Devilish Dolomite Delight, by Gavin Davies.  

After yesterday’s monster day of climbing with relatively low miles, we decided to switch things around today & do a longer ride but with less climbing. The plan was to do a 75 mile loop, with 3 medium difficulty ascents in the 2nd half of the ride. The weather had defied the forecasters again & we were greeted by the sun & blue sky, much better the rain that we were expecting!

We set off from Cortina d’Ampezzo at 9am in what the route described as a ‘power descent’ for the first 25 miles – I now know this means you can get into an aero position & let gravity do its stuff as we dropped downhill & reversed the final 18 miles of our Sunday evening’s car journey from Venice. After about 5 miles, we stumbled upon a cycle track that followed the route of the old railway track & would take us all the way to Pieve di Cadore – this was a real bonus, as the road was busier than we expected & we’d already been passed by a large petrol tanker & a couple of logging lorries with additional trailers.

The cycle path took us through meadows, along the edge of a pine forest (which seems to be the tree of choice in the region) & gave us a great view of a deep river valley several hundred feet below us. All this scenery was wearing us out, so we decided to stop at a small café on the cycle path & build up our energy levels ahead of the climbing fest later in the day. Today’s delight was a scrummy apple roll (picture a sausage roll, but filled with apple!) & cappuccino as we overlooked huge views of the mountains in the distance.

After our refreshments, we continued downhill for another 7 or 8 miles before we came across the first of several lakes on today’s route. Due to the glacial sediments, the water had an un-natural greenish/blue tinge & it marked the end of our long descent. At this point we had the first of several surprises, as the cycle path that avoided a 2.5 mile tunnel was closed & that meant we had to either miss out an 18 mile segment of the ride, or brave the tunnel…. 2.5 miles later we were back in daylight – let’s face it, you knew that’s what we’d do!

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We were now in a wide open glacial valley, cycling the opposite way to the flow of the river, so at some point we’d have to climb our way back to freedom! The road rode gently for the next 6 or 7 miles & then as we reached the village of San Nicolo di Comelica, we started the proper climbing – nothing too serious but enough to warm the legs up for the bigger challenges to come. We were now 39 miles into the ride & the climb had temporarily flattened out, so it was time to recharge the batteries with a lunch stop. We found a great little restaurant that rustled us up some pasta & sauce, even though they were just about to close – we were so hungry, I forgot to get a photo of lunch!

After lunch, we continued along a shelf road for another couple of miles, before making a left turn at Padola for the ascent of Passo San Antonio. I hadn’t been able to find out anything about it, except that it was approximately 4 miles long & rose about 700 feet. On the face of it, one of the easiest climbs we’ll do all trip & that how we treated it….until it ramped up to 11% for the last but one mile (pretty much all the climbing was in the middle two miles!) Surprise number two delivered.

The start of the descent was incredible, steep long straights & wide corners, giving clear views of the road ahead. As we dropped down, the road began to twist & turn as it followed the contours of the mountain. After a mere 5 miles, we were in Aurenzo di Cadore, where we found another lake where the water was of the purest green. Aurenzo also marked the start of the day’s longest climb, the 10 mile ascent rose 3,000 feet up to Lake Misurina. The alarm bells started ringing when after 5 miles we’d been climbing a 2% to 3% gradient in the big ring – if the stats were right, we were in for a torrid 2nd half to the ascent! The good news was my stats were right, the bad news, was also that my stats were right!

The final 4 miles of the climb didn’t drop below 11% & it regularly hit 14 & 15% – luckily there were stunning views every way we looked, but this was also where I found out how much top end fitness I’d lost in the last 3 weeks – this climb would have been tough whatever my fitness, but my arm, back & legs took it in turns to object to the stresses & strains they were under!

The climb topped out at the tourist-friendly Lake Misurina, with incredible views up to the Tre Cime de Lavaredo (The three peaks of Lavaredo) – the spot where Vicenzo Nibali won the penultimate stage on a summit finish in driving snow storms & secured overall victory in the Giro d’Italia in 2013. After a pit stop of shortbread dipped in chocolate & a coke, we were ready for the final short, sharp ascent of the Passo Tre Croci. Just as we were puffing & wheezing our way up another steep ramp, we were overtaken by two JLT Condor professionals, who were sprinting up it in the big ring – a huge reminder of the difference between keen (but old) amateurs & the pros! This area’s a cycling mecca, as yesterday we saw the UAE Bahrain Merida squad heading to the Passo Giau on a training ride.

Once we’d crested the climb, we stopped long enough to absorb the surroundings, take a quick photo & then descend back into Cortina. It was another high-quality road, with plenty of long, sweeping corners, which made for a fun last few miles – the final surprise of the day was to take a left turn into the town, only to realise it was a one-way street! No harm done, as the road was empty, but another reminder of the need to concentrate all day!

Daily Cortina Trivia Feature (stage 2) – the ski chase in the James Bond film ‘For Your Eyes Only’ (starring Roger Moore) was filmed in Cortina d’Ampezzo.  

This article was written by guest blogger, Gavin Davies. You can read more about Gav’s cycling adventures at his blog Gav’s Cycling Adventures