It’s no secret that the Dolomites are the ultimate, no-mercy road riding location. The testing ground for this year’s DI.A, South Tyrol’s San Vigilio/Kronplatz threw back its veil and introduced us to an array of awe-inspiring routes that bisect and scale the mountains, revealing views with which life wouldn’t be complete without experiencing.
From the sheltered and very quiet valley of St. Vigil, there are seemingly endless options open to the adventurous cyclist, from iconic alpine passes to lonely and forgotten mountain roads into untouched nature. The variety of roads and singletrack proved to be the perfect arena to put the road and gravel bikes of the Design & Innovation Award to the test.
Having been featured in the mountain stages of the 2008 and 2010 Giro d’Italia, the Passo Furcia now benefits from a brand-new carpet of tarmac for most of the climb from the ski village of San Vigilio to the top of the pass. While the Giro stages led the riders from Passo Furcia to the top of Kronplatz on a gravel road, our ride took us around the Kronplatz rather than up it, following a manicured network of bike routes towards Bruneck. Quiet, virtually traffic-free roads and spectacular views along the varied route – could we ask for more? Well, naturally, a good coffee stop is crucial, so be sure to head to Bruneck’s organic café and grocers Pur and Café Capuzina for a re-fuel.
The entrance to paradise, the route up to Rifugio Pederü is a breathtakingly beautiful yet incessant climb up a gentle, narrow road. Parallelling the road is a network of gravel tracks and sinuous singletracks that can be looped into your ride if you’re on a gravel bike and ready for adventure. Follow your instinct and take those enticing-looking turns off the tarmac. Getting lost is highly unlikely, as you can always look up and orientate yourself with the mountainsides; the valley itself is part of the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park, so it has great signposting too. Good to know: Rifugio Pederü can brew a mean coffee, but perhaps it’s wise to keep your distance from their pine tree schnapps.
The gravel tracks continue right up to Rifugio Fanes, but the gradient is fairly intense – you’ll want adequate gearing, strong legs, and a good dose of MTFU. Once you rouse yourself from the inevitable exhaustion at the top, we seriously doubt that you’ll regret your decision. It’s not an easy track back down, as the gravel is pretty loose and churned up, so take your time on the descent and embrace the challenge.
Just follow your instinct to the top of the valley… forget the GPS!
Lago di Braies
We find it hard to recommend our route to Lago di Braies, even though the destination is worth every drop of sweat. It’s still part of the Fanes-Sennes-Braies Nature Park, but this lake has one of those awkward mountain addresses that renders it hard to place on a riding loop. If you’re riding the Drei Zinnen Tour, then you can make a diversion to circle in the lake – but be aware that the final section up to the lake is even more grueling than the rest of the route you’re following! If it’s any consolation, the old adage of “No pain, no gain” certainly applies here.
Is there anything else we can add to the lyrical poeticism that’s been sung about the Sellaronda? Probably not, but suffice it to say that it’s an awe-inspiring route which you should be fairly fit to ride – once you’re on it, however, the suffering somehow ends all too quickly as the kilometres tick away. We can add this nugget of wisdom too: just before the Gardena Pass, turn into Chalet Gerard and indulge in a true South Tyrolean slice of the dolce vita for a brief moment. Another piece of wisdom is to ride the Sellaronda in the opposite direction; trust us, it’s another way to take your breath away, and those climbs and descents feel brand new.
Words: Robin Schmitt Photos: Christoph Bayer, Robin Schmitt