I felt it had been a while since I set myself a challenge I wasn’t sure I could complete. So, I decided to jump on a road bike (having never ridden one before) to cycle the Sellaronda (with absolutely no training what-so-ever).
Before I continue, let me just jot down a few facts about this ride…
The Sellaronda is named after the huuge mountain it circumnavigates – the Sella Massif, slap bang in the beautiful Italian Dolomites. The route encompasses 4 major mountain passes in the area; Passo Gardena, Passo Sella, Passo Pordoi and Passo Campolongo and this anti-clockwise direction is the one we decided to take. With a total of around 55km in distance, the rough ascent gain is 1800m of tarmac road. Every year the roads close for one day in September so that the general public can give it a go. However, I was short for time this year so we went ahead and did it regardless of the traffic.
Up until this point I had ridden 2 of these passes on separate occasions, over one year ago. Since then, one day of downhill mountain biking is all the preparation my legs have had. I borrowed shoes from my room-mate Poppy, leggings from my cycling pal Claire and dug out a top I hoped would wick away the pain.. all in all I was feeling pretty cycle ready!
Safe to say, I was a little nervous but it was nice to know that my companions were feeling the same. Thankfully we had George, a super fit born-to-cycle crazy man who had signed up to look after us three cycling amateurs for the day.
Passo Gardena was not only the first pass, but the longest (10km) and most mentally challenging. Having reached the top last year I had a very clear memory of every corner of the beast, but despite my head screaming “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” and the hailstones halfway up, we all made it with a smile. But then came the downhill. The road bike suddenly felt very thin and vulnerable to any hole or crack in the road and so to avoid flying off on a hairpin bend, I had my hands on the brakes the entire way down. Note to self: very
fucking cold, bring gloves next time.
The sun came out for Passo Sella and the unknown territory kept my legs pumping the entire way; I was feeling good. The top could be seen pretty early on but the pass never looked frighteningly steep. Anyway, with a view across to Sassolungo and the light-hearted silliness from the rest of the team, I didn’t care. George’s positivity that we were always only a stones throw to the next water stop was incredibly reassuring.
The next section was the one I was most worried about. I had only ever approached the top of Passo Pordoi from the Arabba side and I was well aware that there are 33+ switchbacks. From Canazei however, I had no idea what to expect.
Dropping down into the valley and taking a left to begin the climb, a signpost kindly let me know that I had 7km to the top – in this instance, ignorance would have been bliss. The start was gradual and mostly under tree cover which helped me to relax. When we pulled over for some water at switchback number 15, George nonchalantly expressed that we had another 15 to go. See comment above. In his defence, the last 10 were so tightly together that I could count them down quickly and before I knew it, the top was in sight. Another one bites the dust!
The descent down into Arabba was possibly one of the best things ever since learning to ski. By this time I had relaxed on the bike and had had time to get used to the speed. I released the brakes temporarily to embrace the freedom, matching the speed of motorbikes who rode by my side on the switchback bends. Excellent.
I’ve driven Passo Campolongo more times that I can remember so I found solitude on the ascent, knowing it wasn’t far to go. My legs burned, my lungs ached and I longed for the lasagne I knew was waiting for me at the chalet. Once again, the hailstones fell and we all yelped as we turned to face them. The last push was difficult. Horses at the side of the road gave me a nod and their eyes told me to keep going, you’re doing great!
And there she was, the top of the pass, the beautiful brown sign that assured me I had made it. Claire, who was ahead of me, suddenly had an energy boost and raced for the finish line – my legs said no, we would get there in our own time.
And I’d class 5hrs as a very good time.
The free-ride back down to Corvara was bliss. We had done it and all we had to do now was load the bikes in to the van and race back in time for Office Hour. I just hoped I had conserved enough energy to hold a decent conversation….
In Summer 2015 Collett’s Mountain Holidays will be teaming up with George Murray to run daily Bike tours with their guests, offering organised routes within the stunning Italian Dolomite mountains. The Sellaronda is sure to be on the itinerary – hopefully this blog has proved you don’t need to be super bike fit to give it a go! Check out their website for more information.