Rattenberg Clover Leaf (That Became A Loop!)

Austrian Alps – Day One, 2019

Our 2019 Alpine Adventure is a split affair, with 5 days of cycling the lesser known mountains around Innsbruck (Austria), followed by 5 days in Bormio (Italy), taking on some of the giants of the Giro d’Italia. We’re staying just outside Innsbruck in the small town of Mutters, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains.

It all began today with a 45 minute drive from our base in Mutters to Rattenberg, which is famous as being Austria’s smallest historic town & also the start point of the 2018 World Road Race Championships. It’s a stunningly pretty town (population of 400) with a pedestrianised central area, surrounded by craft shops & quaint cafes.

We started our ride under bruised & heavy clouds, but already feeling fortunate as rain had been forecast for the entire day. We’d made the decision to ride today regardless of conditions, as we’re here for the cycling, not to sit indoors if the weather’s a bit moody!! Having said that, I was wearing wet weather gear, just in case.

After leaving Rattenberg, we followed the main road alongside the River Inn for the first 3 miles, which gave us an opportunity to warm the legs up a bit. At this point we turned left onto a smaller side road & it immediately started to rise – nothing too steep, but our first experience of an Austrian ascent. This was a very deceiving introduction to what was in store for us for the remainder of the day!

The first proper climb of the day would take us up to Alpbach, a mere 4 miles in length, but rising 1,500 feet in that time. Significant chunks of the climb were above 10%, so we took our time & admired the spectacular views of the mountains all around us. By the time we reached the first summit of the day, we’d covered a total of 10 miles, climbed 1,900 feet & been riding for 1 hour 12 minutes. We joined a main road at this point for 15 minutes of respite as we descended into Reith.

Before we knew it, we were at the start of the day’s 2nd climb – the first mile or so was a 10% incline, so we were pleased when we saw somewhere to stop for our first coffee stop of the trip. After a quick cappuccino, we continued the climb & to our surprise, the first mile was as easy as it got….the gradient didn’t drop below 11% & at one point hovered at 16% for a couple of hundred yards! As we neared the summit, the peaks of the mountains all around us came into view, a few still had snow on display.

The narrow road plummeted back towards the Inn Valley, many hundreds of feet below us. After a cautious descent, we took another single track lane that followed the River Inn along the valley floor for mile after mile. As we zig-zagged through small villages, we passed two distinct styles of churches in them – either tall with a slim spire or squat with an onion type protrusion in the spire.

After 30 miles we were back in Brixlegg, where we had a quick lunch stop, before heading off on our 2nd loop of the day. This one would take us up a couple of climbs on the opposite side of the valley. We started off by following a fast flowing river up a gently rising side valley, however, it wasn’t long before the gradient steepened. The sun was still shining at this point, but the first signs of storm clouds were showing themselves on the other side of the valley.

As we continued climbing, the views became more spectacular, as the dark clouds made a great backdrop to the mountains. It really felt as if we were in the middle of nowhere. After about 6 miles of heading ever higher, we reached the afternoon’s first peak at the small village of Aschau. The road briefly headed downhill for little more than a mile, before rising again. For the next 5 miles the road rose steadily at between 8% & 10% as it climbed towards the Branderberger Ache – & my, did it ache! As we were within sight of the summit, we felt the first drops of rain, so we put in a big effort to reach the bus stop & get into the dry before putting on our rain macs. In less than 2 minutes, we were looking out on torrential rain, as thunder & lightning competed with each other in the skies above us.

The rain looked as if it was in for the long haul, so we carefully set off on the 4 mile descent back to Kramsach. The original plan was to take on a 3rd 20 mile loop, but we were cold & drenched by the time we reached the valley floor & the rain was still bucketing down. We took the decision to head back to the car & count ourselves extremely lucky that we’d been able to ride most of the day in the dry.

All that remained was to pack the bikes into the car, retrace our tyre tracks back to Mutters & try to dry out our kit for tomorrow – more rain is forecast, so our rain macs will be earning their keep again! My first day of cycling in Austria has been an absolute joy, I can’t wait to see some more of the stunning scenery over the coming days!

