Forget highway to hell: this is the rocky way to paradise.
Blood, sweat and tears – Alpe di Siusi can be harrowing if you let it. And after such an indulgent first day, that’s exactly what our aim was: go through hell and come out the other side.
We wake to a veil of mist, setting off early as the sun makes a valiant effort to break through. It is still quiet, and the landscape at this early hour belongs to us. We are heading towards the Rifugio Sasso Piatto/Plattkofelhütte hut at 2,297 metres above sea level.
We plan to meet two friends around late-morning, and the idea of not reaching our destination is a long way from our minds. With a map stuffed in our jersey pocket, we set off, passing the picture-perfect Baita Rosa Alpina/Almrosenhütte hut and the Rifugio Molignon/Mahlknechthütte hut before hitting a junction, where all the trails – or so implied the map – lead to Rome. We inevitably choose the cowboy route that takes our bikes and us over the crest of the mountain. Even with the Open U.P. and its 27.5″ mountain bike tires, the loose ground and churned up tracks would be enough to casually brush off Paris-Roubaix as an easy Sunday roll.
While kitted out with a Canyon cyclocross bike and poorly chosen tubulars, I put its carrying capabilities to the test. Frazzled and frenzied, blistered and blasphemous, we eventually reach the mountain hut long after the designated time. The Open U.P. leaves me in its wake countless times, plunging on ahead like a monster truck, while I am left cursing. The grazing horses pick up on my bad karma, and bolt out of my oncoming path. So much for support. Fortunately my efforts are duly rewarded with postcard-worthy views over the Sasso Lungo/Langkofel mountain and the Sasso Piatto/Plattkofel mountain, and I appreciate that ‘cyclist’s high’ after the exertion. For a day that’ll be strewn with adventure and adrenaline, this gravel route is seriously recommended – although you’ll want some decent shoes with grip. (For the record, we had Vibram-soled MTB shoes that have now earned their space in the wardrobe).
Drumpf, Brexit or your next tax return – there’s no place on earth where these will be further from your mind. Alpe di Siusi is for switching off, enjoyment and suffering on the climbs.
With the fairly gnarly gravel descent hitting 20% on occasion, it is a case of ‘easy, tiger; go cautiously’ on the cyclocross bike. Once down at the valley floor, we turn back up towards Compaccio via the Rauchhütte to loop in some more mellow gravel tracks that set off from the Ristorante Bullaccia after a 3km tarmac climb. Here the gradient is constantly in double figures, with a 26% section at 500 metres in. Against all expectations and even with a 1×11 drivetrain, we make it up the worst part largely thanks to the exuberant ‘forza, forza’ cries from Italian hikers. We catch our breath before looping around the plateau, skirting along gentle gravel and the odd bike-carrying mountain bike trail. By the end of the ride we’ve clocked 35 km and 1,400 metres of climbing, but the figures pale in comparison to the satisfaction and the scenery.
Avert your eyes from your bike computer and forget your lactate threshold; we deliberately strayed from the passes and their measurable performances, heading along trails and tracks that barely anyone has ridden before (especially not with drop bars). Gravel, new road or all-road – whatever you want to dub this generation, they’re a tool to access new dimensions for road riders. They celebrate the renaissance of traditional road riding by embracing the attitude, rather than just the technology of the bikes. This new generation returns the freedom to us, and will refute any whines of ‘it’s not possible’. Limits are pushed, meaning that any road rider with a regular set-up can take on and conquer new and unknown routes. Alpe di Siusi is the ultimate ride-all location, a sparsely ridden plunge pool for adventure-hungry roadies away from chaos and crowded roads. Not only is it Europe’s highest mountain plateau and a training ground for cyclists, it’s a place where adventure, wellness and training intersect in one brilliant family-friendly format.
The right kit
Open U.P.: the monster truck of gravel bikes that’s both nifty enough for sly street maneuvers and potent enough for high mountains. Living up to its name by literally opening up new route options, this bike pushes the boundaries of all-road. It can be ridden with either regular road or mountain bike tires.
Price: 4.900 €
Weight: 8.71 kg
More info: opencycle.com
Canyon Inflite AL 9.0. SLX: A conventional cyclocross bike for cinching victory in hard-fought races or for grabbing out the shed for long Sunday gravel rides. When the terrain gets too burly, however, expect to carry it. More suited to racing, the Reynolds carbon wheels and tubulars weren’t ideal for our adventure. For 2017, the latest model comes with Schwalbe tubeless-ready tires, which are both primed for racing and slightly easier to deal with on the fly.
Price: 2.999 €
Weight: 8,06 kg
More info: canyon.com
The right shoes:
If your ultimate ride-goal is to roll into a mountain refuge (or you just want to be prepared for unpredictable alpine conditions), then mountain bike shoes with grip are the best option. Unlike stiff road riding shoes, grippy mountain bike footwear is significantly easier to walk in. Sartorially conscious riders should go for the slim Giro Empire VR90 MTB shoes with a Vibram sole – in this case, we’d admit that hikers sometimes have the right idea.
The right outfit
A bit looser than your regular riding fare, we donned baggier shorts over our padded ones, sending the definitive message that ‘yes we could ride faster if we wanted (padded shorts), but we prefer to take it easy and reach the mountain refuge at a more leisurely pace (baggy shorts). Plus, your family won’t have to cringe at your lycra-clad presence. Note: avoid aero outfits in the mountains. We’d suggest Pedal Ed, Rapha, Giro or Shimano for rides like these.
We wouldn’t recommend downloading these route files – it’ll be far better to grab a map from the hotel and head out blindly (well, give it a quick glance and check the weather forecast too). Alpe di Siusi is really simple to navigate and isn’t it time you gave your spirit of adventure a little shake-up?
The best hotels:
Adler Mountain Lodge
For obvious reasons, this is one of South Tyrol’s top hotels and their all-inclusive package is the trump card of any family holiday.
A traditional, family-run hotel with breath-taking panoramic views and a hay sauna for the ultimate post-ride relax.
Found in the valley rather than on Alpe di Suisi, here you’ll room in chic suites on the farm where Franz Musler grows his herbs for the legendary 25 herb salad served at Gostner Schwaige.
Cute mountain hut with a chapel and restaurant serving traditional food – tuck into their wild game. It’s also the ideal starting and finish location for rides on Alpe di Siusi.