Passo Giau (2236m), Passo Falzarego (2105m), Passo Pordoi (2239m) Passo Costalunga (1745m)
Waking up in the mountains for the first time on the trip put a bit of a spring in everyone’s step. Any remaining grappa-induced fuzziness was gone after an all-to-brief 4km descent to the bottom of the first climb of the day.
Passo Giau is a tough but lovely and relatively short climb. The 10km climb averages 9.8% with peaks of 14% and is placed late on in the Maratona Dolomites which leads to it having a killer reputation. Although this was our first real 'high' mountain pass our fresh legs coped fairly well with the challenge and we all enjoyed the climb.
The reward for the effort was truly spectacular view that only came into sight as you crested the top. Our first sight of the high alps put the great views from yesterday into perspective and spirits were high as we descended to the bottom after a quick coffee stop.
Next up was the Falzarego which was another 10km climb but with a much easier 5% average gradient and no sections over 10%. Huge Dolomite rock formations hung over us, providing constant ‘wow’ moments as every corner turned gave a new perspective.
As we got to the top we were confronted with thousands of local sportive riders heading through the pass and up to the Passo Valparola.
The good news was that this meant we had some ‘traffic free’ roads to enjoy our descent on. The bad news was the roads were full of cyclists heading up, often with their head down! I took to shouting out daft noises to get their attention and shouting "Grazi Mille" with a big smile. It was a blast. We stopped for another fantastic lunch halfway down the descent and enjoyed the spectacle of the last few hundred riders going past. Given the parcour they were facing there was an impressive and often entertaining variety of rider types and bikes. It seems the mountains hold no fear for your everyday Italian cyclist.
The road to the bottom of the Pordoi Pass was an hour of false flat with more lovely views.
The climb itself had a very similar length and profile to the last i.e. not too testing, and we reached the top of the Pordoi in great spirits, if a little desperate for cold drinks and ice cream.
There’s very cool monument to Fausto Coppi here which makes for a good photo op.
Now well into our second day in the mountains we’d all found our own climbing pace and settled into the descending well. The road down to Canazei was another cracking piece of tarmac which we all enjoyed and a gentle slope then took us down to the bottom of our last climb, the Passo Costalunga. Although this is only 8km at 5%, the last third is almost flat so there are a few early sections over 10/11% to be weary of. As we attempted to regroup at the top, Billy disappeared into a restaurant, desperate for some food to avoid the dreaded bonk. Billy has the double whammy of being youngest in the group and a vegan, so stamina and fuelling was always going to be a challenge in a country were veganism is a bit of an alien concept. This the first of several bonks/near-bonks however, time was pressing and we still had 60km planned that day. Some gentle persuasion and the promise of an easy descent and nice flat spin to the hotel was enough to get us moving. It was a lie.
After regrouping at the bottom of another epic descent and negotiating our way through Bolzano, we found ourselves on a great cycle path to our destination Merano. It was hot (32 degrees) in the valley but we desperately wanted to get the miles in as The Stelvio awaited us the next day. Luckily we had a tail wind and an engine by the name of Jered pulling everyone along, if a little too eagerly at times! Despite a few choice words coming from the back of the train it felt good to knock off the last 20-odd kilometres at racing speed and we arrived in Merano with just under a hundred miles on the clock.
It didn't take us long to find a small welcoming hotel on the main road and we enjoyed a well-deserved cold beer before getting cleaned up and heading out to a great family restaurant close by. We weren’t staying close to the town centre, but it did look really nice when we rode through it the next morning. Definitely worth checking out if you’re passing through. Still feeling fresh and lively we enjoyed a few beers that night, although the promise of Stelvio and Gavia the next day kept us off the grappa.