I know it can be strange to say this, but they do exist. Not the ghosts from horror movies or the fairy tales. Before I was a cycling photographer, I was a cycling lover, and before I was a cycling lover, I grew up as a grandson of an italian man from the north Italy. And this was my first ghost.
For years I lived with the sensation of not being part of where I was. And after I started watching cycling races, that made even more sense. All these years, I lived with images from the grand tours and other small races in the european mountains. And I always asked myself how is it to be part of that. These images come to my mind day after day, month after month. And this turned to be my collection of ghosts.
A few days ago, I finally found myself face to face with one of the biggest ghosts from my mind. And this is a ghost called “Stelvio”.
All photos and videos I have ever seen did not prepare me for that moment. And there I was, at the start of the climb, with a gate blocking the way of the car. I couldn’t believe it. After driving more than 1000km, my way was blocked. But I didn’t come that far to give up so easily. Not here, in Italy, on the Stelvio. So my girlfriend and I decided to face the uphill by foot.
At the beginning of the climb I couldn’t understand why this mountain caused so much astonishment among cyclists. But the more we climbed, the more isolated from the civilization we became. With an hour walk we had seen no signs of other people, and only heard the sound of melting ice, and some rocks falling down with the rain, which were contributing even more with my thoughts, and so are ghosts, you are just afraid of them, when face to face with them.
And as we walk and go through hairpins and climbs, I was able to close my eyes and see scenes of various “Giros”, those pictures and movies kept coming to my mind all the time, and I tried to put myself in places where I could identify. Gradually I was understanding the mountain. I was understanding love and anger it awaken.
Most of the time we walked in silence. None of us knew very well how to express what we felt there, but for every kilometer that we passed, my respect for the mountain grew. It’s hard to put the feelings into words but for me it was as if I saw myself in the race as I walked. I saw those people over there screaming and cheering, and it made me want to climb higher and higher.
After nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes of walking, the Stelvio decided to show who was the boss. We were at the foot of the final climb, with the last 14 curves that lead to the top when a blizzard began. At that point I didn’t want to give up, even unable to see more than 10 meters ahead, I would not let the mountain beat me. I think that’s what makes those cyclists face such challenges. The feeling of winning a much higher force than you. But in a moment of rationality, I spoke to my girlfriend, and we concluded that it would be crazyness to go. And after all, we were in the middle of a mountain, without any signs of civilization nearby.
It was difficult, but before returning, I gave one more look up, closed my eyes, and saw Moser and Coppi through those walls of ice. Merckx soaked by the same rain that was falling there and so many other classic images that mountain ever produced, and so I promised myself to come back, this time on a bike, and face the Stelvio again.
For a moment, just like magic, the snow stopped for a few moments. Then it all made sense to me.
You do not hunt your ghosts, you become a part of them.
Stelvio, see you soon.