Blog post by Emma & Grant
The Fedaia (6th July 2015)
The tiredness from the journey had ebbed away, the sun was out and temperatures approaching the thirties were forecast. Today seemed the day to revisit the Fedaia (or Marmolada as it is also known). This is a pass that sits in the heart of the Dolomites, and has a reputation for being one of the area’s toughest challenges for a cyclist.
The Fedaia is also easily reachable from our base in Arabba, and you can choose to ride it from either the super-tough approach via Malga Ciapela or you can opt for the easier ride, which entails riding up the Pordoi Pass, descending to Canazei and climbing up from there through Alba Delba (a considerably shallower option).
If you’re going to tackle this beautiful monster, although it is incredibly tough, the satisfaction you will feel from riding it from the Malga Ciapela side is amazing! Today we chose the “monster” route, heading out of Arabba in the direction of Passo Falzarego. There is a sharp right turn off the valley road, clearly signed for the Fedaia / Marmolada. A lovely, winding descent takes you down to the village of Digonera and then to Bosco Verde. The climbing begins, but it’s not at its most brutal just yet!
It’s definitely worth taking the detour through the Serrai di Sottoguda which is signed for, after you pass by the eye-catching metal sculptures that line the road. There is a one Euro charge for this as it is classed as a nature reserve, closed to vehicular traffic, with the exception of the little motorised “train” that carries tourists. The narrow gorge is carved deep into the rock. I expect the river flowing through its base gradually created this steep sided cut-through, over thousands of years. It’s so picturesque, and on a hot day it provided a welcome coolness, as we rode up gradients of 10% plus.
Once you pop out of the gorge road in Malga Ciapela, you are well on your way to reaching the main, fearsome part of the Fedaia climb.
Ahead of you is a very long piece of road, a vast ramp, stretching upwards in front of you, and it just seems to keep on going and going…….without switchbacks! This is unrelenting, and we rode it in 30°C heat. The gradients are generally between 11% and 15%, and rarely do they dip below that. At the top of the ramp a cafe comes into view, pulling over for an ice cold drink seems so tempting, but we decide to keep pushing the pedals, relieved with a slight easing of the gradient at this point on the road.
The road swings left and the first switchback is now in view……not much further to the summit. However, don’t let the prospect of switchbacks lull you into thinking it’s going to get any easier…..it doesn’t!! Their gradients are steep, but they are formed with a flattish turn which gives that moment of respite we all relish. As you climb the final ramp, a large rifugio comes into view. It’s really worth taking time to loop back in the large parking area to admire the valley you have climbed from…..it’s a long way! It’s then time to continue onto the beautiful mountain lake, and the glorious site of the Marmolada glacier. It’s so striking, you’ll be glad you kept turning those pedals.
The colour of the lake was such a brilliant blue in the sunlight. After a spin past the lake we reached the dam where there is another rifugio / bar, and it’s always busy! On our previous visit in 2013, we’d been lucky enough to see the Astana Team out on a training ride. We’re pretty sure we caught a glimpse of that year’s Giro champion, Vincenzo Nibali, amongst them. No Grand Tour champions on our ride today though!
After you’ve marvelled at the views of the glacier and your feat of reaching the summit, you can either descend back the way you came, or take the sweeping descent down the other side to Canazei. This was the route we chose, which meant we would return to Arabba by climbing up the Pordoi Pass. I would definitely recommend this, it’s a fabulous, scenic climb that combines pine forest and beautiful mountains. The road winds out of the valley, and even in the lower slopes you are rewarded with views of the huge cliffs on the Pordoi plateau, until the next switchback turns you away. Switchback after beautiful switchback, 27 in total.
On the hot day days, I love the smell of the trees baking in the sun. The Pordoi summit is usually busy, with the cable car taking hikers and climbers onto the Sass Pordoi. So onto the descent where 33 sweeping bends await. A cioccolata calda (hot chocolate) or gelato (ice cream) is definitely deserved after this ride! Forty miles on the clock, and one of the Dolomite’s toughest climbs in the bag!