This is the second running of our trip to ‘the continent’, apparently all went well last time so the same format was followed again. That is six of us all pile into a tiny motorhome that we cart around the mountains in search of the best climbs, coffee and pizza on offer. As a guide for the trip we used the Mountain High and Mountain Higher books by one of our favourite cycling journalists Daniel Friebe. They’re are highly recommended as a guide to the most amazing climbs, even if it became apparent that some maximum gradients were understated, but it is only a selection of climbs and there is much more on offer. A handy map of the locations of the climbs from the books can be found here: https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?mid=z-4rJoJ–qYc.k3gG5bQBM6Fg&hl=en_US
For the trip I used Mountain Fuel as my nutrition product, making the most of their full range of Morning Fuel, Xtreme Energy Fuel, Ultimate Recovery Fuel and Night Fuel. The Morning Fuel was a new concept to me, having only used products while riding and for recovery, but one which I now recommend if only for the ability to use it to make other things such as the power pancakes, on the go fuel and flapjacks. I’ll summarise how I felt the fuel helped me a little later.
After lugging our bike boxes from all corners of the country we all met at Stansted airport. We promptly donned our trip t-shirts, a range from The Cycling Podcast of which we are all avid listeners, and ‘bilged’ (a term which we use to refer to our overly loud and after chat) our way through the airport. Disaster nearly struck when we thought we’d play it cool and not queue at the departure gate, after sitting for quite some time we twigged that the queue at our gate was actually already for the next flight, however after much panic we did get on the plane! The sight of six lads in their twenties, matching t-shirts and casquettes, shouting about their flight must have been something to all the other normal passengers!
The rest of the day consisted of collecting the motorhome, building the bikes in a supermarket car park, dropping the boxes at another motorhome depot and numerous espressi later arriving at our campsite near Trento. With not a moment wasted we were straight out on the bikes to check everything was in working order, including our legs.
Tappa 1: Saturday 18th July – https://www.strava.com/activities/348652553
First on our hit list was the Passo Manghen, a 100km including the 23km pass in near 40 degree heat is just the leg stretcher we thought we needed before the followings days Gran Fondo. However it was not to before a very lengthy stop after only a few kilometres to try and fix, and subsequently replace Ollies broken shifter. The rest of the ride, although very sweaty hard work, was amazing and the climb itself is one of my favourite of the trip. I’m sure you’ll agree that the views were spectacular! I must admit that I was little disappointed with my performance on the climb having expected to be going better in comparison to the others. I tried to put it down to being the first day and the heat, Mountain Fuel not working any wonders yet.
Tappa 2: Sunday 19th July – https://www.strava.com/activities/350971833
As mentioned above it was Gran Fondo day, namely La Leggendaria Charly Gaul. We had picked up our race packs the previous night from Trento, also making time for our first pizza and gelato, so all that was left to do in the morning was drive over to Trento again for the 8am start. We gathered in the starting grids in the town centre gaping at the sheer number of riders and getting more nervous as the clock ticked down. If you’ve only ever done sportives then a Gran Fondo is a much bigger version, except that it’s a mass start event. Also there’s not really such thing as a ‘mamil’, well don’t be surprised when what you think is one comes flying past you! As the flag was dropped the hundreds strong peloton sprinted though the narrow streets before hurtling down the main road at near 60kmh. We’d set off at the back of the fast group and as we tried to move up the women who’d set off behind were already steaming past. There was a tv helicopter following overhead and race motorbikes tearing up the outside. Once onto the first climb, having given up on any ambitions of mixing it up at the front, I settled into a more comfortable pace. I still seemed to going backwards though, with the riders from slower starting grids now filtering through, although I did get to ride right next to Francesco Moser, one of the VIP’s at the race. I decided to keep waiting for Dom at the top of hills and ride the course with him, already conscious on not burning myself out in the heat. Wisely we both cut the route short heading straight for the top of the final hill missing out half the route. As we soaked up the atmosphere at the finish the others were dying in the heat, ‘hardest thing they’ve ever done on a bike’ the quote most used on crawling upto the finish. I was rather glad with my decision to sit in the sun for the afternoon instead!
With everything done in Trento, and after a quick morning spin, we travelled north to Corvara. Once there the others went for a second spin but I thought I’d relax, and use the time to make some of the above mentioned ‘power pancakes’. They we’re super easy to make and tasted great despite not having any of the flavouring ingredients to hand. They’re perfect ride food being bite sized pieces, and you know that they’re fuelling you well for the day. In future I may make a big pancake for breakfast and will most certainly be giving the flapjack a go.
