27 July 2023

It might have looked like other cycling events on paper, but the recent YMCA Stelvio Challenge in the Swiss and Italian mountains was a mighty one.

22 cyclists took part in the YMCA East Surrey fundraising event, facing heat in excess of 36 degrees, along with stormy weather and even a giant hailstorm at the top of Passo Gavia, an 8,599 ft high mountain pass in the Italian Alps.

The group tackled the 365-mile route from Milan to Bolzano over five full days of riding, climbing a massive 38,000 feet (or 7.2 miles) in total – the equivalent of the average flying height of a commercial airline. In a YMCA Challenge first, one member of the group took part on an e-bike, which needed careful planning and consideration in advance of the event.

The YMCA Stelvio challenge has so far raised £14,473, which will go towards the purchase of a new ‘Y-Bus’ – a mobile youth club on wheels to reach young people in areas where there is little or no youth provision. Connick Tree Care sponsored the event.

YMCA East Surrey’s Chief Executive, Ian Burks, was among the cyclists. He said:

“The Stelvio Challenge was super tough, as expected, with long days in the mountains and a mixture of very hot climbs and cold rainy descents. The challengers earned every penny of their sponsorship money!”

In the highlight of the trip, the cyclists ascended the monster Stelvio on the final day – the second-highest paved pass in Europe at over 9,000 feet. A breathtaking descent to Bolzano in South Tyrol marked the end of the exhausting event.

Joanna Eade, YMCA Challenge and Community Events Fundraiser, was among the valued support group, transporting provisions and vital emergency supplies for the cyclists. She said:

“Making the trip up and down the 48 famous hairpin bends of Stelvio with a Luton van was a challenge in itself and required some great driving!”

One member of the fundraising group was Chris Hardy, 61, a newly retired Change Manager. He found the event gruelling but was left with outstanding memories of the stunning scenery.

“The YMCA Stelvio trip was the hardest physical challenge I have ever tackled. Every single day seemed to present more than one hurdle for us to overcome. The heat and the terrain had me burning 4,500 calories on day three and I was physically shattered at the end. I learned about myself, about how to deal with a challenge, I made friends for life, all while fundraising for a great charity. And that is what is really important.”

Ian Burks says:

“We had a wonderful group of challengers who kept a positive outlook throughout the event, helping to support each other and never complaining. The funds raised will make a real difference to what the YMCA can deliver locally for young people.”