With four cols and over 3,500 metres of climbing on the programme, the penultimate stage of the 2017 Haute Route Dolomites was without doubt the queen stage of the week.
Riders gathered in Canazei this morning under blue skies to take on the 128 km loop stage. Dominated by the towering rock formations of the Dolomites on their right the international peloton of riders rolled out of town for the first 18 kilometres in the Val di Fassa to reach the real start of the day located at the foot of the Passo San Pellegrino.
Climbing out of the valley, the road leading to the first difficulty of the day crosses the Rio San Pellegrino and rises gently in and out of the forest. This first climb allowed the riders to warm up as expressed by Frenchman Jean-Marc Glander: “I’m feeling great, the San Pellegrino was a good warm-up”.
Competing in the 60+ male category, Jean-Marc Galnder battled all week against his closest rivals in a friendly atmosphere. “I am competing against a few riders this week”, he added, “I’m 4th at the moment but I won’t beat the 3rd, a nice guy from Austria I got to know and became friends with over the last stages. It’s a classy battle between us.”
Descending off the Passo San Pellegrino riders entered the Provencia di Belluno and soon found themselves going back uphill again on their way to the Passo Valles. With the sun’s rays providing some welcome heat, riders took on the 7km ascent at 9% average.
Looking back over the road they just climbed up, riders were rewarded at the summit at 2,032m with a stunning view on the Dolomite peaks emerging from the clouds.
British rider Melanie Lonsdale was standing with a big smile atop the summit of Valles. “Today is a great day. I feel good, the weather is good, the climbs are good”, she said. “You have your head down and all the time trying to look forward. You got to remember you are in such a beautiful place with some great roads. It’s just amazing.”
Reflecting on her week she went on to say: “The week seems to have gone so fast now and to know that tomorrow is the last stage, I’m quite sad. And everybody has been so friendly it has been so good, so so good!”
Riders regrouped in small groups at the top of the Passo Valles to ride together in the next 30km downhill and then along the Torrente Avisio in the Provincia di Trento. Exiting Tesero, the road took a right turn in the direction of the third ascent of the day, the Passo Lavazè. With 826m of ascent in 10km and a plateau halfway in the ascent, riders paced themselves to reach the summit.
Having put a lot of effort in to ride through the three first climbs and before facing the fourth one, John O’Regan from Ireland took the time to recover at the top of Lavazè. “Not easy for a big man”, he exclaimed, “I’m suffering on these steep climbs but it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s been magnificent!”
After a winding and fast descent off Lavazé, riders battled against the last ascent of the day up to the Passo Costalunga, a 14km climb with 868m of ascent. At nearly 1km to the summit, riders were briefly distracted from their effort by a breath-taking view on the turquoise waters of the Lago di Carezza dominated by the iconic jagged ridges of the Dolomites.
With already 2,800m of climbing in the legs, the last ascent tested the resistance of the riders. “My legs are burning now but I’m good now I made it to the Passo Costalunga”, exclaimed Hamish Gordon form Canada.
Before riding the last 20 untimed kilometres back to Canazei he said: “I’ll bring some more friends from Canada next year, it’s an incredible event!”
At the front of the race, British rider Ruari Grant won his second stage of the week ahead of Cedrick Dubois from France and Hu Hao form China. The competition will be fierce tomorrow in the men’s race as Cedrick Dubois has just a 46 second cushion over Ruari in second place. With another stage victory, Marcella Toldi is still in the lead in the women’s category, ahead of Briton Sophie Slaney.
Riders will spent a second night in Canazei this evening before taking on the last stage of the week, a 184km stage over three cols. The mighty Passo Fedaia and the ascents of Tiser and Passo San Boldo await the riders tomorrow before they can celebrate their achievement in Venice.