A Smart Decision


I had a great week in Switzerland with the weather. I could not ask for more. Well, yes I could. I could ask for two. But I would not get it.

As I prepared to go to Finland on Saturday, Corinne Kolb said to me that it looks like the weather is going to be bad all week. From then I kept an eye on the weather in Bormio, Italy.

My plan was to rent a car and drive to Bormio, stopping in Liechtenstein along the way. I would ride Stelvio Pass from both sides, perhaps one of the most ambitious days on my bike – ever. But the forecast continued to get worse. Daily highs for the town of Bormio were in the 50s with 100% chance of rain.

I’ve driven to New Hampshire where the Mount Washington Auto Road Hillclimb was canceled – twice – because of bad, i.e., dangerous weather. And I viewed going to Bormio with the same risk. The weather on top of the mountain could be 10-20 degrees colder with freezing rain or snow.

When I went with Trek Travel, I at least had a SAG vehicle and extra clothes at the top for crappy weather. This would simply be me all alone against the elements.

I planned to stay two nights plus had the expense of renting a car and gas. I really couldn’t justify the cost of going to Bormio to watch rain. It was a tough decision but I know it was the right one. I decided to return home instead.

My biological cycling clock is ticking. I don’t know if in five years I could get up Stelvio Pass. Or even one. I would like to one more time but not at the risk of death (and one pass over, Mortirolo, is the Mountain of Death). The only time I descended Stelvio I almost crashed head on into a car. It simply wasn’t worth the risk.

And if there was any question I made the right decision, Will Swetnam send me a photo from Stelvio Pass. I made a smart decision.

Stelvio Pass on June 30, 2017

Stelvio – I am hoping I will see you again. In decent weather.


Torri di Fraele


Nice ride. Easy day. We all rolled out at 9:00 a.m. We began some small climbing (3-4% is almost a flat road here) to the town of Prado. Turning in town, we began a pretty steep little climb. This climb would take us to the main road, which was basically wide enough for one and one half cars. Luckily, there were few cars on this road because it only leads up to a dead end.

Torri di Fraele

The climb was to Torri di Fraele, towers built in 1391 (how do they really know?) which protected Bormio from invasion. Once we turned onto the real climb, there were 17 switchbacks to the top. Unlike the Stelvio, none were numbered or signed so we never knew our progress.


At the top of the climb

Reaching the top I went out to the towers and admired the view. With rain in the forecast, we noticed the weather seemed much cooler and took a main road back down, albeit a bit shorter, straighter, and probably steeper.


The big discussion last night was who wanted to ride back up Stelvio today. Two of our group would.

Gary Zentmeyer, James Shanahan, Don Sheppard

I had thought climbing Stelvio after this ride but with a big climb tomorrow and no support today for a Stelvio ride, decided against it. It was a wise decision. Both riders froze today on their descent. They had to be helped out of their clothes they were so cold.

Nick Steel, Barry

I simply did a bit of exploring in town before shutting it down for the day. Neat little town.

Stelvio Pass


I will claim ignorance. As a cycling fan, I am embarrassed. Or I should be embarrassed. I knew nothing about the Stelvio.

Caitlin Steele, Sonja Schmidt

It was just a few weeks ago during the Giro d’Italia that the Stelvio pass made cycling news for days. The weather was so bad that the Giro either did or did not tell the teams that the descent would be neutralized for safety. The leaders flew down it, everyone else went reasonably and lost chunks of time.


Today, we would climb the famed passo Stelvio. And I knew nothing about it.

James Shanahan

We left the hotel in Moena by shuttle and drove a couple of hours to Prato. Once there, we offloaded at a hotel by an intersection of the roads. Sure hope Trek Travel had permission because we took over all the rest rooms for changing.

Hotel near Prato where we changed clothes

We rolled at out an intersection and I went first this time. I had no intention of being first up the climb and within one hundred meters I pulled over as my spokes were hitting the speed sensor on the fork. Everyone rolled by me as I readjusted the sensor and then rode tempo to catch the back of the group, but only after also adjusting the bike pump which was being hit by the crank.

