Summer 2019 was fairly epic for me, like every other year I set myself a goal to cycle somewhere crazy. My trips typically involve months of training and a really tough climb somewhere exotic. If you follow my adventures you will have read about me cycling in Colombia with mad dogs and diarrhea. Then there was my trip to Mont Ventoux in France where I nearly had an accident in my shorts due to overworking my abs. As if that wasn't enough there is also the unforgettable trip to France to cycle the Marmotte when mother nature brought me a monthly gift!
Not to be deterred by any of the previous adventures I planned another amazing trip, this time to Italy to cycle the extremely tough but iconic Dolomites.
What could possibly go wrong?
Training went great thanks to a fabulously warm Easter in Ireland. I got in plenty of tough spins and was feeling really good about the impending trip. Resting, eating well, massages and lots of yoga for cyclists of course.
Myself and my four friends departed Dublin, arrived in Venice and promptly hit the road northeast to the Dolomites which are almost in Austria. The first half of the road trip was grand but once the roads started to twist and turn I felt really queasy. Stunning scenery with unbelievable heat, mainland Europe was in the grips of a massive heatwave. The car was like and oven even with air con. I just didn't feel right at all. I was the navigator but everything was starting to become a bit of a blur. I rolled down the window and tried to gulp air but it was like having a hairdryer in my face. We made it to Corvara after three sickening hours and honestly I don't know how I didn't puke.
Now I love a challenge, I really do, but I have to admit, I couldn't help but wonder where were the flat bits! There are none. I mean it, none. You're either going up or down and there is nothing in between. Friends of mine had been to this area and had warned me but you can never quite imagine it or fully listen to them! Well I don't. Yeap, I had signed up for some pretty tough terrain.
CYCLING THE MIGHTY DOLOMITES
Day one was pretty tame, just the usual, find your way around, collect bikes, go to the supermarket for a few bits and have a little spin to test out the hire bike. The scenery was mind blowing, I have never seen anything like it and with pure blue skies it was heaven on earth. Testing the bikes was fun but we were afraid to go down a hill as we knew we would have to come back up it! We were saving our legs for the main event tomorrow - the Maratona route / Tour delle Dolomiti. Yes a stunning route awaited us, that's what we were here for. We trained for this moment and planned to conquer 138 kilometers with over 4000 meters gain. Which means that over the course of day we would cycle 4 kilometers vertically up into the sky.
IT'S HOT AND SO IS HE!
Fed, watered and photographed we set off at 6:15am. We had a long day ahead of us for sure and the temperatures were getting up to 37 degrees in the afternoons. The route is a figure of eight and our hotel was sitting nicely where all roads meet. Perfect logistically.
The first loop was a mere 50 kilometers with the famous Passo Sella thrown in. It was here that I bumped into a chap I worked with 12 years ago on the cruise ships! He was on his motorbike when he spotted me taking a selfie. Small world for sure. Quick catch and snap with him, we kept moving.
The Passo Gardena was my favourite, the Garden pass. It did not disappoint. A picture postcard of stunning mountains with flowers and clear blue skies. The Dolomites are famous because of the stone, it's not found anywhere else so it gives the landscape a very distinct look. (See photos!)
We got back to our hotel at 10am for a proper full carb loading breakfast, more sunscreen, change of clothes and regroup for the next loop. It was so hot at this stage and we had the guts of 90km ahead of us with gruelling climbs. I wasn't looking forward to it to be honest.
Straight out the door of the hotel we were into a climb, the gradient was ok it was just the searing sun. It was there I spotted him. An Adonis. I don't know if he really existed or whether he was a mirage from sunstroke. Now please don't go getting all offended by what I am about to say. Anatomy and human movement are how I make my living so looking at him was purely for research. Like the way Michelangelo had to study bodies to create his David. So back to my muse, he was in the field with a pitchfork tending to the land. Conveniently he had his shirt removed so I could get a decent look at him. I have never seen abdominal definition like it in the flesh, or pectoralis major so pronounced. His arms were strong with bulging biceps, I am sure he could easily throw me over his shoulder! Maybe it was the sweat glistening off his bronzed body and the shadows from the sun but he had it all going on! Was this a movie scene or an apparition?
"SINEAD!!! Watch where you're going!"
What? My friend Noel was shouting at me. I was veering across to the wrong side of the road. Too busy rubbernecking I was in a complete trance. Maybe my Adonis was the Medusa but he was oh so worth it. Usually my cycles are hindered by my stomach having a moment and not somebody else's. About time if you ask me! I'm pretty sure my jaw was dragging along the ground and my eyes on stalks. I think it all happened in slow motion but that could have been the choir of angels distracting me by singing Hallelujah in my ear. Would this be my fist epic spin with a happy ending?
So what goes on tour stays on tour. Well to be honest if anything had happened with the Adonis I would have made sure it hit the headlines! Alas, no, I had to cycle on and leave my Italian man broken hearted.
