Setting off on a brisk but sunny morning from Vipiteno, the Haute Route peloton rolled out for a 116km long stage to Bressanone via the Passo Pennes, Renon Plateau and Lazfons climb. With a total of 3,360m of climbing today, riders would get to appreciate the beauty of their first Italian cols this week on a blue-sky day.
Heading immediately uphill out of Vipiteno, the first col of the day on the Passo Pennes rises up to over 2,200m. Riders kept their jackets and leg warmers on as the climb weaved through the forest and temperatures remained relatively low for this time of year.
The unrelenting ascent up Passo Pennes provided a tough start to the stage, but was worth the effort as riders were rewarded with a breath-taking view over the valley below as they exited the tree line just 2km from the summit.
Arwel Williams from the UK was pleased to have warmed up a bit but was already getting dressed for the descent as he refuelled at the summit: “That was a good first climb, I’ve warmed up a bit now,” he said. “I think I might need these though for the descent!” he added as he put his ski gloves on.
The long and flowing descent off Passo Pennes allowed riders to regroup into small pelotons. Weaving through small mountain towns and vast open fields, riders worked together as the road continued to drop slightly into the foot of the Renon Plateau climb.
Turning abruptly uphill off a roundabout, the climb up to the Renon Plateau lasts just 8.2km but averages over 8%; with a tough section towards the top that contains ramps above 11% riders will have been pleased to crest the summit and head down towards the second feed station of the day.
“That climb was fabulous,” exclaimed Pierre-Alain Cosendai from Switzerland, “it’s warmer than expected so it’s a great day. Over the top of the Renon Plateau it was like a roller coaster, up and down, up and down and all the time with a stunning view”.
After refuelling and recovering a bit at the foot of the final ascent, riders took on the final difficulty of the day on the Lazfons climb. The rugged road snakes uphill, between the jagged rock face and a small stream that feeds the Eisack River, before emerging from the trees nearer the summit.
Local rider Richard Sulzenbacher from the Austrian Tyrol found it tough but gorgeous. “It was beautiful, and tough, the gradient was really inconsistent before finally easing off towards the top,“ he said, “I know the area so I’d done Passo Pennes before but not all the climbs, it was nice”.
Whilst the entire stage was stunning, the highlight of the day was undoubtedly the Renon Plateau; providing a money-can’t-buy view over the freshly snow capped Dolomite peaks, riders revelled in the beauty of the region.
Crossing the finish line with an ear-to-ear smile, Arthur Tye from the UK was delighted. “That’s why I ride the Haute Route!” he exclaimed, “that’s the best day I’ve had on a bike in ages, it was euphoric!”
Canadian rider Hamish Gordon echoed Arthur’s feelings: “It was incredible, that’s the best day I’ve ever had on a bike,” he said. “I was getting emotional up there, it just kept getting better and better after each climb. It was simply breath-taking.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added, “honestly the most phenomenal day I’ve ever had on the bike,” he added whilst blinking back tears of joy.
In a tightly contested stage today Ruari Grant from the UK was first to cross the line atop Lazfons, just three seconds ahead of race leader Cedrick Dubois of France. In the women’s race it was Brazilian rider Marcella Toldi who won the stage, taking the leaders jersey from British rider Sophie Slaney in the process.
Tomorrow riders will take on the race of truth; a 17km uphill time trial on the Passo delle Erbe up to Plancios. This will be an opportunity for riders to either recover for the stages ahead or push it to the limit and post their best possible time on a tough climb.