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08-07-2024 | Herman Nekkers & Yda Smets

Alé La Merckx, an amazing adventure with an epic finish

Saturday, June 29 marked the debut of the brand new Italian gran fondo: Alé La Merckx in Livigno. This event featured a magnificent course and a thrilling finish. Representing CycloWorld, Yda Smets and Herman Nekkers attended and returned with great enthusiasm.

Livigno is a ski resort in the Italian Alps, near the Swiss border. There had long been a desire to organize a gran fondo there. The Gran Fondo Alé La Merckx was previously held in Verona, but this was no longer feasible. Both parties collaborated, and thus the event was moved to Livigno, a location in a completely different environment, transitioning from the middle mountains to the high mountains.

Herman's gran fondo

Saturday morning the sun is shining, and we stand as invited guests in the first start box, right behind Sonny Colbrelli, who is extensively announced. The atmosphere is relaxed in typical Italian fashion, and the organization is tight. The clock strikes seven, and the first kilometers through the village are neutralized. Then the first climb begins: the Forcola di Livigno. A nice gradual climb of sixteen kilometers, great to get into it. At the pass, we enter Switzerland. The rapid descent is breathtaking in its scenery. This is followed by the short climb to the Bernina pass. This descent is straightforward. I ride in a group, and dozens of kilometers of false flat follow. My attempts at better cooperation fail due to my lack of knowledge of Italian. We are overtaken by another group, and finally, things go well.

Imposing figures

The third climb is the Ofenpass. This is a two-stage rocket with a short descent halfway up. There, the medio fondo turns right. Half take the shorter route. I now encounter only loners. The last kilometer and a half are very tricky. The fast descent to the foot of the Umbrail comes in handy. Two-thirds of the distance is done, but only 40% of the meters of elevation. The Passo Umbrail goes to the roof of the route. A climb with impressive numbers: 13 kilometers and an average of 8.6%. The sun burns murderously, and I feel terribly off. Only the phenomenal views of the richly snow-covered peaks give me courage. The feed stations at the summit come in handy.

Umbrail just below the summitPhoto: Umbrail just below the summit.


Then follows the breathtaking descent to Bormio, on the same road that leads to the Stelvio. My lights come in handy in the dark tunnels. I descend smoothly, and Bormio is soon reached. I cram some more food in before the Passo Foscagno begins. The climb is still warm, but the increased cloud cover gives new energy. Riders who caught up with me earlier I now leave behind.

Crazy finish

From the Passo Foscagno, it is nine kilometers to go, culminating in the final climb to Mottolino that I have been looking forward to all day. 1800 meters with hectometers of 16% and peaks of up to 25%. Compared to this, the Wall of Huy is just a kicker. Pogacar took about five minutes in the Giro; I took at least three times as long. I consider myself lucky with my super light S-Works Aethos. After 8:32, I roll across the line, demolished.

Demolished over the line
Photo: Demolished over the line.

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Yda's story, the medio fondo

Although I'm in the second row at the start, I'm overtaken pretty quickly by many of the riders. I don't have the best legs today, feeling a bit woeful and noticing that I'm not getting into my rhythm on the first climb. Apparently, my body has not yet adapted well to the altitude (Livigno is at 1800 meters).

During the climb, I get talking to Cristina, a peer from Trento. She has hardly been on a bike this year but climbs easier than I do. At the top of the Bernina (we have just crossed the border into Switzerland), I catch up with her as she puts on her jacket for the long descent. Only in the valley near Sankt Moritz do we meet again when she joins the group that is riding nicely towards Zernez. The kilometers fly by, and before I know it, we arrive at the first feed station at seventy kilometers. In just over ten kilometers, at the Munt la Schera tunnel, there will be a split between the 'medio' and the 'lungo,' and I will have to make a choice. Of our well-run group, only Cristina and I are left. On the climb, we stay near each other, surrounded by a few loners. Except for one enthusiastic Fleming (he found this gran fondo through our site, he tells me in passing) at the junction, everyone dives right into the tunnel towards Livigno. The choice is quickly made for me: en groupe, the shortest way to the finish!

the Munt la Schera tunnelPhoto: the Munt la Schera tunnel.

Luckily, I regain my legs and am able to pace in the tunnel and the long stretch along the lake. Also, on the penultimate climb, the Passo d' Eira, I feel good, but on the last kilometers to the finish, on the Mottolino, I have to pull out all the stops to avoid falling over. With occasional clicks out, I reach the finish. Hanging over my handlebars, I am panting. A few minutes later, Cristina also arrives. We make a selfie at the finish arch and go our separate ways to the pasta party in Livigno. During the descent, I realize what a great gran fondo this was: a summit finish at 2385 meters I have never experienced before, and then this was also the finish of the mythical Giro stage in 2024 where Pogacar showed that he is no mere mortal.

Summit reachedPhoto: Summit reached.


The Gran Fondo Alé La Merckx is an epic gran fondo with a course of the outer category. The medio fondo is also more than successful. The organization can look back on a successful first. Although there are still some areas for improvement, it is a great event. A wonderful alternative to existing, well-known gran fondos. We will definitely come back, but a few days earlier to be better acclimatized at the start.

Full results can be found here.

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