Well, the long awaited parcours for the Haute Route Dolomites has been revealed. Having made some ill informed and throwaway comments on the Alps route here, it would be rude to not have a look at the Dolomites too, given I’m riding that as well.
I’ve never ridden the Swiss/Austrian Alps or Dolomites, so can’t pass on my usual deep, meaningful and insightful gems of personal insight and experience, so these are a bit less detailed than what I wrote about the Alps. It’s still pure analytical gold however, so read on…..
The start – Innsbruck
First things first: on arrival to the event’s host city, riders no longer get to pre-load their stomachs on cheese fondue and fine chocolate in the Swiss second city of Geneva (as in previous editions), but on Szinitzel and Strudel in the Austrian city of Innsbruck, meaning the whole route wends its way over to Venice from a very different direction.
The beauty of the new host venue is twofold: the long and tiring transfers that were an inevitable and inescapable of past Dolomites editions are now redundant, thus making riders’ weeks a lot less stressful and fatiguing (more of which below); and the route is almost entirely different to that of past years.
The mass-appeal – ‘easier’?
OCS, the Haute Route organisers, have been making concerted efforts to make life easier for riders off the bike whilst maintaining the on-bike challenge in all of their 2017 events. The aim is to broaden the appeal of the event and encourage a wider range of riders – hence the roll out of the new mini-Haute Route concept in Provence / Ventoux.
The Dolomites 2017 route embodies this effort quite neatly.
A key thing that will ease the stresses of te week is that there are two host towns that will host the riders twice, thus reducing the slightly manic experience of constantly being on the move, and the frenzied packing of bags before you leave for a stage. This little perk also appears in Haute Route Pyrenees.
Whilst the parcours is by no means easy, it does seem a little kinder than past years. In recent Dolomites / Swiss Alps events, the stages have been a barrage of loooong days. This year however, there are shorter stages (day one at 113km, day three at 107km and day six at 103km). It’s not all plain sailing though, with both stage two and seven exceeding 175km. There was a similarly long stage at the end of the Pyrenees 2016, and at the end of a brutal week, as much mental fortitude is required as physical strength.
Similarly, the total climbing for the week is c.20,000m – in the past, the Dolomites event was around 21,000m from memory and normally the most gruelling of the trio of the European events. Aaah…. only 20,000m in seven days… a walk in the park. The baton of brutality seems to have been passed to the Alps this year, with the French event boasting a quad-quaking 22,000m ascent.
The flat bits, and the anything but flat bits
The (sort of) flat bits
There’s quite a hefty amount of draggy valley roads on the route – look at stage two, five and seven in particular. Group skills will be essential, and, as I experienced in the Pyrenees in 2016, the mad dashes down a climb to cling onto the wheels of friends or rivals will be even more key to getting your GC place in the bag. False flats can lead to pacing disasters, so knowing when to sit and conserve and when to put in an effort will be key.
I was amazed to see a lot of riders seemingly incapable of, or unwilling to, ride in a group in the energy sapping valleys and foothills of the mountains and think that it’s a skill people really overlook in their training.
The most definitely not flat bits
Research and a bit of general knowledge suggests there’s some very very unpleasant climbs here (unless of course you are a masochist of the highest order and enjoy leg-crushing grinds).
There’s two particularly terrifying looking ascents in the week; the climb to Obergut that makes up the first element of the climb to Kuhtai on day one, and the first ascent of the Fedaia for the week, which falls on on stage six.
Chris Fisher, multi triple crown rider, kindly gave me some insight into this ascent, and the words that stick in my mind are ‘tougher than mortirolo’. He helped me find the strava segment for it, and it looks, ummm, red….
So, 10km at 10% is doable and comparable to other climbs i’ve ridden, however, the bottom half boasts ramps in excess of 16% for several kilometres to totally burn all your matches and potentially dampen the fire in your legs for the rest of the week.
Oh, and just thought i’d mention that Chris also seemed to delight in telling me this…
This col is to be traversed on both stage six and seven. Day six is the day we truly enter the pancave… The ascent of the Fedaia from Caprille is the last challenge of a day, and is an ascent that has been rumoured to be one of the most brual of the region. In a similar way to the climb Obergut above, the average gradient of 7.6% is nothing to keep you up at night, but look at the second section of the climb after the plateau just before Ciapella. Yes, that’s 5-6km at around 12%. Good times!
Check out the great video Mike Cotty created about the ascent here (if you dare): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i-lbAN29mag
The queen stage this year falls on day two. It’s a bigg’n. 4,200m and 176km.
A quick glance suggests that climbing is packed into the mighty Timmelsjoch, the highest climb of the week at 2,400m, and one of the highest of the week (see below) , and the following ascent of the Giovo. However, one of those energy sapping false flats discussed above take up a mighty chunk of the approach to the first climb – around 30-40km by the looks of it.
Given how early this monster stage falls in the week, not getting over-excited and going out too hard, particularly on that approach to Timmelsjoch, will be essential.
The mesmerising, the maratona… and the missing?
Day five takes us into Maratona territory, and over the final climb of the Gran Fondo – the beautiful Valparola. I’d been really hoping we’d venture into this territory as, having never ventured to Italy on the bike (although I will be riding the Maratona in July…), images of the area, and the incredibly photogenic Passo Sella, have always captivated me.
So i’ll just need to remember to look up from my stem every now and then….
When we revealed the highlights of the route at the Athlete Lab event in December, a few folk approached me to ask about the inclusion or omission of some of the Giro legends such as the Stelvio, Giau, and the Gardena. I mist admit that i’d have liked to experience the Stelvio, but i’ll get over it (not literally, obviously)… Yes, there’s a lot of lesser known cols in the route, but that doesn’t mean they’re any easier or less beautiful….
With a few days off after riding Haute Route Alps, hopefully i’ll be able to make a proper stab at it, not just whimper my way around…. Let’s see…