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!

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!