Mountain Biking in the SüdTirol Dolomites #RideMoreOffroad

The Dolomites has always had a special place in my heart. The Italian mountain range has played host to some of my best holidays; from family camping under Mt. Marmolada, to riding the road passes during last year's Giro Delle Dolomiti. The jagged peaks and steep sided valleys, are instantly recognisable to me.

Having ridden many of the great road passes last year, as well as run up a few of the peaks in my October cross-training break; I decided it was about time to #RideMoreOffroad in The Dolomites. So, between the X-Bionic Cup last weekend, and the coming HERO Südtirol Dolomites, I've taken to the Dolomite trails. Here are my rides from a week of mountain biking in the iconic mountains...

Ride 4: Val Duron Recon

4hrs 45mins - 57km - 2,275m ascent

​The aim of today's ride was to fill in the final piece of the jigsaw; taking in the final loop of tomorrow's 86km HERO route, up and over the Val Duron climb.

My route started out with a climb up to the Passo Sella; with a mixture of trails and tarmac, as I headed up to the now quite familiar summit. From the top of Sella Pass, I descended down the steep rocky track to Canazei; the same route that I have ascended, as the finish for the last two rides. It was a lot faster going down!

Weaving through the town of Canazei, I eventually picked up a HERO 86 arrow; pointing skywards in the direction of Val Duron.

I'm pleased to say the ascent through Val Duron is far more picturesque, and more forgiving, than the ascent of Sella; it will be a far more enjoyable final big climb on tomorrow's route.

The track heads straight towards the cliff-like rock face at the valley end; rising gently through pastures full of cattle (and more marmots!). Kicking up at the end, it is still a manageable gradient; something I will no doubt be thankful for tomorrow! The valley scenery is incredible, and will be a welcome distraction, too.

From the top of the Val Duron pass, you descend quickly for a time, into the Tirler valley; before a final dig up to Monte Pana; then the descent to Val Gardena. It is a fantastic finish, to what I am certain will be a fantastic event tomorrow!

The first climb of the day was up to Sella Pass

Ominous clouds held off, luckily

The ascent from Canazei provided a spectacular backdrop

Into Val Duron

The Val Duron climb heads straight towards the wall of Dolomite rock at the end of the valley

This climb will provide a great finish to tomorrow's event!

Ride 3: HERO Trails Pick and Mix!

6hrs 20mins - 71km - 3,450m ascent

"Ride as much or as little, or as long or as short as you feel. But Ride". Today, I took the advice of the Eddy Merckx, and picked my route as the day went on. The result, was a mixture of the fantastic 60km HERO route that I rode yesterday, as well as some of the full 86km route; a good reconnaissance for Saturday!

The route took me up and over Dantercepies again, then onwards to Pralongia and the Passo Campolongo. At the town of Arabba, I diverted onto the 86km track. Boy, was I in for a surprise!

The climb from Arabba is mammoth. One and a half hours of relentless vertical. It is a Hauté Category climb; which holds 1,000 metres of elevation gain, and takes you well above the snow-line. By the time I eventually reached the peak at Sourasass, it was just me and a handful of marmots for company; surrounded by snow, up in the clouds. This will no doubt be the hardest part of the route on Saturday's event.

After the Sourasass climb, I tiptoed down the narrowest of single tracks; laced to the mountain side, high above the Passo Pordoi roadway. Jumping across frozen streams, peg-legging down rock gardens; I eventually reached the restaurant at the top of the pass.

Engulfed in cloud, and feeling pretty hazy myself, I decided that I would opt for the shorter route home from here. I jumped onto the 60km route, which would take me up and over Sella. At least I knew where the horrendous gradient sections were, after yesterday's ascent!

Back to my base in Val Gardena. I washed the bike, washed my kit, and went to collect my HERO Südtirol Dolomites entry pack. Some great stash! Then, it was time to try and refuel my hollow legs, with some tasty South Tyrolean grub. 

I'm looking forward to Saturday's event; with a slight nervousness, as I now know what is in store!

