Passo dello Spluga (2115m), Passo del San Bernadino (2066m)
After a long descent leading into Chiavenna the previous day I awoke feeling quite a bit more human than I had done most mornings. Although when I say that, it still wasn’t enough to get me to the breakfast table on time; more so an acceptance of the brutality I was putting my body through and a slight passing thought of “these stairs don’t hurt as much as yesterdays stairs”.
Three helpings of cornflakes and toast later I was actually feeling quite chirpy. That was until Phil stopped me in my tracks with an rather ominous “has anyone told Billy how we start the day?”. In short, a 32km climb, leading up to and including the Passo dello Spluga (2115m) which would take us just over the border from Italy into Switzerland. At this point the optimism was fading somewhat, coupled with a strong feeling that I probably could have eaten more cornflakes.
Luckily it was a fair bit cooler setting off that morning, and a generous section of shade on the first portion of the climb made it quite enjoyable. Even a puncture from Justin didn’t ruin the mood as his tubeless setup worked its magic once more, and we returned to the remaining two hours of climbing in no time. As it turns out I had eaten enough cornflakes (either that or I had finally become numb to the pain!) and after thirty minutes I settled into a rhythm, effortlessly cruising up the hairpins and through the short tunnels that frequented the middle section of the climb. The rest of the climb seemed to fly by in an almost dream like state, it was genuinely one of the highlights of the holiday for me. I arrived at the top of the Passo dello Spluga in what felt like ten minutes, grinning from ear to ear, and wondering how on earth a 32km pass had felt as easy as a Saturday spin. A quick look down onto the Swiss side and I was met with a beautiful snaking descent, choc full of all the car-less hairpins a man could wish for. The views were almost stereotypically Swiss, I felt like a character in a postcard, weaving down the mountain to the tune of cowbells in the distance.
As we regrouped at the bottom of the descent we all stared in amazement at the receipt from the coffees and coke we’d just consumed. Needless to say everyone was well in favour of a supermarket lunch. At this point I was quite hungry, and as was the theme for the holiday, stuffed my face with all the food I could manage. This time though a whole bar of rich Swiss chocolate left me feeling pretty queasy and the dreamlike effortless of the morning had certainly evaporated.
The sun shone hot once more as we set off in search of the last proper climb of the day: Passo del San Bernadino (2066m). However reaching it wasn’t quite as simple as we might have thought. The route we had planned was thwarted by a large gravel section – no problem, we’ve done a few of these so far, just a bit of extra bike handling practice. But unfortunately the gravel path was then thwarted by a digger and an angry Swiss man who shouted about signs we didn’t see. No way around. We turned around, dismounted, and clambered down over the railings onto an uncomfortably fast road. A petrifying two minutes later we escaped unscathed, with only one furious lorry driver and a new pair of bib shorts for Jos.
The Passo del San Bernadino wasn’t pleasant for me, even after the chocolate had digested. I trudged up it at a measly pace and almost wept with elation when I realised I had reached the top. Apparently I had misheard the length and it was only about half the distance I thought it was. A relief to put it lightly.
A super fast 60km descent remained and it was a real joy after that last climb, although the latter 20km was pretty hard work into a real killer headwind – even a downhill one. As we eventually cruised into Biasca it began to rain, but with 125km, two more mountains, and six days riding in the legs, I’m pretty certain in saying that everyone appreciated it.
Link to Justin's Strava...