Tappa 3: Tuesday 21st July – https://www.strava.com/activities/350971956
Without any messing we opted to get straight on with the Maratona dles Dolomites gran fondo route, 138km taking in most of the areas big climbs and clocking up nearly 4000m of climbing. All was going well over the first couple of passes and I was feeling good on the bike for the first time on the trip. Either that or the others were still very tired from their gran fondo efforts and I was just going well in comparison, anyway I was enjoying it! Unfortunately it didn’t all carry on so well when Ollie crashed while descending the Passo Sella. A car had stopped for a traffic jam in the road and on seeing it as he came round the corner he had nowhere to go but down the side of the car and ultimately into the rock face on the side. Our initial thoughts were that it was a trip ending crash and we promptly called an ambulance, or rather got a passer-by to call as we all realised we didn’t actually know the emergency number in Italy! However after getting checked out it was decided that his injuries weren’t as bad as feared so we carried on with the ride, albeit very slowly. After limping home (Ollie actually got a lift from a kind tourist, maybe should have stayed in the ambulance…) Ollie, accompanied by Dom, went to the doctors to get checked out while the rest of us carried on with the route. We opted to cut it short, conscious of time and not wanting to leave Ollie to far away. After the check-up Ollie was given the all clear for any serious injuries and would take a couple of days off before continuing the rest of the trip.
Tappa 4: Wednesday 22nd July – https://www.strava.com/activities/351836939
Next up on the hit list was Tre Cime di Lavaredo. This involves a long 120km out and back via Cortina but it was definitely worth it. The ride was thoroughly enjoyable with great scenery and weather. There were thunderstorms but they never lasted long and the roads would be dry again in minutes. Tre Cime itself was possibly one of the hardest climbs of the trip, short but very steep, 5km averaging nearly 15%, but the views were worth it. Apart from a heavy bonk on the way home it must be my favourite ride of the trip. (I don’t think a lack of food was the problem, having just had a big lasagne and chips for lunch, but perhaps I just couldn’t make use of it climbing immediately after…)
Tappa 5: Thursday 23rd July – https://www.strava.com/activities/352335493
A slightly easier day was in order so the small task of finishing of the rest of the Maratona route was the plan. Small task it was not however, the passo Giau quite a piece of tarmac. We were spurred on by the first outing of our new DART kit (Durham Alumni Race Team), a deliberately very bright Italian styled kit plastered with ‘official’ sponsors to make use look the part. On being asked at the café stop whether we were an Italian team it confirmed that the kit was being received as intended. Unfortunately my new kit didn’t make it home in one piece when I crashed of the last descent of the day. Admittedly I was pushing quite hard, trying to catch the others who had only just past me before the summit, and just slid out on a hairpin as I carried too much speed to maintain grip on the still slightly moist road after the latest downpour. Luckily no major damage was done to bike or rider but I am still picking at the scabs now. It was my first proper road rash (I don’t crash too often) and in future I will always take a few more provisions to deal with it, it’s not that pleasant!
Tappa 6: Friday 24th July – https://www.strava.com/activities/353046297
On our final day in Corvara we one last climb to do, the Passo Fedaia infamous for its steep slopes. Before the climb truly got going we took a recommended alternative route through the Serrai de Sottoguda gorge. The route is closed off to motorists and costs €2 for the privilege of riding through it, worth it I’d say though. In addition it was nice to have an excuse to go as slow as possible since it had cost you something! However on leaving the gorge the climb rather unwelcomely starts to ramp up, soon presenting you with the daunting prospect of the stretch of road known as the graveyard of champions, arrow straight and not falling below 12% for 3km. The twisting bends near the top although steep were almost a relief after for the change in rhythm, the beautiful Lago di Fedaia at the top most certainly was a relief mind. After a nice Café stop I decided to take a slightly different route home, partly to get away from the other for once and partly to repeat one of my favourite stretches of road on the trip over the Passo Sella and the twisting descent off the Gardena back to the campsite. Unfortunately the descent wasn’t quite as fun as I’d hoped for in the torrential rain that tried to scour my face off.
Keep reading Dolomites Cycle Tour part 2 including my thoughts on Mountain Fuel