A Climb to Love: Passo San Boldo

A Climb to Love: Passo San Boldo

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Passo San Boldo lies in the northern reaches of the Italian Alps, and was a walking path until World War I, when the Austrians realized that traffic accidents were a less conscience-laden approach to controlling population growth than chucking mortars across a border at people who drink different alcohol than they do.  Access to the steep, one-lane mountain road is controlled by traffic lights which offer, I’m guessing, survival statistics to drivers entering the hairpin tunnels.

In truth, it looks more like a miniature golf course than a climb.  Which can, of course, mean only one thing: I. CANNOT. WAIT. TO. RIDE. IT.

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  1. 6 kilometers of agony or 10 so and so… :)

  2. Cooool!

  3. This perspective makes my legs ache. Look at that second ramp!

  4. Wow – that looks incredible – would make for an awesome climbing (and descending) adventure. How long and/or dark are those tunnels?

    The pictures also make me long for my motorcycle days as well. Cranking my Speed Triple up that would be fantastic – hearing the carbon race can echoing off those tunnel walls…

  5. Wow! That is intense.

    I did a Google search for it, and it appears the hairpin turns are inside the tunnels. That is crazy. I guess they have lights to control the flow traffic, only one direction at a time.

    There is a hill climb here in Portland that has a long turn inside of a tunnel… when you’re still in the tunnel and you hear a car enter it behind you (but you can’t turn your head and see it due to the curve of the tunnel) it’s a bit unnerving. It makes me worried I’m going to get mowed down by some jerk on a cell phone, but it quite the incentive to PEDAL HARDER.

  6. @Marko
    And there’s a dude riding up it in that picture. He’s probably been doing so for a while looking at how steep it is.

  7. Nathan Edwards:
    And there’s a dude riding up it in that picture. He’s probably been doing so for a while looking at how steep it is.

    In my information search the grade was listed at 10-12%. Ouch, at least for me.

  8. It does look beuatiful. I managed to find a couple of videos of the Passo San Boldo. Sadly only the decent but those bends in the tunnels look pretty tight, almost too tight to enjoy it properly. Best just keep going up… and hope you don’t hear the sound of a 6.0L Lambo coming in the oposite direction!!!

    Passo San Boldo (skip to 1min 10sec)


  9. @Jarvis


    Only a cyclist would have that reaction! You may have been off the bike a few months, but the nature of the creature does not change!

    Your assignment: Ride Report.

  10. @Marko, @Dan O, @Dexter
    Dan O – did you check Dexter’s second link? That is rad.

    That’s some pretty incredible WWI engineering to look at a rock face as say, “You know, the traditional thinking of laying down switchbacks on open slopes was soooooooooooo 1914. We’re off that. This is 1917; we lay that shit down IN THE TUNNELS WE CARVE STRAIGHT INTO THE ROCK.”

    Old school road layin’

    This has to be a joke. G’Phant, are you in there wooing the sheep to make them go through the tunnel?

    This one makes me drool and get all googlie.

  11. Alright, we definitely need a Velominati Club in Northen Italy, stocked with bicycles in a range of sizes so we can take trips and ride these roads and climbs.

    Do you lads box up your bike and bring it along? Do you have a break-away or something along those lines? Or, do you just have your own house with bike waiting for you?

    I might get to Italy in March, after a stay in Prague, but I’ll be without a bike. Makes me sad to be in the heart of cycling land and not be able to ride.

    These photos are awesome!

  12. @Ron
    You might be able to rent. I’ve had some luck with that in Europe. It’s usually a bit of an entry level machine but it’s better than being there and not coming back with tales of an epic experience on the bike.

  13. @Ron
    You should definitely try to take your own bike. I rented a hard plastic bike box for two weeks for US$90. I checked it for free to Australia.

    Most airlines charge US$50-100 to check a bike.

    Having my own gear to ride in an exotic location was priceless.