Over 4000 riders will take part on Saturday. Many were out training on the course today

Towards the summit of Sourasass. Mount Marmolada in the distance

Just me, and a load of marmots for company

Heading up above the snow line

Anyone competing in the 86km route, is a real HERO in my mind. This is tough!

The descent to the Passo Pordio road pass. Some sketchy singletrack!

Last climb of the day. That deserves a smile!

Now that is how to do a Race Pack! GORE Bike Wear jersey and Deuter bag!

Refuelling on some South Tyrolean grub. Bring on tomorrow, and then Saturday's race!

Ride 2: SellaRonda HERO 60K Route

6hrs - 60km - 3,200m ascent

The Dolomites roads are renowned for being steeper than their Alpine counterparts; with just enough 'wiggle' to make them passable in a vehicle; yet a challenge on a bike. The off-road paths and tracks, are something else...

I've never experienced gradients quite like the ones I encountered today. 15 to 25 percent is the norm; with a surface of gravel and slippery rock; and a length of anything between 3 kilometres, up to 15 kilometres. No let-up. These are paths built with purpose; to take their travellers up and over, on the shortest possible route.

Luckily, this morning's dawn brought clear blue skies; so after a quick breakfast, I hit the trails early.

From the outset the route began to climb. The first summit is Dantercepies, a ski station high above the tarmac pass of Passo Gardena. The path followed the ski-lift from the start in Wolkenstein, and provided 900 meters of ascent in the first hour and a bit! Nothing like a gentle warm-up...

From the first summit, it was an incredible single track descent down to Corvava; before the start of the second major ascent of the day, up to Pralongià. Open ski slopes at this second summit, revealed the full panoramic view of the Dolomites mountain range. A view hard to capture in a photo, but a welcome distraction from the leg-busting gradients.

Pralongià to Passo Campolongo; another pass that I have ridden on the road during last year's Giro. Off-road, it seems to be twice as hard, and the descent was certainly far more engaging!

The two final climbs of the day were Passo Pordio and Passo Sella. Never-ending winding tracks, up under the ski-lifts; surrounded by mountain walls, and iconic peaks. It is the juxtaposition of beauty, and the severity of the climbs, which makes the Dolomites so incredibly captivating.

A fast descent back down into Selva Val Gardena finished off the route, and I arrived back with six hours on the clock, and well over 3,000 metres of ascent. An average speed of 10kph would sound snail-like to me normally; but it is testament to the incredible challenge, and incredible terrain that the Dolomites has on offer.

Sunshine over Sella Group to start the day

The first climb. 900 metres of ascent, with no let-up.

Heading into the clouds

Some backdrop!

The ascent to Pralongià was eased by this backdrop

At the top of Passo Pordio

Up. Up. Up. The final climb to Sella.

More than once, I had to stop; to stretch out the aching legs, from the persistent punishing gradients 

The top of Passo Sella, before an incredible descent home

Ride 1: To Stevia Summit

2hrs - 21km - 998m ascent

A shake-down ride; after a nice walk with my sister and her fiancé in the morning. Time to see what the South Tyrol Dolomites offer for mountain biking...

Straight out of my base in Selva Val Gardena, I begin climbing. Up. Up. Up. The path is a mixture of gravel, boulders and cement slabs. First through the forest, on the lower parts of the slopes; then into the open expanse of the ski slopes, with their isolated refugee huts. The chair-lift at the top of Stevia, is my goalpost.

One and a half hours of solid climbing, and I finally reach the summit. Snow sits in large mounds around the crucifix. I take a quick snap, then begin to look for the best onwards route.

Suddenly, the heavens open. Not a little shower; a torrential downpour. With a temperature of zero degrees reading on my GPS, I decide a hasty descent is the safest option.

By the time I get back to the hotel, my legs are red from the hail; every item of clothing is sodden. Twenty minutes in the shower warms me up; then a pizza to refuel. Fingers crossed the weather improves as the week goes on.

The clouds were closing in, as I began my first ride from Selva Val Gardena

From the shelter of the forest, to the exposed ski slopes

Heading skywards

A frozen summit

A quick photo, before a hasty descent


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