Devilish Dolomite Delight – Day Four (July 2017)
It was a late start today as we had to wait for the car repair workshop to open, but not for the reasons you’ll be thinking! One of our group (not me, the other one!) somehow managed to get a front wheel spoke stuck in the seating mechanism when we were loading the bikes into the car after yesterday’s ride – it was a one in a thousand moment & neither of us would have been capable of doing it deliberately! I’m pleased to say that after about 15 minutes of poking around, a very kind mechanic managed to release the spoke & we were good to go!
The first 14 miles of today’s ride followed the same route as Tuesday’s ride (Day 2), so we powered downhill on the cycle path. Again, we were riding under blue skies & enjoying early morning temperatures in the mid 70’s, with next to no wind to speak of.
We turned off the main road before plummeting downhill to cross the River Boite & start our first climb of the day, the Passo Cibiana. We had a rather rude introduction, as the first couple of miles kicked up at 10%, although it had the advantage of very quickly giving us wide views of the river valley way below us. We had a brief respite as the road flattened out as it passed through the village of Cibiana, a beautifully laid out place with a pretty clock tower at its centre – the village was typical of so many we’ve ridden through this week.
As we continued to wend our way up the valley towards the summit, we were slapped in the face with a 200 yard stretch of 17% gradient – this is right on my limit of what I can ride before I topple off & not really what I wanted to experience on day four of an adventure!! Luckily, it was a very short stretch, but most of the remainder of the climb stayed in the 9% to 11% range. I was grateful there were plenty of stunning views to help take my mind off the challenge.
The climb took us a minute over an hour to complete & we’d clocked up just over 2,200 feet of ascending in that time, so we were certainly ready for a coffee & strawberry flan stop at the summit!
The start of the descent was very sketchy, grit covered the road, there were smallish potholes & the corners were blind, so we took things very cautiously to begin with. After about 5 minutes, the road surface improved significantly, the corners were less severe & the views into the valley below suddenly opened up. All was good with the world again & we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves! Before we knew it, we were on some flat road for the first (& only) time of the day. We passed through the small town of Forno di Zoldo & aimed for our planned lunch stop of Dont – there are so many simple gags to be made at this town’s name. If you’re planning to stop here for lunch Don’t, as in spite of what I’d read online, there wasn’t a single restaurant open!
Dont marked the start of our 2nd climb of the day, the exotically named Staulanza. The early slopes kicked up to 8%, just to remind us we were on a mountain, but soon the gradient stabilised at a far more manageable 6%. After 3 or 4 miles we found a small restaurant that very generously agreed to serve us a late lunch, although they were in the process of closing up. This has been typical of the friendly greeting we’ve received from everyone we’ve met.
After a quick spaghetti bolognese lunch, we were back on our way up the Staulanza, as it continued upwards at a steady 7%. On the way to the summit, we passed a couple of chic sky resorts, with what looked quite scary runs through the pine trees – no doubt an experienced skier would correct me & say they were nothing more than nursery slopes!!
The summit of the climb was marked by an incredible rock outcrop that rose some 1,500 feet above us & was in the sun, although we were firmly in the shade. After a quick stop to get a few photos, we plummeted down the other side on near perfect roads, with wide open corners – the only thing that slowed me down was the cars in front of us – it was much easier to manoeuvre a bike through the corners than a car!!! As the road began to level out, we began to get more nervous – while there was only one climb left to tackle, it was the monstrous Passo Giau from the classic (read ‘more difficult’) Selva di Cadore side.
A mere 7 miles long, its average gradient is 9.4% – it was also the last road to be built to reach a Dolomite Pass when it was completed in 1986 (prior to that it was simply a mule track). The first ½ mile was all over 14%, so we simply paced ourselves to survive this part of the climb, as we knew that things got slightly easier after this first stretch. The early stages of the climb follow the Codalonga river & there are 4 bridges where you have the briefest of respites from what is a constant 9% to 10% gradient for the entire climb – there was nowhere to hide, especially when the temperature was in the high 80’s!
After the bridges were crossed, the hairpins began (there are 29 of them), which kept our minds occupied as we fought the relentless gradient. The early slopes took us through pine scented forest, which while pleasant on the olfactory organ, closed off all the surrounding views. About half way up the climb, the trees were replaced by typical Dolomite pastures (as seen on each of our routes so far) & every now & then we could hear the marmots calling to each other.
With only 2 miles remaining, the enormous Nuvolau peak came into view, perhaps the largest of all the surrounding peaks & definitely the most awe inspiring. The rifugio at the summit of the Giau came into view with a mile to go – it seemed so near & yet by this point I was only travelling at 4 miles an hour & it felt like some kind of torture! Finally at the summit, we celebrated with a coke, took some panoramic photos & prepared for the final descent back into Cortina.
The descent was truly amazing, with hairpins upon hairpins as the road plummeted down the mountain. There was hardly any traffic, as by now it was 5.30pm & most tourists were long gone, which allowed us to use most of the road on the way down.
We finally arrived back in town at about 6pm & stopped for a pint so we could absorb what has been one of the epic days in the saddle. No words or photos can describe the climbs, descents or scenery, but I’ve given it my best attempt!
Daily Cortina Trivia Feature (stage 4) – The 1956 Winter Olympics took place in Cortina d’Ampezzo. We rode past the original ski jump on today’s ride, however you’re more likely to recognise it from the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. More useless trivia tomorrow!