Passo di Gavia


Gavia is a great massive crossing of the central alps. It is a very popular ride. It is also a crossing with a long history. But from the narrow road, that allows only small vehicles (no trucks allowed), you would never suspect the length of time, that people have crossed the main range of the alps here. Still  - the road remains very narrow. Today this ride would be even better if the road size could accommodate the crowds - or vice versa. - The practical solution is: just pick an unpopular day to ride a bike across it.

01.(380m,00.0km) START-END EAST ALT: Capo di Ponte
02.(694m,23.3km)route START-END EAST: stays right in Edolo
03.(1180m,32.2km)profile turns away from main road, into Ponte Di Legno
04.(1390m,43.0km)route rejoins SP300
05.(2621m,58.0km)TOP: Passo di Gavia
06.(1779m,73.1km)Santa Katarina
07.(1240m,84.2km)START-END WEST: Bormio and jct with road to Passo Stelvio
08.(860m,105.0km)Spondalo
09.(660m,110.3km) Grosio
10.(520m,120km) Lovero
11.(370m,134.3km) START-END WEST ALT: Tresenda

Approaches

From South.
The lower Camonica Valley, coming up from Lago d'Iseo has many different faces, and I bet that every bicycle tour creates a different experience. The reason are the many different faces of this urban environment, crowded together in the valley.

The valley becomes more visually interesting north of Breno. The towns up in the hills take on a more spectacular appearance. You could say that something like a "pass road" starts above Edolo and its crazy chaotic town center. The road still stays in the valley, but now it climbs smore steeply, towards Passo di Gavia and Passo del Tonale.

Following road signs for Passo Gavia leads around the town Ponte di Legno. This option follows up the first switchback toward Passo del Tonale, only to turn off onto the road to Passo Gavia and practically descent into Ponte di Legno again. The aproximately 100 meters of extra climbin do not make that much of a difference, but I probably had about 60 lbs in touring equipment attached to my mountain bike, and the extra climbing effort did make a difference. The profile above takes an earlier turnoff through the town Ponte di Legno.

This is the start of a massive climb, and the scenery is grandiose and spectacular, but it changes very little. Finally the road starts to leave the V shaped bottom of the valley and climbs up the western slope in long switchbacks. I found a nice bench to have lunch on after the first 1000 meters of climbing for the day.

The second thousand meters were  harder. The road becomes very narrow. This would be a great thing, if this were a side road that hardly anybody travels on. But on this sunny weekend there were 1000s of motorcycles from  Austria, Germany, Italy, not to mention Poland, a Chech Ferrari ralley, and various other motor enthusiast niche groups, that I could not identify, because I choose blissful ignorance about these things.

But in any case, there were still few enough cars and motorcycles, that it is possible to take pictures of the pass road without them, as is demonstrated here. The massive view behind changes slowly. With elevation gain the peaks behind the peaks rise in stature. Looking at this now on the map, it becomes clear that these massive ranges are elegant room dividers for Italy. Hard to believe that behind that vertical wall already lies Lago di Garda, three days worth of riding away for me (but I rode a few detours), and much lower in elevation than where I started today.

Meanwhile the road has become a little wider again and is now solidly above treeline. I was just thinking, how rare it is around here to find a pass road with no tunnels, no bridges, no civil engineering marvels, just grand scenery, when  ... I found myself at the entrance of a long tunnel. And to make me pay for my thoughts, the tunnel was uphill, and not very well lit. With all that weight on the bike I decided to walk the second half. I learned only late that apparently there is a very scenic rough detour around the 800m tunnel avaiable for bicycles.

Exiting the tunnel the view shed has not really changed. But there is a new vantage point on the road ahead, a last series of steep switchbacks, and somewhere above these snowfields and all these zigs and zags must lead to a crossing.

The top has a restaurant/albergo, and generally the motorcycles outnumber the bicycles parked there by a large amount.


From North.
(described downwards) On this side the road lingers a while on top, passes a crucifix in deep snow, together with parked vehicles whose occupants also want to postpone the downward journey a little longer. Initially the way down is in a straight line through the snowy slopes. The air on this side is much colder. The vegetation contains more northern evergreens. The air seems clearer - and the drop is not nearly as large. But there are high massive towers of mountains looming behind all this. The road quickly descends into Sta Catarina Valfurva, again partially on a fairly narrow road full of vehicles.

From here a wide road descends into Bormio, passing villages with monumental houses. The housing style shows the proximity of Switzerland, where intricately painted holy figures on fountains and in house alcoves are also common. Bormio is a fairly expensive ski resort in an exquisite mountain setting ( but a rock bottom bargain compared to nearby Switzerland ) with many historically fascinating bridges and town blocks.

Historical Notes:

Archeological finds on the north side of the pass indicate that this pass has been used in the stone age. During the late middle ages the Venetians built a better trail over the pass to thread a way between the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian empire on one side, and the Lombards on the other. At the end of the 16th century Venetian traffic increased drastically, and the name "Strada Imperiale" was used for the crossing. With the decline of the Venetians came also the decline in the popularity of this route. The road across the pass dates back to the time of WW1.

Cycling: When the Giro d'Italia first crossed this pass in 1960 it was still unpaved. It was scheduled to be on the route again the following year. But this was only the first of several occurrences when the crossing was canceled. More cancellations occured in 1984, 1988, and 2013. But the successful Giro crossings outnumber the cancellations: 96, 99, 04, 06, 08 and 10.

Five years after the death of Italian racer Fausto Coppi, the designation "Cima Coppi" was introduced to designate the highest point on each Giro d'Italia route. Between then and 2012 Passo Gavia was the third most common Cima Coppi, after Passo Stelvio and Passo d'Agnello.

The Tour de France also used this route. It is even the reason the road was paved in 1986, in order to facilitate the race.

A Day on a Tour:

COMPLETELY PAVED:

( < Colle San Zemo | Col du Mont Cenis > )
Passo di Gavia:
Malonno > Edolo > Ponte di Legon > Gasso di Gavia > Sta Catarina Valfurva > san Antonio > Bormio with several slow miles exploring around town: 52.0miles with 7445ft of climbing in 6:52hrs (Garmin etrex30: m4:14.6.7)

Dayrides between this and the next day with different start and end points are on pages:

1. from Bormio:
Stilfserjoch
Passo Di Foscagno

2. from Susa:
Colle delle Finestre
Strada dell'Assietta s(u)
Col de Montgenevre


 

 



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