Passo del Mortirolo


The 12.5-kilometre, 10.5 per cent leg-breaker of the Passo dello Mortirolo is not a particularly pretty climb, nor historically important and it is not dotted with interesting artefacts or landmarks.

What it is though is excruciatingly hard.

Created in an era when the cycling grand tours were locked in an arms race to design the hardest climbs possible, the Mortirolo road linking Mazzo di Valtellina with Monno and the Val Camonica began life as a goat track and only in 1990 was unleashed on the professional riders in the Giro d’Italia. It now is known all over the world as one of the hardest summits to reach and hence one of the most rewarding in cycling.

The Climb in Detail



“On the hardest parts, I was hurting, really hurting. The Mortirolo is the hardest climb I've ever ridden.” - Lance Armstrong

 

The Ascents

The road linking Mazzo di Valtellina with Monno and the Val Camonica began life as a goat track and today it retains roughly the same dimensions, only with a much smoother surface. Almost entirely submerged in dense woods, noodling tortuously through 39 hairpins. The section between San Matè at kilometre three and just beyond Piaz de l'Acqua at kilometre eight, in particular, is a thankless, airless grind with a gradient constantly above ten per cent. Only at the end of this steep section does the forest give way to the first decent views of the Valtellina.

 

Il Pirata

The legend of Marco Pantani was truly born on the climb to the summit of the Mortirolo in 1994. Now a sculpture, built in 2006, sits high on a walled embankment depicting the Italian climber in full flight on a steep shard of mountain road resembling the attack unleashed on Miguel Indurain in the now infamous stage of the 1994 Giro d’Italia. Such is Pantani’s connection with the climb that a special award, the Cima Pantani or Pantani Summit prize is now awarded to the first rider over the Mortirolo whenever it features in the Giro.

It’s place at the Giro d’Italia

The Mortirolo has only a short affinity with Italy’s grandest bike race but its notoriety was quickly created from the 1994 Giro d’Italia where it did more than just decide the Giro, it left a legacy for the Italian sporting public to cherish. On stage 14 of the Giro, a waifish, balding rookie from the Adriatic coast, Marco Pantani, stunned the Giro peloton and the watching public by winning on the longest and most mountainous day of the race so far in Merano. Beginner’s luck, muttered the experts – until the next day, when with almost balletic grace, Pantani shimmered away from champion-elect Evgeny Berzin and Tour de France king Miguel Indurain on the Mortirolo. Pantani duly won his second straight stage in Aprica, sending the fans and TV commentators into raptures.


"It's savage, f**king savage - unbelievably steep and it just goes on and on. If you asked me for three words to sum it up, i'd say steep, long and sick!" - Mark Cavendish 

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