Passo Campalongo, Passo Pordoi, Passo Selle & Passo Gardena

Devilish Dolomite Delight – Day Five

After yesterday’s epic day in the saddle, I woke up this morning feeling dehydrated, heavy legged & several hours short of the sleep I wanted (& probably needed). The plan today was to drive to La Villa (a 20 mile drive), then ride the Maratona Dles Dolomites short course loop. In other words, 4 climbs in just over 36 miles with 5,600 feet of climbing.

 

For the first time this week, the skies were overcast & the mountains were all hidden from view as we drove out of Cortina & up the Passo Falzarego – we were soon in the clouds & the incredible views of previous days were very much a distant memory! However, the cycling gods were on our side, as the weather changes as soon as we drove down to La Villa.

Day 5 - 001

We parked the car by the sky lift & as soon as we started riding, the road to Corvara started gradually rising – today we would be tackling the Campalongo, Pordoi, Sella & Gardena from a new direction. While we’d experienced the scenery previously, a combination of the different weather & a new direction guaranteed that it would feel like a totally new ride.

 

As we left Corvara & started to climb Passo Campalongo, it quickly became apparent I was in for a challenging day, as I didn’t have any power in my legs & I couldn’t raise my heart above 150 beats per minute (normally I’m comfortable doing a 1 hour effort at 175 bpm). This is a fairly standard symptom of being over tired – I was finally paying for missing 3 weeks of training. I knew this was likely to happen at some point on the trip & I’m rather happy it’s taken until day 5 for the symptoms to show themselves.

 

The climb to the summit was a little over 4 miles long & the road snaked its way between forest on the one side & ski runs on the other. It was pretty Alpine scenery at its best & the ascent was done in a little under 45 minutes. As we crested the summit, the clouds disappeared & we had glorious view down towards Arabba below.

We were only an hour into the ride at this point, so we made the decision to delay our planned coffee stop until we reached the summit of the Pordoi. Almost as soon as we started the climb (not that steep as you can see below), I dropped further & further behind Sean – we both know the importance of climbing at our own rhythms, so while it was frustrating to be feeling so weak, it wasn’t a big deal for either of us.

Day 5 - 004

There’s a classic car rally taking place in the Dolomites this week & we were lucky enough to see tens & tens of vintage Bugatti’s, Mercedes’, Porsche’s & Jaguar’s (amongst others) streaming down the hill, as they did the same loop as us but in reverse.

I took time to take in the views as the road twisted & turned towards the summit. The climb itself took a minute over an hour for me, which was more than acceptable, considering how I was feeling – we’d climbed a little over 1,800 feet in 5.5 miles. Needless to say, warm chocolate cake & cappuccino revived my spirits.

The descent from Passo Pordoi was hairpin heaven, as we twisted & turned during the 4 mile descent to the start of Passo Selle.

The longest & steepest of the climbing was now behind us & we were back in sunshine – hurrah!!! Pine trees were immediately next to the road & further in the distance were enormous cliffs of bare rock – the view today was so different, mainly because what had been in sunshine on our previous ride was now in shadow & vice versa. Once again, the gradients were never too steep, although they always kept me honest.

A feature of the Selle Ronde circuit from either direction is the multitude of hairpin bends (there were 31 on the Pordoi, 18 on the Selle & more than 20 on the Gardena) – these give respite from the climbing & provide an opportunity to give the legs a fleeting moment of relief.

Day 5 - 016

Before we knew it, we’d reached the top of the Selle with stunning views in every direction. Once again it was threatening to rain on a mountain summit, so we put our rain jackets on yet again & set off for the valley floor.

Within 5 minutes, the rain had stopped & we could enjoy the descent on bone dry roads. As we plummeted downwards, I could make out the rifugio on the summit of our final climb of the day – The apex of the Gardena was some 6 miles away at this point.

After a brief stop to tuck away the rain jackets, we began the final 4 miles of climbing on today’s epic route. As the road rose higher, some of the rocks that were visible on Wednesday were hidden from view, while some new ones showed themselves for the first time.

Once again, we clouds closed in the nearer we got to the top & by the time we reached the summit sign, it was spitting rain again, so it was out with the rain jackets for the final time.

The rain had finally caught us up & we were on damp/wet roads all the way back to Corvara, but all things considered, we’d been incredibly lucky to avoid any proper rain. The micro climate in the mountains is amazing, as by the time we’d completed the descent, we were back on dry roads again, enjoying the sculptures that make the Dolomites so unique.

We stopped in Corvara for a quick bite of lunch, then retraced our way back to where the car was parked in La Villa. As we crested the Falzarego, it was raining in the Cortina valley – when we got back to the hotel, the owner said it had been raining for most of the day. The cycling gods really had been kind to us today!

Daily Cortina Trivia Feature (stage 5) – The stunning mountain scenes in Cliffhanger (starring Sylvester Stallone) were filmed in Cortina d’Ampezzo, although the film was set in the Colorado Rockies. More useless trivia tomorrow!

Passo Giau, Passo Campolongo & Passo Valparola

Devilish Dolomite Delight – Day One

https://www.strava.com/activities/1076930080/embed/c1edfd0235dbe2b30fe4ebb23ec2c60482121e9a

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!