After a little persuasion, my bike pal and I decided to hit up Italy again one last time before the high passes were too cold and covered in snow. Also, on Friday the Giro d’Italia announced that the second to last stage would finish on top of the infamous Mount Zoncolan.
6am: Leave Salzburg Austria
930am: Arrive in the little village of Ovaro, Udine, Italy. Unpack bikes. We decide to ride a bit around Ovaro to warm up before we did the most difficult climb in pro cycling.
10am: We begin the ascent. I quickly realize that my chain has decide to this day to stretch enough to start skipping. I let Boban, my riding pal, go up the road (…that was my excuse).
You know you are on a good road when you can still see paint on the tarmac from races past. You know are you TRUELY in luck if you see “Pantani” still freshly written. Zoncolan’s steep turns are lined with poster signs of previous Giro stage winners. You pass Hinault, Coppi, Merkx, Pantani, and Simoni. Somewhat motivating, but that is still a hard task with 11% average for 11km (plus a 1km section at 20%!).
11:00am: One of the coolest experiences in European Alpine Climbs – the tunnels on Zoncolan. Imagine racing 10km of mountain road packed with thousands and thousand of fans screaming and yelling. Your body is at it’s limits. All of the sudden you come across a 10 meter wide series of tunnels – you ride through the darkness with the slight whisper of the tens of thousands of fans waiting on the final open 1km coliseum of insanity.
It was nice to imagine what it is like on race day, fortunately I got to see two opposing cars struggle a switchback pass for 10 minutes – I suppose it is similar enough to witnessing Ivan Basso conquering the final km of this beast.
12:00pm: We begin the insanely fast descent down to Sutrio. From here you have to take a much easier pass back to Ovaro. With Zoncolan in your leg’s it is still a bit of a task.
1:00pm We get back to the car and check the weather for Sunday. It seems that there is a chance that it might not rain…and it is Sella Runda no car day. We are sold… off to the Dolomites we go. The popular Tre Cime climb is on the way so we decide to make a slight detour to climb it. Best idea ever.
5:00pm: We begin the Tre Cime ascent from Lake Misurina. It is super chilly, but absolutely amazing.
The climb starts just below the tree-line. The road goes up for about a 1km then every so slightly turns down for a few hundred meters. The road is a maze through plush alpine timber forest.
Soon the treeline breaks and the road really kicks up. Here you start to get +10% average, but the view and fresh air quickly make you forget. Everything starts to look foreign, like another planet.
6:30pm We crest Tre Cime. It is visually stunning. It has a very unique vibe. You are already very high up at 2300 meters, yet there are still these 3 stone super structures shooting out of the mountain top for what looks like another 1000 meters. Just amazing.
7:00pm: Descending Tre Cime at sundown is amazing. The road felt like it was my own. We packed up bikes and began the drive towards Sella Ronda.
9:00pm: We stop in the famous ski village of Cortina at the steps of Tre Cime. Grab some pizza and panini and crash. Climbing 2000+ meters on bike in less than 40km will break any man.
7:30am Another crappy Italian hotel breakfast, even though Boban swore by the cake they brought out after I left.
We pack car and decide to head to
9:30am We arrive and unpack the car. The weather was fairly chilly and cloudy, rain threatened. But..cyclists everywhere…
Now let me explain Northern Italy “no car” days.
Basically, some Italian cops with mustaches block off famous mountain passes for a few hours so Ferrari and Ducati shitheads won’t run you over while you take your sweet time up the ascents. You come across two types of cylists here, the Italians and the German speakers. The Italians on their Pinerellos and weird bopady bopady named frames take the climbs all in large groups and go ridiculously slow – but they just don’t give a fuck. They keep composure and I am pretty certain the offering of a glass of wine or piece of tail would end their ride on the spot. Then you have the German speakers (Austrians, Germans, Swiss) on their Simplions and other random bikes with too much carbon fiber. These guys are all lonewolfs – solo riders. They tend to really enjoy the sporty side of riding bikes, there is no romanticism…it’s all for the glory. However, the real German Cyclists do Radmarathons not “no car” days. So here you will see slightly overweight Munchen roadies in full Assos kit crawling up a 6% grade at 6kmph. But…it’s good fun and all. Ohhh and there are no cars.
10:00am: We begin the first climb of 4 – Gardena Pass. It is AMAZING. I think this is my favorite easy climb ever. Not too steep and with a great view.
11:00am: We took Gardena a little too fast and are sweating a lot. We decide to pull into the Alm house at the top of the climb to dry off and drink something. We were in no rush.
Next up, Sella Pass. This one is pretty forgettable. It was long and straight, noting magnificent – but the view is splendid. However, the descent was amazing. Perfectly angled switchback with enough space between to get just the right amount of speed. Super sick.
12:00pm: Time for Pordoi Pass. Each year the Sella Ronda no car day goes one direction around the circuit. The direction this year ascended Pordoi on the uglier side. It wasn’t super long, but it was pretty unimpressive, very similar to Sella. I promise…it was enjoyable and I would ride it again anyday, but it wasn’t my favorite. Also, like Sella the descent was absolutely gorgeous.
1:00pm: We climb the final bit of the Sella Ronda circuit Campolongo Pass. It was much shorter than the other climbs, so we went full gas. My legs still felt great so it was a blast. The descent was also amazing. Not too steep, but just right. This landed us right back where we started in Corvara. We packed up bikes and head on back to Salzburg. Another weekend of Alpine Mountain passes in the book…