Passo Valparola, Passo Gardena, Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi & Passo Falzarego

Devilish Dolomite Delight – Day Three (July 2017)

Today we experienced the Italian Dolomites in all their magnificence as we explored 4 classic climbs from the Maratona dles Dolomites sportive, which was held last weekend. We drove to the summit of Passo Falzarego, to commence our loop.

Straight from the get go the road headed upwards & today we got the most difficult gradients out the way in the opening one mile – Passo Valparola is known as a wall, as although it’s only 1 mile on from the Falzarego, it rises at a constant 12%. However, because we knew what was ahead, we could spin in our smallest gear, knowing that this particular beast would be out the way in less than 15 minutes.

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We then had a 7 mile descent with huge views of the mountains on both sides of us.

We reached the small town of La Villa (the start & end point of the Maratona) as we reached the bottom of the roller coaster descent, then took a sharp left to Corvara – this part was the reverse of Monday’s route & it was so much easier this way!

We found a great bar/restaurant for apple strudel & cappuccino (the best coffee so far) before setting off on the Selle Ronde Loop, which takes in the climbs of Passo Gardena, Passo Selle & Passo Pordoi. I had very high hopes for this part of the ride, as I’ve seen loads of GCN cycling videos which have been filmed here – I wasn’t disappointed, as this really was cycling nirvana.

First up was the Passo Gardena at 5.5 miles in length & an altitude gain of just over 2,000 feet, all of it at a steady gradient. The climb started by passing through a couple of small villages, before it started to snake its way up the plug of volcanic rock that marked the end of the valley. The lower slopes were tree lined, before we reached the alpine meadows, with cows & sheep grazing to their hearts content.

Either side of us were monstrous monoliths shaped like teeth & they towered many hundreds of feet above us. Looking back down the slopes, it was possible to make out the road twisting like spaghetti up the mountain, while in the far background were more enormous mountains dwarfing the towns below. We stopped for a few mountain top snaps, crossing to the Gardena valley for a swift, but relatively short descent.

Again the views were breath-taking & it took all my concentration to stay focused on the road – we had plenty of photo stops!Our road would have descended all the way to Gardena (the World Cup skiing venue), but we took a left turn to climb the Passo Selle.

A very welcome surprise was that Wednesday’s are vehicle free days, so as cyclists we had the road pretty much to ourselves, We followed a ribbon of tarmac between the pillars of rock on either side & marveled at a couple of climbers who were rappelling some 300 feet above us – they must have nerves of steel!! The gradient was consistent again, so it was easy to find a rhythm & then lose yourself in the majestic beauty all around us.

In some ways, the summit almost arrived too soon, however it also meant that I had another opportunity to practice my cornering techniques on the wide open bends on the descent. Just before the bottom, we stopped for a quick bite to eat & drink, before heading for the Passo Pordoi. This was the baby of the bunch in terms of length (4 miles) & gradient. The scenery was once again out of this world – I now know why this loop is considered the most stunning 25 miles of road cycling in Europe!

From the summit we could see all the way back to the Passo Valparola, some 25 miles away & all around us were more towering mountains. This was my favourite downhill of the day, with 31 hairpins (eat your heart out Alpe d;Huez, with your measly 21) on almost perfect tarmac.

We stopped in Arabba for a quick espresso & caught up on the action in Le Tour, before racing to the day’s final climb, a 7 mile ascent of the Falzarego, which would take us back to the car. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out the engineers for this road were cyclists, as again the gradient was fairly consistent & never above 9% (much like a typical Alpine climb).

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Almost the entire climb was in pine forest & the shadows from the trees gave regular respite from the sun overhead. At one point it had been necessary to tunnel one of the hairpin bends into the rock face, as there was so little room to climb the final cliff face.

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This was an awe inspiring day of cycling, with scenery the exceeded even my wildest expectations. The icing on the cake was the friendly gradients, so we were able to enjoy the views. After a quick photo opportunity at the summit, I also made a visit to the souvenir shop to buy a fridge magnet for my cycling memorabilia collection.

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As we were putting our bikes back in the car for the 30 minute drive to the hotel, disaster (of sorts) struck – Sean somehow managed to clip his spokes into one of the clips that hold the seats in place. We spent 20 minutes attempting to free the wheel, but to no avail, so in the end we had to remove the rest of the bike from the wheel, so it would fit in the car. This was done in a bit of a rush, as the skies were darkening by the minute & a thunder storm was on its way! We’ll have to try & find a mechanic to help us tomorrow.

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Daily Cortina Trivia Feature (stage 3) – The opening scenes in the 1963 version of The Pink Panther (starring Peter Sellars) were filmed at The Hotel Cristallino in Cortina d’Ampezzo. More useless trivia tomorrow!

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