    Of course, it would have helped if my mates hadn’t all become sick or injured at the same time. Still, I had some great solo rides and hope to get more of the local flavor the next time.

  14. @Ron
    We take our bikes with us in bike cases; most of your LBS’s should be able to package them up pretty well and rent you the case. I have my own, but it’s big and clunky. For some reason I can’t understand, I was promoted recently and it may lead into more travel for me; if that turns out to be the case, I’ll get a Ritchey Breakaway for sure; those bikes are incredible. My Dad has a few and you really can’t tell they are a fold-away bike when you’re on them.

    Ron, if you are going to Europe for a while, you simply have to figure a way to bring a bike. You simply owe it to yourself.

  15. It’s the best, pitch black inside trying to execute a hairpin turn and hope you get out before the lights change!!!!

  16. @marko
    you imagine what it was like before they put the tunnels in…

    Northern Italy/Austria you say? Hmmmm *heads off to google*

  17. @mcsqueak
    Not even a climb then :P

  18. That is very impressive. I must find it when I am in Europe next year. Magical photos.

  19. @Dexter
    I’d love to put myself in that first video. However, it appears to be a Rule #55 violation on the Boldo. Also of note, Eros Poli uses a European Posterior Man-Satchel and although they’re not flattering, those Coca-Cola blouses worn by the podium girls are cool.

  20. Showing my ignorance here: Has this climb ever featured in the Giro?

  21. @Ron, @Nate, @Geoffrey Grosenbach, @frank

    Just to throw in another perspective…you can, in fact, rent a very nice bike, at least in Tuscany. We used this outfit in 2008 (DF Bike – Siena)and they were great. We sent our measurements over, and the bikes (for three of us) were set up to our individual specs and delivered to our lodgings, along with extra helmets, tools, tubes, tires, etc. etc. Francesco is the man.

    Obviously it’s better to ride your own steed, but with airline fees and the hassle of hauling bikes around in tiny Euro rental cars (and dealing with non riding members of your party IYKWIMAITYD), renting is becoming more viable. Just sayin’.

    BTW, Bike shipping still hasn’t become viable. There are a couple sites that offer bike shipping services / carriers, but they are inconvenient and price prohibitive.

    +1 on the Ritchey Breakaway, Frank. If I was traveling a lot to different (rideable)locations I’d definitely pick one up. Luckily (or unluckily as the case may be) my business travel is mostly domestic and weekday.

  22. @Ron

    Another thing you can do if you can’t take your own bike is to take your own pedals and shoes with you, since those will easily fit in your travel bag. Then when you go and rent a bike, throw your own pedals on so at least you get a bit of familiarity and comfort.

  23. when you doing this frank?
    phenomenal experience to be able to do, so enjoy it for all. I simply don’t deserve this kind of road.

  24. Thanks for all the ideas, gents.

    I’ll be in Prague from Feb. 1 – end March. I think the weather is going to make any real road riding kind of tough. (I don’t own a cross bike or a mtn. bike) I have been preparing myself to just accept not having a bike while there, though I know that is going to be difficult since I ride daily, both commuting around town and road riding.

    I don’t know if it would be worth it to bring a road bike if there is going to be plenty of snow. I thought about finding a gym and joining a spin class, at least to keep my legs in shape.

    We’ll (my VMH and I) be taking a “spring break” trip somewhere, not sure where yet. I’m pulling for Belgium or Italy. A bike would be nice in Italy, but I wonder if it would be worth it to bring one to Prague, then have to get it to Italy.

    Thoughts? It’s rough to think about eight weeks off the bike, but hey, I will have an awesome excuse to be two months away all damn spring when I return! Don’t have the cash at the moment to buy a Ritchey Break Away.

    I was just planning on doing something to stay in shape (jogging, pickup soccer, gym) and drinking a lot of beer and hopefully seeing some local pro/semi-pro ice hockey. I’m a big ice hockey fan. The time off the bike might let me focus on some other things and make me appreciate next spring/summer that much more. Then again, I get depressed when I don’t ride for just a day or two…

  25. @Ron

    Perhaps you could buy a beater off of their local Craigslist, ride it around, and re-sell it when you leave? Two months is a long time to not have a bike.

