Italian Alps and Dolomites, August 2012

We are going for 8 days in the Italian Alps and Dolomites, are you interested?……

When we did the Raid there was a group of friends that had done numerous trips together and had decided to build a bespoke trip through the travel company I usually use and they asked if I wanted to join them. There were a few spare places so I was asked if I knew someone who might be interested. I hadn’t seen Colin and Julie from the US since Costa Rica, 2011, so I dropped them a line.

On the 17th August we all converged on Lago di Comp for 8 days climbing, Italian style, which I discovered was like France only 6% steeper.

Once we had caught up and grabbed a nights sleep, we started our journey across Northern Italy, starting with a gentle ride along the lake to Bellagio. Then took a right turn a started up the climb of Madonna del Ghisallo, where there is a small chapel dedicated to cycling, with the walls covered in ‘special’ bikes, and there is also a big cycling museum. Sadly we did not have time to visit the museum before we dropped back to Bellagio, down the road we just climbed.

In Bellagio we regrouped and took the ferry across the Lake to continue our journey, which ended along a cool cycle track, leading all the way to our agri-tourismo hotel. At the hotel we were treated to snacks in the bar prior to a spectacular meal, made from produce raised in the hotels grounds.

The next day we all set off in anticipation of what was going to be a great day, taking on one of the feared classics, Mortirolo. Feared by many of the pro riders, only 11Km, but with an average of 11.5% and peaks over 20%. We set off steady, the only way, when suddenly one of the gang flew past out of the saddle, “Good effort”, I thought. He popped out of the trees a couple of Km further up the road, spent, needing food and water. You need to pace yourself in a climb like this.

We passed the monument to Pantani, and dropped over the top, after two hours, a terrible average speed, I know, but we were ready for our picnic.

After lunch we were told it was a descent, then along the valley to Tirano, or that was the address if the hotel. It turned out to be another 16Km up within 1km of the Passo del Tonale. We arrived at the hotel at 20:45, shattered, went straight the restaurant and ordered a large bowl of pasta, then sat in silence until it was consumed.

P1000759The following day we dropped back the “unnecessary” climb, took a right, and started to climb the Gavia, 16Km at 8%, taking us up to 2621m. That would have been enough for one day, but we pushed on to Bormio for lunch. We then started the back side of the Stelvio, which was just stunning, another 16Km at 7%, up to an eye watering 2757m. The great thing about this is you know the only way is down, taking every one of the 48 hairpin bends until we hit our hotel in Prato allo Stelvio. Awesome!

Following a well deserved rest, we had the choice of sitting by the pool or climbing the 48 hairpin back to the top, then dropping down the Umbrail pass in to Switzerland. It was a long hot climb, and I will confess to stopping at the cafe, several bends from the top for a Coke.

P1000771The Umbrail was a tricky descent, unmade roads, steep, with tight turns, all in a days work. Once in Switzerland we made our way across the border and treated ourselves to a gelato.

We left Stelvio, all bundled in to two vans for a transfer from the Alps to the Dolomites, starting the ride at Tires. However, the day would not be complete without some climbing, so we hit three in a row the Frazione Cipriano, the Nigerstrasse and the Strava Statale, until we reached our hotel in Campitello di Fassa. This town was in the Tyrol region, and felt more Austrian than Italian, even the food was Austrian.

This was to be our base for two days, which gave us the chance to do a loop that should be on everyone’s bucket list, whether you do it in a car, on a motorbike or a bicycle, the Sella Ronda. This is a round trip that surrounds a large limestone mountain, the Sella.

To get round requires you to put a few passes behind you, starting on the Pordoi, before taking a left at the junction and jumping on to the Sella, then the Gardena, dropping through the ski lifts and on to the Campolongo. Finally we leave Arraba and do the Pordoi and drop back in to Canazei. One of the most memorable days on a bike so far.

We wake up the next day to…you guessed it, more climbing. Today, our destination is Cortina d’Ampezzo, and almost out of the box we climb the Passo Fadaia, which is stunning and when you reach the summit you are greeted with the Lago do Fadaia, overlooked by the Marmolada glacier, breath taking.

We drop down the other side of the Fadaia to Caprile for coffee, then take a left to start the monstrous Passo Giau. This is about 10Km with an average 9%, and as we start I feel the knock coming on.

P1000841When we stopped for coffee I had gone to the van for snacks, but there was nothing left. I therefore hit the shop in the small village of Selva diCadori, bought and devoured a couple of bananas, and threw a large bag of gummy sweets in my back pocket, just in case.

I left the village and felt so much better, and set off to catch the others as we continued up the climb, which was hard but spectacular.

At the top was a cool restaurant, where I bought a sandwich to see me through to lunch. This trip was starting to change my eating habits, ‘if you see it, eat it’. We descend off the Giau and take a final ramp up in to the beautiful town of Cortina. A few of us take a walk downtown to get some more food, before we meet up for dinner. I guess we are burning some calories!

The final day has arrived already, and we aim for San Martino do Castrozza. This has been a tough trip, but I have got the fuelling and the pacing under control, you just feel yourself getting fitter.

This day holds three big climbs in store. We start on the Falzarego at 10Km, then the Passo di Valles also 10Km, but with some steep, long straight ramps, where all you can see is sky. Looking back on this trip, this last climb always stands out as being really tough. Finally, we attack the Passo Rolle, which drags us up to the hotel.

For anyone who has thought about doing the Dolomites, do it! It’s tough, but so amazing.


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