Dolomites Tour 2023
For some years now, members of the Fenland Clarion have taken an annual cycle tour, usually in Europe (but with a memorable detour to the Scottish Highlands in 2017). In 2022, after a two year pandemic-induced hiatus, we were blessed with a glorious adventure in the western Alps of France including the beautiful Verdon Gorge.
This year we decided to return to the Dolomites, scene of my first tour with the team back in 2015.
We were to be (L to R) Ian Todd, Phil Anders, Me, Julian Tatam, Ian Richardson and ... Phil Gee.
Planning and Preparation
It’s all in the planning and there’s plenty of it. Club runs leader Ian “Henri Desgranges” Todd devises the route always ensuring that the iconic climbs and inevitable hair-raising descents are all included. The routes are pored over before downloading to our Garmins and maps highlighted showing the rides to come. Packing lists are circulated and the magic art of stuffing it all into a pair of panniers can be seen here.
Our flights from Gatwick to Verona were booked taking advantage of the direct Thameslink train from Peterborough and its no fuss approach to carrying bikes. All the planning in the world however could not take account of BA changing the flight time from 5.00 on Sunday afternoon to 6.00 in the morning which meant an overnight stop in Gatwick for the early flight. Then network rail announced that due to engineering works there were no trains into London that weekend! So, again, we made alternative arrangements and readied ourselves for the trip.
Day 0 Saturday June 24th.
We awoke to the news that Phil Gee had crashed on a preparation ride the night before and would have to join us when the stitches had been removed from his hand.
Ian Richardson, Julian and myself decided to take the train to St Neots, cycle the 16 miles to Bedford then catch the train down to Gatwick. The journey went well and we all, minus Phil G, met up at the airport for the twilight check in on Saturday evening.
The bikes were readied for the flight: handlebars lowered, seats lowered, pedals removed, and sealed in a plastic bag.
Then they go into the oversize baggage conveyor belt system – 3 bikes fitted but Julian’s and mine bizarrely didn’t fit - despite having gone through the same procedure on several previous tours. Fortunately, the bikes could be manually loaded, a great relief, and we headed to our hotel ready for the dreaded 4.00 am alarm call.
Day 1 Sunday June 25th - To Verona
We had a straightforward check-in and flight and arrived in bright sunny Verona at about 9:30 in the morning. The bikes had survived the journey and after assembly we circled Verona airport a number of times before finding our route into the city.
Camping San Pietro in Verona is up a hill with fantastic views over the city and tents were swiftly pitched in the beautiful surroundings.
Here a confession is due, some tours ago, I decided that camping was not for me, so now I book into nearby B&B’s and hotels, and tonight I had the luxury of an ancient 1970’s caravan on the campsite and a great night’s sleep after we had explored Verona and its ice cream parlours.
Day 2 Monday June 26th Campsite in Verona to Mori
46.9 miles in 04:07:10 at 11.39mph over 1691ft
Early starts are the norm on these trips as we are always keen to get going and find somewhere for breakfast and of course coffee. Today’s ride was mostly flat following the Claudia Augusta cycleway yia the Adige River. The cycleways were in good condition and well used, we were surprised at the large number of e-bikes.
There were plenty of cafes along the route such as this one at Belluno Veronese. It was a lovely ride past vineyards and orchards although temperatures in the mid-30s °C made it quite hard.
Once in Mori we had the obligatory ice cream stop at the fantastic Gelateria Bologna housed in an elegant Art Nouveau villa. It was so good we went back there for more after our evening meal.
Day 3 Tuesday June 27th Loppio to Lago Caldenazzo via two cols.
48.4 miles in 05:42:38 at 8.48mph over 7370ft.
I started the day at a local bike shop to replace a lost cleat screw, which had caused me to have a slow-motion fall the day before.
Looking at the profile, we knew today's ride would be tough and so it proved – from the start we were climbing - up the 9.74 miles of the Passo Bordala (1,264m) in temperatures averaging 30°C. After descending to the Adige River, we picked up the Via Claudia Augusta cycleway again before climbing the monstrous Passo Sommo (1,343m) for 12.5 miles (including an ice cream stop in Folgaria) and down to Lake Caldenazzo. It was quite late when we arrived so no swimming but a lovely meal in a bustling lakeside restaurant.
