Tuesday, July 22, 2008

European Cycling -- Sunday, June 15

Misurina-Passo Cimabanche-Biagio-Col Rosa-Cortina d’Ampezzo-Passo Falzareto (2105m)-Pocol-Passo di Giau (2233m)-Selva di Cadore-Caprile-Larzonei-Arraba-Passo di Campolongo (1875m)-Corvara-Passo di Gardena (Grodner Joch 2121m)-Selva di Val Gardena (Wolkenstein)

65.55 miles
Climbing 9405 ft

We awoke to crystalline blue skies, white puffy clouds, and crisp mountain air. Due to the propensity for European late breakfast hours, it had warmed considerably (given the altitude) by the time of our departure. The late dining hours were to develop into somewhat of a problem as our trip progressed.

It was a partly sunny start, cloudy by the time we reached Cortina, drizzling on Passo Campolongo, raining steadily on the Passo Gardena, our final ascent, and a constant deluge on the descent. At the top of Gardena, it was 35 degrees and sleeting. It warmed up to 39 degrees by the time we reached the day’s end at the ski town of Wolkenstein (Selva di Val Gardena).

Despite the cold and wet weather, I managed to stay relatively warm. In addition to summer clothes, I brought almost my entire winter kit, and during the first four riding days in the high mountains, I would deploy every single piece! For the Gardena descent, over my Team HPC jersey I wore a fleece jersey, my winter fleece jacket with a full wind block front , and my rain shell. The following day I would substitute full fleece tights with a wind block front for the fleece knickers I wore today.

Today was to be a day of five passos. It would have been six had we stuck to our plan to lead off with the Tre Cime di Laveredo (2344m), the scene of a fiercely contested mountain top finish in this year’s Giro d’ Italia. Given the weather forecast, the fact that it was an out and back, and the difficulty of the rest of the day’s itinerary, we decided to pass on this one. Part of the Laveredo climb involves 2.5+ miles of 12% average grade, and this might have also factored into our decision. Besides, I had to save something for my next visit!

After approaching Cortina from the north, and climbing the Falzareto, next up was Passo Giau from the “easy” north side, which was still hard. Giau from the north was 5.7 miles long with an average gradient of 8.2%, and featured one section at 14.5%. As we descended the south side of the pass, I was thinking of the riders who had climbed this stage in the 2008 Giro, and then had to finish on Laveredo. As opposed to my “survival” pace, they were racing—and doing it for three weeks!

In any case, the Giro riders’ ascent was our descent, and it was spectacular. We were above tree line, and one could look down at the road below and see that there were no cars approaching for the next 3-4 hairpin turns, giving us confidence that we could trace any line we desired through each turn. It reminded me a lot of the Col du Mente in the Pyrenees. The view from the top of Giau is supposed to be “the most beautiful view in the Dolomites,” according to Lonely Planet’s Cycling Italy, but I can’t confirm that because by then the clouds had socked in around us.

Passo Compolongo was fairly short but steep. In fact, it appears that all of the Dolomite passes are steep…some are just shorter than others.

Just before the top of Passo Gardena, Tim and I passed three riders. As Tim and I were donning our winter gear, the first of the three rolled up. He had said something to me in Italian as I went by him, and of course, I had no response. Not only do I not speak Italian, I was in the NTZ (no talking zone)! Aware of the communication gap, and wearing a wide grin, he jubilantly started repeating the only English words he knew were important to him at the moment, “Sixty-two years, sixty two years!” Tim had a brief conversation with him in German, but I didn’t need to understand their words to capture the joy he felt in his heart.
With some trepidation, Tim and I dropped down the west side of the Passo Gardena—the side we had just yesterday climbed in balmy, sunny conditions. We were actually glad we caught up to a large, slow moving vehicle, as it deterred the few cars following us from passing on slick roads with poor visibility.

Our quaint but recently renovated hotel in Wolkenstein was way up high on a big hill, and I hit my maximum wattage for the day on this final “climb.” For dinner, we took a short walk to a local restaurant, and I ate a whole pizza, Italian style.

It was another long day on the bike, but I felt a little better today, a trend I was hoping would continue.

Difficulty 10
Quality 10
Route 10
Scenery 9
(one point deducted for what we couldn’t see!)

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