The Dolomites, a large limestone range full of the same natural wonders in the Alps, but with much more impressive views. In these ranges some of the most brutal cold conditions were encountered in WW1 as these were the Italian and Austro-Hungarian frontlines. Today the ancient trenches, battlements and tracks can be hiked. We didn’t have much time to explore these apart from a few nature stops. At one Tam chased a red squirrel around and up into the pines. The switchbacks snaked up and down the hills. Passo Giau at 2,200m had the best vista. At the top a few German motorcyclists and Italian cyclists all gathered to photograph both sides of the pass. We looked a little bit out of place in our shorts and jandals.
Arriving at the Misurina ski lodges we parked outside a German themed souvenir shop. The lake opposite formed the end of a ski run in winter when it froze over. Today it was relatively warm, and deep though, at least at this level. We were climbing Tre Cime di Lavaredo, one of the more famous Dolomites peaks. The climb boasted some parts that were steep, up to 20% a good place to practice our “zig-zag” tactics to lessen the gradient. Once we reached the snowline, it became a lot colder. The wind chill rose once out of the shelter of the forest and it became a good option to don our jackets and thermals – gloves might have also helped. Once we made the top, over the trickles of melt over the road we could gaze back down the valley and to the other side to where we were staying that night in Auronzo di Cadore. After a few snaps, we descending quickly and tried on a few German felt hats in the souvenir shop. Our room that night was right above a bar and beside the church bell tower, the bell tower turned out to make more noise, playing a full melody every hour through the night.
Getting up early that morning we prepared for an early climb of Monte Zoncolan, the most famous of all Italian cycle climbs. At a mere 10km in length there was over 1200m in climbing with a maximum gradient of 22%. One 3km section averaged around 19% (a gradient of 20% means for every 5m you go along, you go 1m up!). What made it hard was that the Zoncolan doesn’t have many switchbacks – the cyclists best friend. Instead it chooses to snake straight up the face of the mountain as a narrow one lane road, packed with cyclists, walkers and the odd car all making their way to the top for the best view of the Giro. The atmosphere was electric and a real party, many helping out with the odd push (later in the day Australian Michael Rogers and Italian Francesco Bongiorno were duelling on the steep gradients when an overenthusiastic fan gave Bongiorno a push, but ended up putting him into Rogers back wheel, breaking Bongiorno’s rhythm and causing him to lose valuable metres and the race.). We chatted in broken English and tried our best with our Italian supporters as we rode up. One guy was making his way up by wheelchair, joined by his friends, all chanting “Uno, Due, Tre!” as he pushed the wheels in time then braked. A tough effort and they were still going hours later.
After meandering our way up, using the few rest stops available (you can’t start cycling on steep ground), we found a nice patch of flat in the last two kilometres, followed by a couple of chilly tunnels that led to high banks of snow and an open valley packed with supporters. A bit of a bottleneck was caused in the last 100m and the riders blocked up. Without much time left to get back we did a quick about turn and descended with our hands hard on the brakes. Our hands were completely sore by the bottom and the brake pads would have also been worn a bit, both seizing up a few times. Getting out with the car was a bit of a problem too, as we encountered the caravan which was preparing to enter Ovaro. Once on the Autobahn to Venice we managed some good speeds south and into Marco Polo Airport, in time for Mitch to drop off Tam and explain the ding to the rental company while she moved the bikes and gear up into the hotel with help from a sweet old Italian lady.