Wednesday 27 June 2012

The Hills are Alive in Tirano

I finally made it to the proper high mountains. It took a while coming, but it has happened now - and I'm glad to have overcome that very big hurdle! Just because you're in Italy does not mean that you are always riding up the legendary climbs featured in the Giro d'Italia - far from it! Milan sits in a plain and for about 30 miles in each direction there is barely a ramp in the road - a bit like the Vale of York. The local cyclists around here ride the flat lanes and canal paths between Milan and Pavia where there are only gentle climbs. The cycling is far from gentle though, as the folks are damn quick sprinters from what I can see. There is one hill here in Milan - basically a rubbish dump that has been reclaimed to look like natural land - how pretty! I know a girl whose hill training consists of just running/cycling up and down that hill for about 3 hours - what fun!
If you go further out, towards Bergamo and the lakes (Como/Lecco/Maggiore) you are in the Brianza area which then gets hilly. At that point you are faced with lovely switchbacks that take you up to around seven or eight hundred metres above sea level, with the highest peaks around 1300m. That is more like what you get in the North of England or Cornwall, but less grim and without the comically steep climbs. For those, you need to go a little bit further North. Try the Valtellina area - which is where I went.
Earlier this month I took the train to one of the gateway towns of Valtellina, Tirano, and was based there for a couple of days. It is quite a touristic town, on account of the church, known as the Madonna del Tirano. It is also a start point for the Bernina Express, a mountain train that goes through some of the most spectacular landscape, to reach St Moritz and other areas in Switzerland.
Tirano is also a hub for getting to some of the most famous mountain passes - the Bernina Pass, Passo di Gavia, Mortirolo and the mighty Stelvio. These, along with various other climbs to reach mouintainside villages are the diet of any road cyclist who comes to the area - and I am glad to have been there.

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