Day 4 Wednesday June 28th Caldenazzo to Bellamonte
48.1 miles in 04:58:13 at 9.68mph over 5232ft
After we had all breakfasted at The Energy hotel, which had proven very bike-friendly with a dedicated garage for bikes and tools, we had a lakeside ride then a seven mile climb from Valsugana at an average of 8% over an unnamed pass before a quick descent to a lake for coffee and toasties. A lovely ride along cycle paths to Predazzo stopping for fruit before another stiff climb up to Bellamonte and our stop for the night.
During the day I had trouble with my front derailleur, as the gear cable had been damaged the day before, so over dinner I decided that tomorrow I would head straight to Canazei and to a bike shop that had agreed to fit a new cable.
After dinner we were offered a local herbal liqueur called Amaro (Italian for bitter) which to be honest we didn’t “Amore”.
Day 5 Thursday June 29th Bellamonte to /Canazei for repairs (and avoiding San Pellegrino)
22.8 miles in 2:09:40 at 10.55mph over 1813ft.
The next day, the rest of the group climbed the Passo di San Pellegrino (where the famous water comes from). I took a different route: an easy descent back down to Predazzo and then a beautiful ride along the river Avisio to Canazei
where my troublesome gear cable was replaced, then I headed back to Campitello to meet the guys for a dinner of lasagne.
I discovered a splendid brew pub opposite my hotel called Rampeèr Birrificio Osteria and had a couple of ales from a selection of ten.
[Chris made a good call to swerve this one. It’s an absolute brute! After a fast descent and bombing through some tight hairpins, we were straight into a short, steep, energy-sapping ramp. The climb seemed never-ending, but it was the huge unexpected inclines of 11 and 12%+ after 13 kms that almost finished us off. Possibly one of the toughest tests of the entire tour. The roads seemingly went straight up into the sky without respite. Never was reaching a summit so welcome.]
Day 6 Friday June 30th Sella Ronda – anti clockwise this time.
43.6 miles in 04:54:06 at 8.89mph over 6750ft
The Sella Ronda was one of the highlights of our trip. We stayed two nights in Campitello so were able to tackle the route without carrying our bags. It’s a famous ski circuit consisting of four Passos the Pordoi, Campolongo, Gardena and Sella. A truly epic ride of stunning mountain vistas with 24.75 miles of climbing, gradients averaging 7% and which we had completed in a clockwise direction in 2015.
The Maratona dles Dolomites which includes the Sella Ronda and the Passo Giau on its 138km course was taking place on the Sunday and we had a nice chat with a couple of Danish cyclists at the top of the Sella who had driven all the way from Denmark to take part.
The weather forecast hadn’t been great and steady rain turned into a torrential and very cold downpour as we descended from the Sella back to Campitello and a welcome hot shower. After a couple of beers at the Birraficio it was time for a goulash and potato dinner – well-earned we all felt.
Day 7 Saturday July 1st – Campitello to Cortina D’Ampezzo via the mighty Giau
42.7 miles in 04:57:46 at 8.60mph over 6848ft.
A tough day started with a steady climb up the Passo di Fedaia (2,057m) stopping by Lago di Fedaia for coffee and apple strudels. After a fast descent to the valley then a climb up the Colle St Lucia and then the huge Passo di Giau (2,233). Weather wasn’t great so views were poor and then it’s all clothes on for a very cold 18km descent down to Cortina d'Ampezzo. Over 21 miles of climbing.
Ian Todd summits the Giau watched by Julian.
Day 8 Sunday July 2nd – Cortina to Alleghe and a hill too far.
52 miles in 05:31:02 at 9.43mph over 6237ft.
Set off on a pleasant Sunday morning with an easy ride down the valley to Vodo di Cadore where we turned to climb what we thought was the Passo Cibiana. The purple/black climbing profile on our Garmins should have warned us – it was climbing at 15%-18%. I was reduced to pushing, when we decided to cut our losses and find an alternative route to Alleghe. As it happened the alternative did actually take us up the Passo Cibiana, a decent climb of nearly 6 miles and 2300ft. Stopped at the top for coca cola and strudels in Refugio Remauro.
