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The Dolomites are like nothing else you've ever done on a bike. It's a relatively small area with many passes, all stunning in their own way and very diverse. Unlike the Pyrenees, which are strung out between two coasts in a line, and following the length of the border between France and Spain, the Dolomites is more or less a self-contained massif with criss-crossing paths. You don't get the long valleys that are typical of the Pyrenees or the Alps to provide recovery time between climbs - you're basically either going up or down.
There are only so many passes in the Dolomites that you can string together to make a coherent and enjoyable route without cycling the same roads again and again, so we've limited this supported cycling tour to three fairly challenging days, and included as many of the famous passes as we can.
It seemed a shame to be in this part of the world and miss out one of the most famous climbs of all, so when we finish in the Dolomites we head off to the Eastern Alps to ride Passo Stelvio. Its 48 famous hairpins have been featured time and again in the Giro, and at 2757 metres, this is one of the highest passes of all our events so far. We round the day off with the Passo di Gavia. Then one last day, where we ride the Passo di Mortirolo before packing up and heading off to Lake Como, where we spend the night.
We pick you up from Venice, Treviso, Verona or Milan and take you to Lake Alleghe where we'll have everything you need to assemble your bike. When you've finished, we'll have a good dinner and probably a reasonably early night, ready to start the following morning.
We climb straight from the hotel today, up to the Passo Pordoi (2239m), where there are several cafés and various monuments, including Gilberto Simoni's actual bike, which has been set in stone, gears and all. We descend into Canazei, and then start our second climb of the day, the Passo di Fedaia (2057m), which is topped by a beautiful lake. We stop for lunch in Agordo, and then we head up the Passo Duran (1601), which is one of the hardest climbs on our trip. Dubbed the "Duran Duran" by some former clients, who said it was so bad it should be named twice. It's become a tradition for cyclists to sing Duran Duran songs for as long as they have breath. We descend into Dont, and then tackle the final climb of the day, the Passo Staulanza (1773m). We descend into Santa Fosca, where we'll be staying.
After a sound night's sleep near Lake Alleghe, followed by a hearty breakfast, we mount up and descend into Cencenhige, giving everyone a nice warm-up before we turn into the climb to the Passo di San Pellegrino (1918m). This is a fairly long climb, with some tricky sections. We descend into Moena, and then a rather slow and gentle climb to Canazei, where we'll probably stop for lunch. It ramps up a bit as we approach the Passo di Sella (2244m) before we drop down a little, and then we climb to the Passo Gardena (2136m), through some of the most beautiful scenery you'll ever see. Down again into Corvara and then one final, reasonably short climb to the Passo di Campolongo (1875m) and then we descend into Arabba, where we'll stop for the night.
It's our final day in the Dolomites, and we wanted to make it spectacular. A short warm-up from the hotel to the foot of the unbelievable Passo di Giau (2233m), and on through Cortina, where you may like to stop for a coffee. Then we ride the Passo Tre Croci (1809m) before we follow the undulating road to Lake Misurina. At this point you have a choice. If you're feeling strong, you can tackle the very challenging climb to Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2340m), the scene of many stage finishes in the Giro d'Italia. The view from the top is absolutely stunning. For anyone who doesn't want to do it (in our experience that's about half the group), there's a cafe by the lake where you can get changed and enjoy a beer or a coffee while you're waiting for the brave ones to come back. Finally we all regroup and pack up the vans to head to Glurns at the foot of the Stelvio, which takes around three hours, so we'll be there in plenty of time for dinner. The bit after the red line on the profile below is the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.
It's the last day, and we aim to round off the trip in style, with the infamous Passo di Mortirolo - or Foppa in Italian - (1852m), a climb that Lance Armstrong once claimed was the most difficult he had ever done. You cycle from the hotel in Ponte di Legno along the valley for about 10km before you head up the south east climb, dropping down into Mazzo di Valtellina via the more difficult south west side. At that point you have a choice. You can call it a day, or head back up the harder side, usually associated with Marco Pantani (in fact, he still holds the record), while the rest of us enjoy some refreshments and everyone packs up their bikes. If you look at the profile below, the line is where you would turn around and ride back up. When everyone is back and the bikes are packed away, we load up and head to Lecco, on the banks of Lake Como.
The transfer from Lecco is two hours and there are three airports in Milan - Linate, Malpensa and Bergamo. We'll drop you back to whichever is most convenient.
400KM, AROUND 13,000 METRES OF CLIMBING
DAY 1 - LAKE ALLEGHE TO ARRABA - 95KM, CLIMBING 2,800 METRES
DAY 2 - ARRABA TO SANTA FOSCA - 112KM, CLIMBING 3,100 METRES
DAY 3 - SANTA FOSCA TO LAKE MISURINA - 45KM, CLIMBING 1,700 M, OR 60KM, CLIMBING 2,300 M
DAY 4 - GLURNS TO PONTE DI LEGNO - 98KM, CLIMBING 3,200 METRES
DAY 5 - PONTE DI LEGNO TO MAZZO DI VALTELLINA - 39KM, CLIMBING 1,300 METRES
Ensuite accommodation in 2 - 4* hotels, in shared rooms. Single rooms are available and a supplement of £250 applies.
Continental or buffet-style breakfasts every morning, supplemented with muesli if needed.
3-course evening meals every night with wine, a beer or a soft drink.
Snacks to keep you going during the day, such as bananas, chocolate, and quality energy gels and bars.
Bottled water and carbohydrate powder for your bottles, as well as High5 Zero electrolyte tablets.
Maps of the route for you to refer to as you ride and GPS files for you to upload to your device.
Souvenir full-zip Owayo Dolomites & Stelvio jersey.
As many photos of you as we can take during your trip - usually a few hundred pictures - so you can relive your journey from start to finish when you get home.
We'll never be more than a few kilometres from you at all times, so you don't need to carry loads of kit with you "just in case". We'll try to be at the bottom of every climb so you can shed unwanted clothing, top up your water bottles and grab a snack or energy bar, and at the top of every col so you can add a windproof layer before you start your descent.
We don't make our prices look cheaper by leaving out evening meals, alcohol, or even airport transfers, so if you're looking at prices, it pays to make sure you're comparing like for like.
For many cyclists Stelvio has a certain dreadful fascination. Its famous 48 hairpins have been included regularly in the Giro, and the view back down the valley from the top is incredible. At 2757 metres, it's one of the highest passes we've ever included in an event. We've picked a wonderful, historic hotel in the medieval, cobbled market town of Glurns (Glorenza), which is a 7km downhill ride from the bottom of the climb, to give you a warm-up before you start. Although it's steep, you get a welcome rest on every right-hand hairpin, and everyone tells us that it's the best climb they've ever done. And the strudel at the top is the best you've ever tasted, but that could be something to do with the effort involved in getting to it! When we've finished our coffee break we descend through several tunnels and finally arrive in Bormio, where we'll stop for lunch. Then onwards to the Passo di Gavia (2621m), another iconic climb. At the bottom it's green and lush, but as you ascend it becomes more rocky and barren. Just before the top you pass an amazing war memorial (a stone pyramid with an eagle on top) before you arrive at a lake that has ice on the surface until late in the summer. The refuge at the top is a mini-museum, packed full of old photos and cycling memorabilia, and they make fantastic cappuccino. The descent is a bit hair-raising, there's quite a poor road surface at the top, followed by a dark tunnel, and then lots of hairpins on a narrow road, but it gets better as you go down, and finally we come into Ponte di Legno, where we stay the night.