Climb every mountain

Text by Alan Woodison, images courtesy of Laura McFarlane

Eight club cyclists from Ayrshire – most of them members Walkers Cycling Club – have just ticked off a wish list favourite by taking on some of the iconic passes of the Dolomites in the north of Italy.

The group set off on a relatively easy day one, cycling 50 miles over three passes including Passo Duran, a 1600 metre ride in sweltering heat. The weather changed dramatically on the last descent and the group arrived shivering and soaked through at the first overnight stop.

Day two began with a climb on Passo di Gaiau at 2233m, swiftly followed by Passo Tre Croci where lunch was eaten at the picturesque Lago di Misurina.  At this point the weather changed for the worst and a couple of riders decided not to tackle the third climb, Tre Cime di Lavaredo at 2320m and 16 per cent gradient in places. A wise decision considering they had to retrace their route back in pouring rain through Cortina and up the start of Passo di Valparola to the hotel.

Day three was slightly longer at 56 miles and took in five different passes – but it stayed dry. Included in the itinerary was Passo di Sella which had very long straight steep sections for much of it.  This pass also contains the memorial to Fausto Coppi, the famous Italian cyclist from the 1950s. On the final climb of the day, two of the group overshot a turn and ended up needing assistance to get back to the hotel. This resulted in them missing the climb up Passo di Gardena at the beautiful ski resort of Val Gardena and the final descent into Colfosco.

By day four the sun was out and temperature was soaring. Passo di Campolongo was the first pass of the day at a height of 1775 metres followed by the Passo Pordoi, both of which were scenic alpine passes with many cyclists on them. The final pass for the day was Passo di San Pellegroni, which had fewer cars and bikes. However, at the top the group did meet the Astana team who didn’t hang about to meet their Ayrshire cousins.

Day five was the highlight of the trip and the climax of the adventure. This was the day the group would climb the famous passes of Passo di Stevlio and Passo di Gavia at heights of 2757 metres and 2621 metres respectively, both of which feature often in the Giro d’Italia. Passo di Stevlio has 48 hairpins on the side the group were climbing.  The lead into these hairpins is along the valley and proved to be a very hot sun trap from very early morning with no breeze whatsoever.  By the time the group reached the hairpins, the motorbikes had arrived – many, many motorbikes followed by a load more cyclists. The views from the hairpins were superb and, as the group stopped individually to take photos, they got chatting to the many other cyclists on the climb from different nations.

A well-earned lunch was had at Bormio before the second iconic climb of the day, Passo di Gavia, a narrow road with far fewer cyclists and virtually no motorbikes.  The lack of vehicular traffic resulted in an enjoyable, tranquil climb. At the summit the group split into two, one lot choosing to descend by bike, the others preferring a lift down.

Day six, and the final session, had three options for the same hill – Mortirolo, known locally as the Passo di Foppa. The group choose to climb the ‘easier’ side and descend the steepest side as the finale to the trip.

This hill also has the Pantani monument dedicated to Italy’s famous king of the mountains rider. As this was the last pass of the six-day trip, the bikes were dismantled at the bottom of the hill, packed into their boxes and loaded into a van for transportation to Lake Como for the last overnight stop before returning home.

It had been a dream trip for the eight cyclists who had already experienced other famous continental bike routes in previous years. Seventeen passes and 12,000 metres of climbing, however, resulted in them awarding the Dolomites trip the highest ranking. Well … so far!