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.