Lady Marmolada

85.0KM

2682M

ROAD

Distance Elevation Gain Ride Type

 

 

Everyone has heard of the Maratona, a 140k epic sportive starting and finishing in the mountain village of Corvara, in the heart of the Dolomites. This 85k, 2680m route is a worthy alternative, incorporating the gruesome Passo Fedaia (9/10 in 100 Italian Climbs), a climb that isn’t on the normal Maratona route.

The start is Corvara, the village at the foot of the first climb, Passo Campolongo (6k, 353m height gain). It’s not pronounced like the name of a certain Italian groupset manufacturer and you may sound like a fool if heard calling it that! One of the easier climbs in the region, it still provides a good 20-25 minute warm-up for the day ahead. Descend on the other side to Arabba - getting into the hairpin habit and being wary of the broken road on the inside of some corners.

Once at Arabba, turn left at the roundabout and you have a long false-flat/downhill through the sleepy village of Livinalongo. Keep going to Salesei, up and down, with superb views of the Civetta ahead, before turning off to the right onto a smaller road following signs to the Marmolada. After a nice steep little descent past the barns that dot the hillside and a war cemetery, you are back onto flat(ish) roads as you cross over the river.

Follow this road down through a short unlit tunnel until you get to a big junction, with Fedaia clearly signed to the right. Bear right here up a small kick: no, this is not the climb, don’t get too excited yet. Follow this road as it rolls up and down for a few kilometres until you get to the large village of Sottoguda. Here there’s an option to turn right and ascend through an apparently spectacular gorge - but the road was closed in summer 2020 because of tree falls and landslips.

This is where the brutal Passo Fedaia (14k, 1060m height gain) starts, one of the most underrated climbs in Europe. It may not have the fearsome reputation of its bigger cousin, the Monte Zoncolan, to the north but it packs a hell of a punch. Don’t let the steady (relative to what comes next) first 5 kilometres delude or comfort you. After this warm-up, the road rises above 10% and after that you don’t see single figure gradients for more than a few metres until the summit. The road doesn’t bend more than a few degrees left or right for the next 3k. As you creep along this dead straight machine of demoralisation for the next 10 minutes (or more), you may well find yourself questioning why you thought this was ever a good idea. Even on the sunniest day, the valley above Malga Ciapela is bleak, enclosed by rock walls on either side. The lack of greenery and abundance of monotone grey rock does an incredible job of amplifying the feeling in your legs. When you finally reach the hairpins near the top, take as much rest as you can on the flatter parts of the turns. The gradient does not relent in the slightest as you crawl your way up the final part of this climb.

When you finally reach the restaurant and customary sign that marks the peaks in the area, I suggest you keep riding before you stop to wait for others. As you come down into the vast open area of the plateau at the top, take in the majesty of your surroundings, especially the Marmolada, at 3434m the highest peak in the Dolomites, looming over you. The huge reservoir that glints in the midday sun and the view for miles down into the next valley make the climb worth it, and more. Take some time to ride along the bridge at the head of the dam and look to your right for a brilliant view of some of the glorious peaks that define the Dolomites and to your left to see the deep blue and majesty of the lake. The dam is one of the filming locations of the newer (and vastly inferior) Italian Job. A nice fact to tell your riding partner if you yourself haven’t blown your bloody doors off. The restaurant at the dam is a good lunch/coffee spot.

If you feel like it, you can always go back down the way you came and finish the route in reverse, back to Corvara. I can guarantee you will struggle to find a place to go faster than you’ve ever been on a bike than on the Fedaia descent. Three figures possible, if not advised. And don’t tell your mum.

But to finish the loop we crack on down the valley and recover on the long flowing descent down the other side of the climb. A great descent. When you get to the bottom, you’ll find yourself in the town of Canazei.

When you get to the edge of that town, bear right up the Passo Pordoi (13k, 786m) signposted to Pordoi and Arabba. As you snake up the side of the mountain, keep looking out through the pine trees to see the view of the ever-dwindling Canazei. About a kilometre before the top of the climb, you emerge out of the trees to tackle the final hairpins of this climb. Once at the top, the highest point on the ride, stick on your gilet or wind jacket, preferably the Pearson Ins and Outs, and get ready for the next descent. Passo Pordoi is not the hardest climb in the Dolomites but as Daniel Friebe says in his book Mountain High “none are as essential or, for that matter, quintessential”. The top will be crowded with cyclists of all nationalities, ages and weights. Look out for the pros too: if they have the kit, they may be real.

The descent down the other side of the Passo Pordoi back to Arabba is perfect for nailing your descending skills. Full to the brim with great hairpins, the lack of vegetation on the corners allows the rider to see through them and check for cars. And cows. At the bottom, you’ll find yourself once again in the village of Arraba. The final climb is up the Passo Campolongo (you better not have forgotten what I said about it). Don’t worry, this is the shorter side that you descended at the start. Once you’ve finished that final 15-minute climb, you can relax, all the climbing is done for the day. All that’s left is the final descent to Corvara. if you get it right it is a really nice smooth descent. If you get it wrong, you may find yourself in a field.

At the bottom of that, you are back in Corvara. Drag yourself to one of the many cafes or restaurants in the town for a post-ride coffee, beer or gelato. Job done.

 

Authored By Will Pearson
Will represents one half of the fifth generation of the Pearson dynasty. He boasts a riding career of almost 50 years, having beaten his siblings to staying upright on a two-wheeler at the age of two and a half. Coaxed out of bed on Sunday mornings to ride cyclo-cross most of his younger life, his interest in cycling is also focussed in road and gravel adventure riding. Chiefly responsible for Pearson bike geometry, design and specification.
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