    Or just rent when you have time to ride, and enjoy some “cross training” with other activities.

  26. @cam
    From my secret archives…
    18 hairpins, the last 6 into the tunnels.

  27. Of course the above is for Frank :)

  28. This climb looks awesome… I simply must do it. I keep going back to Marko’s photo…. It’s just insane. Reminds me of the climb out of Sa Calobra in Majorca, after I’ve been taking a heady cocktail of hallucinogenics, EPO, clenbuterol (it’s so in fashion, daahling) and red wine. MUST find out where it is and plan an Italy trip accordingly

  29. I set up some shit like this with my Hot Wheels track in my room when I was 10 so my cars could go DOWN. I never imagined going UP.

  30. @Roadslave
    I am going to need LOADS of clenbuterol to get back to a descent weight. Those turkeys and potatoes seemed like such a great thing to eat and now…

  31. This is very cool.

  32. @Steampunk
    Indeed. For a split second at the beginning I thought the soundtrack was going to be The Camera Eye, the intro sounded similar briefly, got me excited. Arcade Fire works for me too though. Who were the riders? Sky and CTT kits?

  33. Wow, that is just too cool. Barry is becoming one of my favorite riders these days, especially since reading Le Metier. I would totally do a video of me descending some mountain with a buddy. I would totally expect a Pro not to worry about crap like that – they’re off that by now. So cool to see them still be stoked enough about something like a descent to take a video and post it online.

    Totally rad.

  34. @Marko
    The video includes Barry and Dominique Rollin (who is a monstrously huge guy if the video is anything to go by). Rollin rode for Cervelo last year and will suit up for FdJ this year, hence the skewed kit.

    Totally. One of the things I really got from the book was that Barry just liked to ride, and this kind of thing was him at his happiest.

  35. @frank
    On this, Barry and Rollin were both equipped with GoPro HD cameras. These sound cool and look pretty tempting. Has anyone tried one?

  36. First post here — long time reader.
    Here in Toronto Michael Barry is a bit of a legend. Comes from an amazing cycling family, and his father owned a fantastic bike shop in Toronto for many years, selling among other things, stunning steel Mariposa bikes. The Barry’s are true old school cycling gentlemen. And Michael without doubt rides for love. I had the pleasure of riding with him in Toronto this past fall, along with a mutual friend who works for Cervelo and is responsible for the “Beyond The Peloton” videos.
    A class act all the way — and his blog is fantastic too.

  37. I was stationed near there (codogne) back in the 70’s. It’s been improved and upgraded. back then it was narrower and no lights, just a sign saying honk horn. in italian of course.

  38. Amazing idea. It is such a beautiful man made landscape and utility too.

  39. Nothing over 12%? Ha!  A cinch.

    My legs hurt just looking at those photos…

  40. I rode down it yesterday. Rode up to the stoplight below the tunnels a few days before but i couldn’t trip the light and didn’t dare go against traffic. The hairpins are in the tunnels and they are tight. It is definitely worth the trip.

  41. @charlie rose – Amazing! Was there any traffic headed in the same direction with you? Were the tunnels lighted?  Hey, if the sheep can do it, maybe a Cogal could trip the lights.

  42. Tunnels are lighted and the downbound traffic doesn’t want to go any faster than you do.

  43. The duration of CNA classes is between six to 12 weeks.
    You probably didn’t know, but the American Red
    Cross has provided nursing assistant training classes for more than two decades.
    They could be on offer at private hospitals, on-going care organisations and various other wellness establishments.

  44. Hey, my family is from round there and it’s only in the last 15 years or so that the Italians have gone soft and put in traffic lights to control the traffic flow. When I was a kid you just drove through each of the 5 u shaped tunnels with your hand on the horn – much more fun!

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