The first four kilometers were pretty flat or trending up at one or two percent. Once at the base of the pass the road turned up in a beautiful forest with no idea why lies ahead. It was warm and I was sweating pretty heavily.

Hotel on the lower slopes of Stelvio

Having been last I caught and rode with Caitlin Steele and Colin Giffney. I have ridden with them quite a bit this week. We chatted without hardly noticing the steepness of the road in the forest. When we went by the Trek Travel guides they were astounded that we were just chatting away. We were supposed to be out of breath.

L-R: Caitlin Steel, Collin Giffney, Barry Sherry

Colin and Caitlyn stopped at a planned water/rest stop and I rode ahead, passing Bud Hoffacker and Anne Marie Redmond and then caught Chris and Jim Ashton. I’ve ridden with Chris and Jim quite a bit this week as well.

Near the top of the forest one sees the first sign – Tornanti 48. That is turn or switchback number 48. Only 47 to go. It would be another kilometer before the next turn.


Eventually we left the forest and could see nothing but road and hairpin curves ahead. I tried not to look for the summit but could not help it. It was so beautiful.

Jim and I started using the switchback numbers to talk about what we were doing and where we were living at that age. It made the time go by real fast. We were joined for a while by James Shanahan, our Trek Travel guide and Chris and he rode about 50 meters ahead while Jim and I talked.

Chris and Jim Ashton

Nearing the top we watched two snow plows coming down the road. This morning the road up here was snow covered. But with our two hour shuttle followed by a two hour climb, the road was clear although still wet in a lot of places.

At Turn 3 James stayed behind watching for other riders coming up the road. Chris, Jim and I rode ahead until Turn 1 when I pulled over and made 10 or 12 beautifully packed snowballs. The snow was the perfect consistency for this purpose. I lofted one down two switchbacks below and it landed near James’ feet. Then another. And another. He looked up and thought I was trying to throw snowballs all around him. I wasn’t. I was trying to hit him but my throws sucked.

L-R: Jim Ashton, Barry Sherry, James Shanahan

One more switchback and I reached the top. It was cold although the Trek Travel van was parked just before the summit and it seemed to be 10 degrees (5.5 C) warmer on this side than at the top or going over the other side.


Lunch was on our own at the top. Although there were two restaurants which offered warm seating inside, James recommended “Richard,” an Austrian who sets up a grill and cooks bratwurst. That was good enough for me.

Richard’s Bratwurst

Haven ridden up the pass with Chris and Jim, we descended together. On this side there were tunnels. In fact Garmin lost its satellite connection for a while as we zipped in and out of the tunnels.

Both Chris and Jim are excellent descenders and I fell in behind Chris’ line. We were flying as we entered a tunnel. It was dark and featured a sharp right-hander followed by a left hand curve at the exit. The eyes did not adjust from snow covered mountains to dark (with sunglasses on) instantly.

Looking towards Bormio

I followed Chris’ flashing rear light as we went wide in the turn. It was wet in the tunnel with snow melt. Chris went wide so I did too. As he recovered and went back to the right side of the road I was still over the center line when a car, with no lights, appeared in front of me. I touched the rear brakes and my biked fishtailed right in front of the car. I adjusted and brought the bike back under control and missed a head on collision by six inches or so. We did not enter a tunnel with speed after that. Chris apologized profusely.

Jim and Chris Ashton

There are a number of switchbacks on the Bormio side of the mountain as well although not 48 of them (I think there are 40). One of them, as I would discover later, passed within 10 meters of Switzerland and there is a road at another switchback that goes to Switzerland. The border there was about 100 meters away.

We didn’t know to stop to visit Switzerland but for me it was a moot point as I will be in Switzerland later in the week. We followed the road to Bormio then checked into out hotel for the night.

Just down from passo Stelvio on the Bormio side

Stelvio Pass is the highest paved pass in Italy. It is a classic climb that, quite frankly, wasn’t that hard. Of course, I wasn’t racing. But at no point did I think of it as too hard or had to fight myself to keep going. I doubt I get to ride this again but I would love to. It is a great one.