Devilish Dolomite Delight – Day One
The first task of the day was to check out the breakfast facilities, so we turned up 7.35am thinking we’d have the place to ourselves – there were already at least 20 people sat down & tucking in! I won’t bore you with the breakfast options (I’ll save that for another day!), but needless to say we’ve got plenty of choice.
We arrived in Cortina d’Ampezzo at 9.45pm last night, so we needed to build our bikes before we could start today’s epic adventure. As a result, we started riding later than originally planned, but when you’re on holiday, time has no importance! We set off under mostly bruised grey clouds, with occasional glimpses of blue sky, however the temperature was already in low 70’s when we set off at 9.15am. I had absolutely no idea how I would cope with today’s devilish delight, as I’ve ridden a grand total of 4 miles in the 3 weeks since I was knocked off my bike & am still having a few issues with my elbow & forearm – not ideal preparation! Anyway, enough of the excuses…..
The road headed up straight out of town, as we headed up the first 4 miles of Passo Falzarego & clocked up 1,000 feet of ascent in the process.
After this rather rude awakening, we were ready to meet today’s legend in the shape of the Passo Giau (I believe its correct pronunciation is Gee-Ow!!!) – this is an absolute monster of a climb, it averages 10% as it rises 3,300 feet in 6 miles. That makes it tough enough, but the real sting in the tail is the ever changing gradient as it ramps up from a benevolent 6% to a brutal 15% in the space of a few tortuous yards. The lower slopes take you through scented pine forest & the beauty of the Dolomites is hidden from view until about 2 miles from the summit. This is where the treeline finishes & is replaced by meadows, with cows & horses roaming freely.
The mountain also rewards you with stunning views of enormous limestone monoliths. The 360 degree panorama from the summit made all the effort well worth it. If you’re not a cyclist, visit anyway, as there are trails for all levels of walkers, plus if you’re really adventurous you could join one of the many climbing groups.
Incredibly, we were only 11 miles into the ride when we reached the summit, but it had taken us over 90 minutes to cover that distance. It was the perfect moment to stop & take in the views & reflect on the climb – the Rifugio at 2,238 metres was the lucky winner of our custom, so we rested & tested out the freshly made apricot tart & enjoyed an espresso to liven us up before the plummet down the other side.
I’ll be honest, I was nervous about how my arm would cope with heavy braking on the descent. I managed the descent of the 29 hairpins safely enough & am now a little worried about how tough the climb of this side might be in a few days. But that’s a challenge for another day!!
We then had our first real surprise of the day, as we were expecting to follow the valley floor as it descended towards Arabba, however it went up, not down! Nothing too steep, but totally unexpected. The scenery all day was stunning & now that the sun was behind us, we could see the mountains in their full majesty. As we climbed above the valley floor, there were massive mountains on either side of us, as well as an enormous drop down to a river below us.
Lunch came at the halfway point of the ride in terms of distance, but we’d already climbed 5,000 of the 8,750 feet of ascent. We found a great little restaurant/bar for an energy top-up of spaghetti bolognese, before setting off up the sedate climb of Passo Campolongo – a relative baby at 3 miles long & only 700 feet of climbing. As we climbed out the valley, we had a final view back down from where we’d come.
The descent into Corvara was loads of fun as I now knew my braking limitations & could go just a little bit quicker – I maxed out at 43 mph, but then had to back off to safely navigate the next corner. There’s an iconic Corvara sign with the huge Dolomites in the background & as I was taking a photo I somehow managed to ‘save’ my ride – effectively ending my ride some 25 miles earlier than expected! Luckily, I’ve managed to upload Sean’s ride, so at least I’ve got a single ride with all the stats.
We bumped along the valley floor through the towns of Verda & La Villa before turning tight for our final climb of the day – the Passo Valparola. At 10 miles long & 2,500 feet of climbing it should have been straightforward, only there were flats & descents, which resulted in the uphill sections being 7% to 9% in gradient……. & we were into a headwind! This was when I found out what 3 weeks off the bike does to you at altitude. It was a case of digging in deep & drinking in the amazing views, while making sure I kept pedaling. It was a mighty relief to finally reach the summit, but strangely I also had a real sense of achievement.
All that remained was to take a photo at the summit & then enjoy the final 10 miles of descending back into Cortina. If you were one of the unlucky people who had to listen to me bang on last week about my injuries, my sincere apologies, as I’ve made it through the first day of the trip!
Daily Cortina Trivia Feature (stage 1)– I’ll get the obvious one out the way first. The Ford Cortina is named after the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo & several of the cars were driven down its bobsled run – it was called Cortina Auto-Bobbing. More useless trivia tomorrow!