Part two of our multi-sport adventure holiday involved three days of cycling along the mountainous, traffic-filled roads of the Dolomites. My wonderful Twitter friend Dan Patitucci (@dolomitesport, @PatitucciPhoto), offered to take us on an "intro to mountain passes of the Dolomites" ride. Given that Dan used to be a semi-professional cyclist in Europe, we knew his casual day was going to resemble our version of a big day out.
As the Dolomites are home to some famous cycling races including the Giro d'Italia, Maratona dles Dolomites, and the Sella Ronda, we knew we had to experience riding some of these famous mountain passes for ourselves. Starting with a strong caffè macchiato at the hotel in Pedraces, our route for the day would take us south to Corvara, 700 meters up and over the Campolongo pass, and down to Arabba for a water bottle refill and snack on a shady picnic bench.
The ride along the road to and from Arabba was beautiful, with views across the valley to the Marmolada, the highest mountain in the Dolomites. We then descended even further down to the base of the valley floor to the very Italian town of Caprile. Deciding to delay lunch, as we would find it hard to climb 1100 meters with a belly full of pasta, we rode all the way up to Passo Falzarengo, where we stopped for a much needed late lunch of Coke with speck and cheese panini.
A quick ride up to Passo Valporola, the last mountain pass of the day, then it was downhill all the way back to Pedraces. Our ride would cover 80 km and almost 2000 meters of climbing, not bad for an intro to mountain passes of the Dolomites day.
Along the route, there are many places to stop and refill your water bottles, either at fountains in the small towns you pass through, on top of the passes, or at restaurants along the way. When cycling in the Dolomites, you have plenty of opportunities to stop for a coffee, snack, or even a nice big plate of carbo loading spaghetti.
Apart from the usual tools, spare tire, and pump, all you really need to carry with you for the day is a couple of water bottles, enough GU chomps to get you up and over the passes, your camera, and some money to buy refreshments along the way.
The weather of course will dictate what you need to wear. We had incredibly hot, sunny weather, so tried to ride in the least amount of clothing possible. I was overly warm in my Icebreaker GT Bike apparel and even tried to wear some UV protective arm warmers, but had to shed those when I started overheating. By contrast, on the cold and rainy day we left, I saw cyclist descending the mountain passes in insulated jackets.
The Dolomites scenery is absolutely breathtaking, with some of the most thrilling descents on newly paved roads. I would have loved to have taken more photos, but it's quite difficult to stop all the time. If you have a helmet camera, I would highly recommend bringing it along, not only to shoot video, but to easily shoot photos on the move.
As August is the height of tourist season, we saw quite a bit of road traffic (annoying motorcycles!). However, since Italy is cycling obsessed, almost all the drivers were very good about leaving plenty of room when passing. I felt safer cycling in the Dolomites than I ever have on the busy roads here in California.
If you plan on renting bikes locally, I highly recommend bringing not only your helmet, pedals, shoes, and tools, but your own saddle as well. You might also want to bring a tiny tape measure to properly fit your bike, as the local bike rental mechanics aren't exactly top notch.
The standard bike rental saddle was so painful the first day, that I got to the point where I couldn't even ride anymore. If the store owner hadn't relented and let me use a women's specific saddle from off the shelf, my cycling would have been over for the rest of the trip.
For a place to stay, I can't recommend enough the Hotel Gran Ander in Pedraces (I have no affiliation with the hotel whatsoever). Owned and run by the Irsara family, you will be well looked after. There is nothing better than playing hard outdoors all day, only to return to an amazing 5 course dinner freshly prepared by Andrea and his father, made from simple, seasonal ingredients. Not to mention some great wine!