Passo Falzarego & Passo Cimabanche

Devilish Dolomite Delight – Day Six

Wow, where has the last week gone? It feels like my Dolomites trip started only yesterday & yet here I am writing about my 6th consecutive day of cycling!! Today the plan was to ride up the Passo Falzarego, complete a long loop & return via Passo Cimabanche – in total the route would be just over 80 miles via the towns of Brunica & Dobbiaco, but nothing too strenuous as far as climbing was concerned. Cortina d’Ampezzo is at 4,000 feet above sea level & whenever one of my trips involves staying at altitude, it takes me 4 or 5 days to become acclimatised to the lack of oxygen, especially when the mountain summits take us above 7,000 feet above sea level.

My climbing legs had recovered after a good night’s sleep & we set off up Passo Falzarego in beautiful sunshine as soon as we left our hotel in Cortina. The climb itself is just over 10 miles in length & rises just over 3,000 feet (including the steep ramp to Passo Valparola.  We’d previously driven the ascent on two separate occasions, as well as descending it once on the bike, so we knew what faced us – we decided to make this our only Full Gas effort all holiday, as it was the last day & we could always ease back if it got too hard/painful part way up the climb!!!

The early slopes pass through meadows, before the ubiquitous pine forests take over. This is great on the one hand, as it provides protection from the sun & wind, but it also limits the views of the surrounding mountains. Every now & again the amazing vistas sneak into view for a few moments, but you have to pay attention or they’re gone!

The landscape suddenly changes about three quarters of the way up, when the trees simply disappear to be replaced by scrub & bare rock – this is when the true majesty of the mountain is clear for all to see. It’s also very exposed & today the wind whistled into our faces for the final section of the climb, an unexpected & naughty surprise!! We stopped at the summit long enough to get a couple of photos & don our rain jackets for our second descent this week of the Valparola.

After a quick coffee in La Villa, we turned right & continued descending into a strong headwind – if I stopped pedalling, my speed dropped instantly, which was a bit of a blow, as I was hoping for an easy 20 miles of riding!!! For once, my route research was seriously lacking & I missed a small right turn somewhere & as a result we had to endure 5 long tunnels (varying in length from 500 metres to 1.9km) with traffic hurtling past us – this was the one moment of cycling disappointment on the whole trip, so all in all it wasn’t that big a deal.

Having survived the tunnels, I was now paying much more attention & spotted the cycle path we should have taken earlier – at the same moment, the sun came back out & we packed away our rain jackets for the final time on the trip. We were on quiet country lanes that meandered across farmland & through picturesque villages.

As we continued along the cycle route, we stumbled across a restaurant & decided that it was a signal that we should eat – as we wandered in, there were a couple of tables of locals engaged in a card tournament, while out on the terrace there was one empty table available & it had our name on it!!! The food was great & the staff really friendly (they also thought we were a bit mad to be doing such a long ride!).

There was still time for a couple more unexpected surprises, the first of these was a 5 mile stretch of gravel as we skirted around a man-made lake that provided drinking water to the surrounding villages. Road tyres aren’t really made for this type of terrain, but we took our time & admired the scenery as we navigated our way around the shoreline. Before we knew it, we’d reached the outskirts of Dobbiaco & we took the road towards Cortina.

The Passo Cimabanche was the final climb of the trip & it was a very gentle 3% to 5% the whole way, except for a plateau where Lake Dobbiaco had formed – another stunning alpine lake in a jaw dropping location. In spite of there being a few hundred tourists admiring the views, there was a real peacefulness to the place – it would be an amazing place to camp for the night under the stars.

After reaching the summit of the climb, we had a rollercoaster descent back into Cortina d’Ampezzo, with big views of the surrounding peaks. We were back in town just after 5pm, so decided to round off the week long adventure with a locally made ice cream, while relaxing in the sun. The perfect end to another amazing cycling adventure!

Daily Cortina Trivia Feature (stage 6) – The 2015 remake of Point Break was filmed in Cortina d’Ampezzo. As if that wasn’t enough trivia, AC Milan run a summer training academy for children aged 6 to 17 – coaches in the past have included George Weah & Stefano Eranio.