A bit like the routes up Monte Zoncolan - from Sutrio and Priola - the roads from the remaining two climbs intersect just a few kilometres from the summit. But, even at an average of just below 9%, it’s not the lung-busting curse of double-figure gradients and 22% maximums, that even the Giro d’ Italia tends to avoid.
To be honest, there’s not much I remember about my climb up Mortirolo from Mazzo, save for the 27 times I raised my head to count each of the hairpins I passed. While only a short distance to get around, how I longed for the slightly less steep gradient afforded by each one.
At Piaz, around what is presumably the steepest bend on the entire climb, is a striking monument to Italian cycling legend, Marco Pantani. The sculpture, standing high above on a wall, depicts the champion rider’s dynamic ascent up the pass on his way to winning stage 15 in the 1994 Giro d’ Italia.
|One of the 27 hairpins on the way up Mortirollo, from Mazzo.|
Despite its superior gradient and patriotic following along its steep slopes during the Giro d’ Italia, Mortirolo doesn’t otherwise appear to command the same popularity as either Gavia or Stelvio. Judging from our own brief experiences, cyclists and tourists alike come to the Alpine cousins in their droves; when of course, the fickle weather permits them to. That’s not to say we didn’t enjoy our time at Mortirolo’s summit. Its sense of solitude and natural beauty left us with the distinct feeling that it’s a far purer climb, and place to be, than many of its commercial counterparts.
|The statue of Italian cycling legend, Marco Pantani|
on the steepest of hairpins up Mortirolo.
On yet another narrow road, I’d hardly seen a car along more than 60 kilometres of bitumen. That was until half way up the climb, when I encountered a large truck coming the other way. With size and gravity on his side, the driver didn’t seem too concerned about the limited space there was for each vehicle – his truck and me on my bike – to pass each other safely. Travelling at my seven kilometre per hour speed up what felt like a 16% gradient, I began nodding my head in appreciation that he, though still at least 20 metres away, would slow down and keep as much to the right side of the road as humanly possible. With a hope and a prayer we parted company with a just sliver between us. Fortunately, that was the last moving object I encountered until I reached the far busier SS42, which carried me back to our last night’s stay in Temù.
“But Lore, what about Meat Loaf ’s song, Two Out’a Three Ain’t Bad?” I retorted, trying to put a positive spin on my rapidly declining day.
“Yeah, but when’s the last time he made a hit record?” Lore deadpanned.
I don’t remember much more of the conversation, only that I wished I’d rung someone else . . . in fact, anybody else. Climbing Ventoux was meant to be one of the highlights, if not “the” highlight of the trip. It took me the next five weeks to get Lore’s words out of my mind. Bonnie Tyler was gone, while Meat Loaf was now indelibly etched in my troubled psyche.
My negative thoughts of Ventoux have all but disappeared, only to be replaced by bloody 'Tovo', the 4th way up Mortirolo's wonderful mountain pass! But who knows, like its French counterpart from Provence, I might just get back there one day.
Books by Mark Krieger:
‘High Spain Drifter’ is available on Amazon , Barnes and Noble, Booktopia and other online bookstores.
‘Lycra, Lattes and the Long Way Round’ is available on Amazon, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Kobo Books
Both books are also available at local bookshops on the Mornington Peninsula: @ Rosebud Bookbarn and @ La Brocante