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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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!