Wengen, Switzerland.

Another beautiful day in paradise as I set off from Bormio. (It is also a beautiful day in Sydney so for the first time in four days my garage door is open to the outside world.) The departure from Bormio is not dissimilar from many of the other departure towns on this Giro. Pull out into a bit of city traffic, take a flat road out of town for 500 metres, take a turn (right or left) and start heading up. The road was well-paved and relatively wide as the Bormio crossing of Stelvio is a relatively major thoroughfare.

Not unlike yesterday, the first bit of the ascent was up some small foothills via several switchbacks. Then onto a plateau for a while until another set of switchbacks to a major high-country valley. This led via a long relatively straight road to the Passo Umbrail through which I had passed yesterday to the final slog to Passo dello Stelvio, the summit of which this video captured.

I was struck visually at the summit that it was not unlike the top of a ski slope. However, instead of skiers there were cyclists. But there was still the exhilaration of being at the top of the world. I would be taking an imaginary descent to Prato allo Stelvio for the night before two final ascents from that side—the most picturesque side—of the Stelvio.

Today was the longest day in the saddle of my Giro Virtuale.

Stage 18: Prato allo Stelvio to Solda (23.2ks with an elevation gain of 1063m).

This stage brings me full circle to the start of Stage 14, only instead of heading to Switzerland, I am heading back up the Stelvio’s eastern side to the ski station of Solda (el. 1906m). In the middle of the parcours, there is a brief detour to the small village of the same name as the Pass.

The start of this ride was pretty nondescript. That said it was a beautiful day with lots of sun and high, billowy clouds in bright blue sky. The road was flanked by tall trees, a number of little villages and a ±6% gradient. Just beyond 6.3ks, we (my GoPro-cyclist and I) came to the small town of Gomagoi and the turnoff to the village of Stelvio, 2.5ks “up” to the right. After crossing a little bridge, we made an abrupt U-turn and headed back (mostly down) to the main road, which we crossed to another little (narrow) road to the ski resort of Solda.

The climb to Solda, named after the river next to which we cycled, was uneventful. The distant mountains at the valley’s end, creating what would be known in Westerns as a box-canyon, were impressive. The little town of Solda was very picturesque with a surprising number of people milling about. Some were cyclists; others were hikers with their tall, cross-country style ski poles.

I was definitely feeling the effects of two ascents of the Stelvio in the past two days, but finished, pleasingly, ahead of my forecasted time. Perhaps I am getting fitter. Hope so; I have the Queen stage still to go!

Stage 19: Prato allo Stelvio to Passo dello Stelvio (24.9ks with an elevation gain of 1785m)

The Queen Stage; the Granddaddy of them all; the Big Kahuna!

Passo dello Stelvio is one of the most iconic cycling climbs in the world. The ascent from Prato is the classic side, with incredible hairpins (see below) and spectacular views back down the valley!

The route to the summit from Prato allo Stelvio is the longest at 24.7ks of the three to the summit of Passo dello Stelvio. It also has the greatest amount of elevation gain. While the overall gradient is 7.4%, the parcours is a tale of two halves. The first 11ks a leg-warming 6.5%, while the last 13ks is a leg-burning 8.8%.

The FulGaz cycling cinematographer (Klaus Herrig who incidentally also GoPro-ed the previous three stages) completed the climb in 1:50 hours—a speed of 13.4kph. Ride with GPS is estimating it will take me another hour (or 8.6kph). Aaaaargh!!

I set off from Prato early in the morning. The rising sun was only just hitting the tops of the mountains to the West, the direction I was heading on this my penultimate stage and last in the Tyrol. After retracing the first 6.3ks of yesterday’s stage, I continued to ascend the 48 hairpins to the summit. For whatever reason (Sunday or a holiday), the traffic was unusually light: my cinematographer cyclist passed only a handful of fellow cyclists climbing Passo Stelvio from this direction.

I felt I was on a good day today, which I hope was a reflection of the cycling fitness I had gained over the past three weeks. The 2:26 hours it took me to reach the summit passed by relatively quickly, once again aided by the Stage 20 edition of Cycling Podcast’s Giro, which like mine was on its next to last day.

Just before the 30th hairpin, the sight of the Summit (and the circuitous leading to it almost straight up the Stelvio’s flank) unfolded before me. It was an impressive sight. Unfortunately, another 9ks (roughly an hour) remained to be ridden.

Rounding the 48th and last hairpin, I was 16 minutes ahead of Ride with GPS’s estimate. The summit appeared from below to be covered in clouds but as I neared it, I realised it was an illusion. Instead the summit was bathed in sunshine with a background of a very deep blue sky. Unfortunately, the cloud did prevent me from “looking back down the valley on all of the hairpins I had just completed”. C’est la vie! I had something better to look forward to: Nick was preparing a home-made lunch of linguini vongole. Delizioso!

Tomorrow will be the last day of my Giro Virtuale. Instead, on what would have been the final Stage of the 2020 Giro d’Italia—an individual TT in Milan—I will ride my own TT along the shore of Lake Como.

Stage 20: Como to Bellagio (29.3ks with an elevation gain of 335m)

Starting in the city centre, today’s parcours travels along the eastern shore of Lake Como from Como through Torno (at 6.6ks), Nesso (16.5ks) and Lezzeno (21.3ks) before finally arriving at Bellagio, the beautiful town overlooking the juncture of Lakes Como and Lecco in the heart of Lombardy.

It is a flat course with only one climb of 1.9ks (at an average gradient of 5.2%) early in the parcours just after Torno. The day was sunny on what must have been a weekday because the traffic was heavy. I was listening to a podcast that was discussing Chris Froome’s ~80k solo break Stage 19 to win the 2018 Giro. Chris spoke about treating it as nothing more than a long TT. I was inspired…and rode the 29ks to Bellagio as my own Giro-ending TT.

Stage 21: Cernobbio to Candenabbio (25.4ks with an elevation gain of 404m)

This is the sister ride to yesterday’s; same basic ride but on the western shore of Lake Como. The start is Cernobbio, 2ks northwest of Como on the Swiss border, it is the home to the well-known Villa d’Este. The ride’s finish is at Canenabbio, just across the lake from Bellagio. In between is a route that is almost identical to yesterday’s with one exception: the route took me by Villa Oleandra in Laglio, the summer home of George and Amal Clooney. Unfortunately, there was no sighting of George, his motorbike or Amal.

Another beautiful day in Paradise. Today’s TT felt better than yesterday’s, and I clocked nearly 9 minutes faster than RWG’s expectation. What a way to end!

Giro Virtuale concluso e archiviato!! Ciao!!

Bring on the Tour de France Virtuel!!