Rolling out of Bressanone on yet another sunny morning, the Haute Route Dolomites peloton set off for a 94km long stage with 3,250m of climbing. With the Passo delle Erbe, Passo Gardena and Passo Sella all on the schedule it would be a case of up, down, up down all day long.
Having ridden one side of the Passo delle Erbe on yesterday’s time trial, today’s stage took the lesser-known route to the summit; weaving through the trees on a narrow road the col culminates at 1986m right beneath an imposing and jagged rock face.
Comparing today’s ascent to yesterday’s time trial, John O’Regan from Ireland had found the second ascent of Erbe tough, “It was deceptive, there was a climb just to get to the climb today,” he said, “then the climb was quite steep in parts, but these mountains are just amazing, and it should get even better from here, it’s hard to beat really!”
Descending off the Passo delle Erbe riders entered the world-renowned cycling region of Alta Badia and soon found themselves going back uphill along the Gran Ega river on their way to the Passo Gardena. Dragging uphill at an agonising 2-3% for nearly 20km, riders formed small groups to share the workload and conserve energy for the two remaining cols.
The Passo Gardena proper lasts just 9km and averages 7% to the summit at 2,120m. Winding through the ski slopes of Val Gardena and underneath the emblematic red and yellow cable cars, the gradient remains relatively consistent and rolling towards the top.
Henry Fisher from the USA is riding the Dolomites on a single speed bike this week and finds valleys like the one before Gardena relatively complicated at times: “Riding a single speed for me is like meditation on two wheels, I just find my own rhythm and compete against myself and the mountains,” he said.
“The valleys can be quite tough for me with the ratio I run (50-24) I can end up spinning quite a bit,” he added, “but today I found a group in the valley for about 7km so that was nice to ride with them before the climb”.
Riders took the time to appreciate the scenery at the summit of Gardena, snapping pictures of a moody sky over the jagged peaks after refuelling and refilling their water bottles for the final part of the stage.
After a short untimed descent off the top of Gardena the road turned back uphill for the final 5km assault on the Passo Sella. Riding just the top section of this well-known climb, riders were greeted once again with a jaw-dropping view across the jagged Dolomite peaks when they reached the summit and final timing mat of the day.
The climb itself was 5km long and averaged 7%. Cresting the summit at 2,240m Martijn Tielens from Belgium was pleased to have completed the final climb of the day: “It’s tough to go back uphill at the end when your muscles are cold again,” he said, “now I just want to get through tomorrow and then Friday it will be fine we are going into Venice”.
“I’d ridden in the area before on another event,” he added, “I knew it was beautiful, it’s just amazing. It’s a shame I didn’t take more time to look at all of it”.
Blown away by the beauty of the stage, Triple Crown rider Ian O’Hara was impressed with the landscape: “What an unbelievably beautiful place, I can’t get over it,” he said, “I don’t know how I’m going to go back into work now on Monday!”
The final zigzagging descent took riders into the finish town of Canazei where they will be staying for the next two nights. Tomorrow’s stage is a 128km loop around Canazei over the San Pellegrino, Valles, Lavazè and Costalunga passes.
At the front of the race today it was Chinese rider Hu Hao who took the stage win for the men and Marcella Toldi for the women. Cedrick Dubois is still in the lead overall, just 50s ahead of Ruari Grant in the men’s classification. Marcella Toldi is also still in the lead, ahead of Briton Sophie Slaney in the women’s category.