Monday 26 November 2012

Bella Sella Ride!

It may be a little late in the year to do this ride now, and I guess the guys in Canazei and Arabba are preparing for the ski season (which is an area I would recommend, by the way!).

However, this is certainly a route to consider for next spring/summer. I rode around this area in August this year and I must say it is one of the nicest routes you can ride in the Dolomites. It is a classic circuit that many cyclists do, as it consists of four mountain passes - If going anti-clockwise from Canazei you do Passo Pordoi, Passo Campolongo, Passo Gardena, and Passo Sella.

People who have ridden the Maratona dles Dolomiti will be familiar with these climbs as they are included in this very popular Italian cyclosportive. The good thing about the route is that it is not so long - around 60km, so can easily be completed in half a day. Or you can make a day of it and stop to visit the pleasant villages that you pass en route. By the way, you do have 2,000m of climbing to ride along the circuit, so a rest in between the climbs is not such a bad thing!

I have recorded the route here if you would like to see more details on the stats.

Here is a brief description of my ride:

I started from the main road through Canazei, and headed towards Falzarego and Cortina. Shortly after the Belvedere ski lift I turned left to begin climbing. That was pretty much my activity for the following 90 minutes. It might have been better to do a warm-up by riding around on the flat, since the sudden climb was a bit of a shock to the system on my legs. The early part of the slope, which is the Passo Pordoi, was a little steep, and it had me wondering if I would be able to cope with this amount of climbing for 16 kilometres. Thankfully, the road levelled off once I reached the junction with the Passo Sella. I was happy to turn right and continue on the Pordoi rather than to tackle the steeper Passo Sella.

Riding up the climb was very straightforward and there were lots of beautiful views to take in as I passed in and out of the woods, rounding hairpin after hairpin.

This ride is effectively a tour of the plateau shaped massif of the Sella mountain range, and Piz Boe, the highest peak in the area. The whole time that you are riding this you get spectacular views of the snow-capped peaks of these dramatic mountains, including Sass Pordoi, which stands out as a high rocky balcony.

Along the ride I was overtaken by various cyclists, many of whom looked like they were on a mission to complete the circuit in record time. I also passed a number of recreational riders who were out with their panniers tootling up the hill. Under the summer sunshine it was easy to work up a sweat even though we were at almost 2,000m above sea level. Picnic sites at various intervals along the side of the road made it all too tempting to stop for a breather, however I was eager to reach the top of the climb and see what was there.

Around three quarters of the way up the climb there was a crossroads of mountain folk. One of the switchbacks I rounded was criss-crossed with trails from a downhilling track so it was advisable to keep an eye out for dirt jumpers hairing down the mountain as I ground my way up. There were also lots of walkers spilling out of the cable cars from Canazei. Some were curious and stood and watched us cyclists "showing off our skills". Others continued their way up to the Pordoi summit on foot.  By now I was just sauntering up the climb and I was sure the walkers were scaling their trails quicker than I could manage the switchbacks!

Finally, I reached the summit at 2239m and was greeted by many walkers who actually complimented me for having managed the climb. A Fausto Coppi monument and a big "Arrived" signboard let me know that my challenge was over - at least for the moment!

After a quick snack at the hilltop restaurant I rolled down the twisty, descent to reach Arabba, and then started a short climb up Passo Campolongo.

It wasn't actually that longo! This 5km pass was just a tickler before the other big climb of the loop, Passo Gardena. Before starting the third climb, I took the time to look around Corvara, a large village which is a good base for skiing and other walking activities. Riding up Passo Gardena was easily the most beautiful climb of the circuit, but for me, it was the hardest. It's  the sort of climb where you can see where you were meant to go, but it is a long, long, way off and the road twists in various directions along a torturously long route. An ariel view of the road gave an impressive succession of switchbacks snaking backwards, forwards, sideways, etc. just like spaghetti. I regret not having taken a photo of the road, but at the time I was so focused on just trying to complete the route. Even though the climb was not so long - 12km, my legs felt a bit tired and my lack of fitness was really showing.

Boy, was I glad to reach the 2136m summit and get a bite to eat - even  if I had to share my table with a load of hairy leather-clad bikers! I was just glad to have made it, and I felt so pleased to have managed this climb.

The last section of the ride was probably the easiest. There wasn't much of a descent. Over the next 5km the road only descended around 200m, however the lack of an exhilarating descent was more than compensated for by the lack of a tough final climb. In fact, to reach the summit of the final pass - Passo Sella, I only needed to climb about 4km. Once I had crested this, I was able to enjoy a lovely 12km descent all the way back to my lodgings in Canazei. The interesting thing about this ride as well, is that people can ride it either clockwise or anti-clockwise, and I found myself seeing people riding up the Passo Sella, who I had earlier seen riding down the Passo Pordoi!

The Sella Ronda ride is one of the most pleasant mountain cycle rides I've done. It is easy to navigate, scenic, and short enough to not feel too onerous for slow-coaches like me!
Next time I am there I will try ride the clock-wise version of the route.

Also, for those who would like to make more of an event of it there will be 2 days next year where all these mountain passes will be closed to traffic and thousands of cyclists can get a free run of the 60km route. These Sella Ronda Bike Days take place on June 23rd and September 15th 2013. I've mark them in the diary!

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