The Dolomites are utterly fantastic for road cycling. They are revered as one of the great areas in the alps with numerous mountain passes in the vicinity of Val Pettorina featured in the Giro D’Italia and the Maratona dles Dolomites. The nearest mountain pass of Passo Fedaia (10km) is an excellent challenge for those looking for a physical trial, with the reward of awesome views of Marmolada, Civetta and Lago di Fedaia from the top. The nearby Passo Giau (18km away) has frequently made an appearance in the ‘Giro’ in past years and is rated by Road Cycling Uk as one of the 5 ‘must ride’ climbs in Italy with huge panoramic views of the Dolomites from the summit. In 2014 stage 18 included the picturesque San Pellegrino Pass (18km away). And the Sellaronda offers a fantastic route with 4 mountain passes which can be completed in a day in either a clockwise or counter- clockwise direction. Other stunning passes that connect the Agordino Valley with the surrounding valleys include Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordoi, Passo Falzarego, Passo Staulanza and Passo Rolle, amongst many others. For great ideas, check out these Road Cycling Itineraries!
What to expect from road rides in the Dolomites
Hills, hills and more hills! Quite obviously the ascents and descents are long here and can feature riding up to 15% on many passes. As a result you need to have the legs and the lungs to match – the more prepared you are, the more enjoyable you will find it. That said, there are some easier rides, especially if you are happy doing “linear” routes rather than circuits.
The roads are variable in their smoothness – some areas, especially around the Sellaronda are very well maintained, whereas others are decidedly rough and ready. But the most outstanding aspect of riding in these mountains are the views! It is rare to find road cycling routes with such amazing sights to take your mind off the lactates building in your legs.
When to come
The road riding season is relatively long, with either end depending on how prepared you are for the cold at the summit of the passes. The main season lasts from mid May through to mid October, prime seasons being June and September for the simple reasons that:
- The roads are less busy with cars and buses
- The weather is better than in July and August with cooler temperatures
- There is less rain, and afternoon storms
- Because the weather is more stable, the views are better!
This is so personal it’s almost futile to try to specify but here are a few tips:
- A light bike is best for sure – as light as you can afford so that you are dragging less weight uphill.
- Reasonably wide tyres with some tread. We would say 28-30mm wide tyres are best as it allos for slightly lower tyre pressure and as a result more comfort, with in addition a smaller likelihood of puntures. They also promote better surface contact for those sharp hairpins, and having a light tread pattern means you will feel more secure if there is a rain shower.
- Disc brakes – especially for those who are nervous of the long downhills. Disc brakes whilst eschewed by many pro riders make a huge amount of sense for the keen amateur. They allow consistent braking even when wet, have greater modulation for control and will not overheat your rims preventing a blowout.
- Swap your cassette and/or chain rings – unless you are a pro, you simpply will not be able to push hard enough to need a 52 tooth chainring and a weeny cassette. Put on a touring cassette with 32-36 teeth and drop 4-6 teeth off each of your rings. It’s most likely not a race so it doesn’t matter and you will have a much more enjoyable riding experience. You could even consider a gravel drivetrain like Shimano GRX.
- Water and hydration drinks – it goes without saying need as mucha s you can get, especially during the hotter months of July and August. Put on as many cages as you can and make sure you top off your bideons before long climbs.
- Consider a clutch derailleur – the roads here are anything but smooth and your chain will bounce like crazy on descents. A clutch derailleur can help prevent dropping your chain. The downside is it creates greater drivechain friction requiring a little more effort on the climbs; if that concerns you, you can always disengage it for the climbs.
- Make sure you think about your clothing system well – aim for versatility as the difference in temperatures can be huge from the bottom of a pass to the top, if it rains, if the sun goes behind clouds etc.
Renting bikes in Val Pettorina is not the easiet thing to achieve as you have to travel out of the valley. Here are some options:
- Limitt Bike Service in Arabba: Nice guys with 5 road bikes. Tel: +39 377 3945815
- Northland Nolleggio Sci & Bike in Canazei: large shop with a selection of bikes. https://www.northlandski.com/
- Sport Kostner in Corvara. https://www.noleggiobicicorvara.com/bike-station-corvara/biciclette-elettriche-e-bike
- Breakout Sport in Corvara and La Villa. http://www.breakoutsport.it/en/s_default.asp
How fit do I need to be?
Obviously the fitter the better. But in broad terms you need to be able to consistently do rides of around 50km and 500mH climbing before you start to think about some of the passes here. Spinning classes if correctly planned can be enormously beneficial, raising your lactate threshold being key.