A fast descent and then a mighty 10.5 miles and 3000ft climb of the Passo Staulanza. (I find the practice of plastering stickers all over the summit signs annoying!)
We last visited Alleghe on our 2019 Slovenian/Dolomites tour in 2019. It is a pretty place with a lake that is best viewed with a beer at the beachside bar. There followed excellent pizzas at Pizzeria El Fornel next to the campsite. The end of a tough but very enjoyable day.
Day 9 Monday July 3rd – Alleghe to Castello Tesino and a reunion with Mr Gee.
58.2 miles in 05:54:42 at 9.84mph over 6833ft.
Set off early to try and avoid bad weather, stopped in Agordo for fruit and supplies then a long climb up the Passo di Cereda to 1369 metres.
A shame about the weather as the views were nothing to write home about!
We descended to Fiera Primiero where we met up with the elusive Phil Gee who had flown out once his hand had recovered enough for him to cycle. It still looked painful - at least until he removed the last of the stitches himself!
After lunch it was a very wet ride to Rugna then a long misty 10k climb through the woods to Campsite Alice. I descended to the delightful town of Castello Tesino and a comfortable night in the Hotel Bellasvista. There was a tremendous thunderstorm that evening which looked spectacular.
Day 10 Tuesday July 4th Castello Tesino and a return to Lake Caldenazzo.
29.2 miles in 2:54:32 at 10.0mph over 2745ft
After 196 miles and 26,000 feet of climbing over the previous four days we opted for an easy day and missed out the climb to the WW1 memorial at Forte Busa Granda, maybe next time?
A puncture for Mr Richardson en-route today, before we stopped for lunch in Levico Terme, a pretty spa town.
We were glad of an easy day before relaxing at the lakeside and returning to the Bellavista restaurant for a great dinner with lake views.
Day 11 Wednesday July 5th My birthday ride from Caldenazzo to Cerbaro nr Schio.
50.4 miles in 5:14:24 at 9.6mph over 6012ft.
After breakfast at my very bike friendly Energy Hotel there followed a steep climb up the Passo Del Cost where we were rewarded with great views of the lake we had just left.
A descent and then a ride through the valley stopping for coffee at Nando’s (Ristorante Nando not the chicken chain) and then lunch in the impressive architecture if unfortunately named town of Arsiero.
After that if was a 12k and 2148ft slog in very hot conditions up to Cerbaro and a welcome beer overlooking the Veneto Strade from my hotel Alloggio Damarco, just up the road from the campsite.
Today was my birthday so we celebrated at my hotel where although the restaurant wasn’t officially open Alessia the proprietor fed us with a delightful range of vegetarian food. It turned out that her husband made his own beer and we sampled some very tasty brews including dark beers made with cardamon and juniper. It was nice way to celebrate yet another birthday, although not a late night as we were all a bit weary.
Day 12 Thursday July 6th – Return to Verona
54.4 miles in 04:31:21 at 12.03 over1484ft.
After yesterday’s hot climb, the cold rain that started the day was most unwelcome and resulted in a shivering descent to Schio for a stop for coffee and cake and a completely unintelligible conversation with an elderly patron. He didn’t seem to mind that we only had about six words of Italian between us.
The planned route for today crossed several valleys and entailed over 7000ft of climbing. After an extremely short conversation it was universally agreed to proceed straight down the valley and a flat ride into Verona past the vineyards and castle of Soave. I had a glass of it later to celebrate.
We were back at our original campsite in time for a few beers!
A pleasant evening and a meal in Verona marked the end of our adventure.
Day 13 Friday July 7th – Return to the UK
An early and thankfully uneventful ride out of the city to the airport, of which the highlight was the wonderful arched Ponte di Castelvecchio bridge over the river Adige built in the 14th century. The bikes were dismantled and loaded onto the plane without incident and we landed back at Gatwick in time to catch a train directly back to Peterborough where we said our goodbyes and headed home. Another hugely enjoyable and epic tour.
540 miles were covered, we spent 54 hours cycling at an average speed of 9.86 mph.
We climbed 54,500 feet or 16,611 metres, nearly twice the height of Mount Everest.
There were 6 Punctures, one fall and one broken gear cable.
And I lost count of the beers!
Here’s to the next tour.
Link to the Ride with GPS collection with the routes.