So many times, and in all seasons, have we travelled this route that to describe it seems strange and surely risks cliché. But, we’re talking about the Dolomites here, the university of road cycling, climbs that have shaped the history of the bicycle and created the legend of so many champions. Sella, Pordoi, Campolongo and Gardena: with some names a certain amount of rhetoric can be forgiven.
Every year, in mid-June and early September, there is the opportunity to ride the 60 km of the Tour of the 4 Passes on closed roads. The now classic Sellaronda Bike Day, which attracts thousands of cycling enthusiasts from all over Europe, is the occasion to devote a day to these fantastic climbs.
Here’s the story of 19 June 2016.
Ready, set, go!
There are 4 of us. We set off from Selva di Val Gardena at 7.30am to beat the crowds (we’re talking about 15,000 cyclists here). The sky is overcast but for now the weather holds. The organisers recommend doing the tour anti-clockwise, and so we do.
At 5 km, there’s the fork for the Sella Pass: 2,230 m above sea level and a vertical climb of about 650 m. We feel spring loaded and arrive at the summit quickly, not least because this is the easiest of the climbs but because the road surface is ideal. It’s neither hot nor cold, which at this altitude in June is nothing short of remarkable. So far so good.
The twisting descent with the mammoth Sassolungo looming on the right really is something. Shortly before reaching Canazei, at 1,800 m, we start to climb towards the second Pass, the mythical Pordoi (2,241 m), which we reach in just over half an hour. An excellent time for us. We’re not even halfway round but the hardest part is over, although I do remember on a couple of occasions in previous years hitting the wall on the final climb of the Gardena Pass—rideable but very long—and arriving at the summit spent.
Let’s get comfortable
This time I’ve boosted the food supplies and there should be no risk of that happening again.
However, there’s still the third Pass to do, Campolongo, with a detour into the Veneto Region. It’s the shortest of the 4 at only 4 km and a vertical climb of 250 m. We descend towards Corvara and ride immediately on without stopping towards Colfosco and the Gardena Pass, since the roads are now packed with bicycles. There’s even a guy with a Hungarian moustache riding a velocipede. How he manages to make some of the climbs remains a mystery.
Whilst I’m on the subject, my friend Andrea has the odd problem with comfort—read irritation from chafing—perhaps due to being a little unused to long rides, though it’s also true that it will have been two years since I told him to change saddles… personally I’ve solved any such problems with a Selle Italia SLR Friction Free Saddle. Quite narrow, it allows me to adopt a slightly rearward position, eliminating any friction with the inner thigh. Now I feel great.
The sting is always in the tail
Back to pedalling. At the first hairpin of the climb to Gardena (2,119 m and a vertical climb of 600 m) it starts to rain. We have to grit our teeth for 7 km – a reminder that cycling is, above all, about suffering. But at least there’s no wind.
It takes us a good 35 minutes to reach the summit (completely drenched), where we don capes and descend again towards Selva, with brake pads whistling on wet rims. The slippery road surface advises caution so we never exceed 40 km/hour, given also that there really are a lot of people, and not everyone knows how to tackle such a descent in these conditions.
We arrive at Selva and a quick glance at the computer reports 3h 45m (…not bad for us oldies). Then we rush to our hotel for a well-earned hot shower.
General comments: the ride is amazing but not particularly challenging. However it still demands proper preparation; otherwise, the overall vertical climb, altitude and potentially difficult weather conditions can make it so.