The temperature soared and soared. Even the picture I had burnt into my mind of pitchfork man couldn't help me now. The climbs were relentless. We hit the iconic Passo Giau at the hottest part of the day. Ten kilometers ahead with an average gradient (slope) of 9.3% in 37 degrees. (That's hard!) Yes I had paid to come here and yes it was holiday. No I am not crazy at least that's what my doctor has assured me. It was murder. I mean that in every way. I hated it. The scenery was lovely of course but my feet were burning in my shoes. They were swollen and cranky. One of the good things about high mountains is snow melting and a stream of cold water can often appear. Thank God one did on this climb. I was with one of my other friends on this climb and without a word we both ditched our bikes and jumped straight into the stream. Shoes off, my little piggies were in heaven, momentarily of course because I couldn't bring the stream with me. My friend was soaking his bandana in the water and throwing it over his head.
"Ger would you mind turning the other way please?" I sheepishly asked.
Because I wanted to stick my boobs in the cold water. You see sports bras give us girls another layer of clothing that in 37 degrees I really could do without. I literally face planted the stream. It felt amazing. Relief. Even though I was cycling with my jersey open all day this was pure bliss. There's a technical reason for doing it of course. My core temperature was getting too high and I needed to cool down. Not having a shower handy I had to MacGyver it. So Miss Wet T-shirt look it was. I really didn't care and neither did my friend. Sure in that heat it was going to dry in no time. He was a perfect gentleman but in all honesty, I think given the heat he really didn't give a damn what I did!
YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS?
We had done our research. We knew the route inside out and we knew how many climbs there were. We knew when they would be and for how long. Our last passo arrived and it was not a moment too soon. Passo Falzarego, a huge gift shop sat at the top with a fridge full of Coke and Ice cream. We devoured everything we could and it felt great to be finally on the "home stretch."
Looking at the route however it was pointing up, not down. To our left the road was heading up even further into the sky.
"This is the top! It says so!!
"You can't be serious!"
"Lads let's find another way home!"
We said them all. What the hell had gone wrong on our route planning? The route was definitely heading upwards and it looked cruel. We were running on empty at this stage and I had had enough. My saddle was beyond uncomfortable now. I was sure there was chafing but I didn't care, I was done. My body was done and my Adonis was a very distant memory.
There was no other way back, we checked. We had no choice but to see it through to the bitter end. Up we go again, I wanted to cry. Passo Valparola I know you were short but I hate you. I'm sorry. I honestly could have lived without every knowing of your existence!
I put the foot to the pedal and lashed it home. Down hill. After I summeted Valparola I found a second wind. I was cycling like a mad yolk or so I thought till a young fella came cruising along beside me and started a casual chit chat. He had youth on his side and it turned out he was only out for an evening spin. He was duly impressed by my days work and rightly so. It was no mean feat.
He offered me a tow and I didnt refuse. It's not with a rope or anything, he just went on front of me and I was able to follow his line and draft off of him. Sadly, eventually he was turning right and I was going left.
The famous five regrouped and together we rolled back into Corvara just before 5pm. Not bad going at all. Sure it was grand! Nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. I wondered where farmer palmer might be but given the state I was in I reckoned I would be better to leave him off with happy memories of me!
Another mammoth route complete and goal achieved. Box ticked and new cycling jersey purchased to prove it. The day was eventful and most memorable. Sure I had saddle discomfort, my legs were dead, my back was killing me, my tummy was upset from eating crap on the bike but I also got to take home fabulous memories from the day. I still think about him daily!
Corvara is home to La Perla Hotel which in turn is home to the Pinarello room. Chris Froome's bikes live in said room and no trip to the Dolomites for any cyclist would be complete without seeing them. The hotel is amazing and well worth a visit bikes aside. We stayed across the road in a fabulous yet more affordable hotel!
The Dolomites are unbelievably beautiful. I took a cable car up to the top of the valley the next day to rest and take pics. It was incredible, the scenery was just breathtaking plus it was cooler, just a mere 26 degrees up there.
So would I recommend it? Yes I would, however the only thing I didn't like were the packs of motorbikes. They are so noisy and they pass you on blind corners and rattle your nerves.
Top tip? Train hard and then train again! It's tough. Check out the farmers on hot days...
Other things to do? Yes hiking and hill walking. If I was going back I would hike, it would be quieter and a lot more peaceful without the motorbikes, also its cooler up there!
Train with me
Winter miles make summer smiles! For my Italian trip I started training in March with my annual Cycling and Yoga holiday in Andalucia, Spain. It's the perfect warm up after an Irish winter to get some decent mileage, climbs and sun. We also have amazing switchbacks and technical descents on the trip which really help to improve your bike handling skills. My trips have set me up for the summer season, boosted my confidence on the bike and pushed my stamina and endurance by cycling multiple consecutive days.
Check out my trip, there is always room for you!
About the Author:
Sinéad Kennedy is a Physical Therapist, Yoga Siromani and Pilates Instructor. She is also a Personal Development Coaching and relationship Coach. Based in both Rathfarnham and Dundrum, South County Dublin. She treats and teaches people from all walks of life, including many athletes, especially cyclists, runners and golfers. Recently featured on the Elaine Show as well as the Irish Independent, FIT Magazine and Breaking News.ie you can follow her success on her YouTube Channel.
A keen cyclist and proud member of Orwell Wheelers she has completed numerous cycling events including Tour delle Dolomiti, Alto de Letras, Les Cinglés du Mont Ventoux & La Marmotte Sportive. She is an accomplished audax-er having done numerous 200km and 300km routes. Sinéad has also completed three Dublin City Marathons, numerous Adventure Races and Half Marathons.
Keen to spread the word on all things related to Wellness, Fitness, Coaching and Travel.