Cycling the Sella Ronda
A base in the Alta Badia region of the Dolomites opens up lots of possibilities for the outdoor enthusiast: climbing, mountain walking, via ferrata, cycling, mountain biking...or just spending time photographing the incredible scenery. Our Fort William Manager Ben went to summit Piz Boe (3152m), the highest peak in the Sella Group, and to cycle the route of the incredible Sella Ronda Massif circuit - four huge mountain passes that are more well-known for their superb ski resorts in the winter, but out of season, showcase some of the most spectacular cycling in Europe.
"After a couple of days of mountain walking sussing out the area and its huts - and getting accustomed to the thinner air again - I headed up Piz Boe and its traverse.
"Well observed from my hotel window, the deep incision of the Val Mesdi cuts into the heart of Piz Boe and makes for one of the more interesting ways to the plateau. The upper valley of the Mesdi is bleak, surrounded by massive rock walls containing many classic climbs, and tapers to a snow gully at the top. A scramble on snow and rock then leads to a section of via ferrata which ends right at the top just a matter of steps away from the Rifugio Boe - a well-equipped mountain hut - at 2873 metres.
The view down the Val di Mesdi to Colfosco
The contrast could not have been greater as the deserted valley below was replaced with a scene reminiscent of Ambleside on a busy day! The place was crawling with folk, who had mostly come up via the Pordoi cable car saving themselves a lengthy hike up, and were availing themselves of the hut's excellent food and refreshments and couldn't help but join in! Refuelled, I left the crowds behind me and continued on the traverse.
The route takes you over the lunar-type landscape of the massive Sella plateau before descending to the Gardena Pass by a series of steep paths and sections of via ferrata. Bypassing the Piscadu Hut, the final section of cables and staples drops you down a steep gully to zig-zag down the endless scree slopes to the grassy-green pastures of the Gardena.
"A couple of days later and a dream realised as I rented a road bike and cycled the Sella Ronda. This legendary route round the Sella Massif takes in four of the big Dolomite passes in its 55km and 1780 metres of ascent. Starting in Covara and cycling the route anti-clockwise the first big climb is to the Passo Gardena at 2136m. Almost 600 metres of climbing just after breakfast was quite a wake-up call and let the legs know just what was expected of them. The reason why so many fellow riders were wearing super-lightweight windproofs became obvious as the speed of the descent quickly chilled even in the hot sun.
The ascent of the Gardena Pass was tough but beautiful
"Next was the Passo Sella - at 2240m the biggest of the four passes - then an exciting ride down the other side before the toughest climb of the day to the Passo Pordoi (2239m). I gave up counting the hairpins on this climb and just focused on the antics of the many, many motorcyclist intent on emulating their GP heroes. Almost there now with just the long descent to Arabba and the climb to the Passo Campolongo - which at 1875m has the decency to be the easiest - to finish. An amazing day amidst magnificent scenery which fully lived up to expectations and the well-deserved accolade of one of the best days' cycling in the world."
Sore legs after the day's toughest climb.