The 2015 Haute Route Dolomites is certainly one of, if not the toughest course yet devised by the organisers. In the words of Race Director, Laurent Bezault, “Every Haute Route course is special but we think this one takes some beating.”
With 23,500 vertical metres of climbing over 900 km between Geneva and Venice, not only has the Haute Route set a new record for the amount of climbing, it is fully 4,500m more than the Dolomites in 2014. This is the equivalent of an extra stage!
The highlights of the 2015 race will certainly be Stages 5 and 6, through the Dolomites from Bormio to Cortina d’Ampezzo. The scenery for these two stages is absolutely stunning, and there is 8,000m to climb in a bit less than 300km. By any measure, this is a serious challenge. None of the other stages are to be taken lightly however; with the exception of the time-trial on day 3, even the easiest of the other four stages is the equivalent to a hard one-day Alpine sportive.
We expect the logistics to be vastly improved in 2015. Like the Alps and the Pyrenees, the race is taking place in the opposite direction. The start and finish towns will however be the same, so we know what to expect. The choice of date will also make things much easier, no longer clashing with the August 15th Italian holiday weekend.
The Swiss authorities impose the condition that only the major climbs can be timed: descents and flat terrain must be neutralised. The organisers are trying to obtain an exception, but if unable to do so the restrictions will essentially affect about 65km of Stage 1, all of stage 2 (where only the Furkapass and the Oberalppass will be timed) and the start of stage 4 where the descent of the Passo del Bernina will most likely be neutralised. This still leaves perhaps 80% of the week to be timed as normal.
Stage 1 Geneva – Crans Montana
164km | 3500M+ | 2300M-
Starting as he means to go on, Laurent has designed a first day that is already tough enough on paper and yet still contains a few surprises for the unwary. Although the climbs are all low-medium altitude it would be prudent to treat this day with care: there’s a long way to go to Venice!
The col de Cou (1116m) is the first significant climb of the week. Only 8 km long, it is surprisingly tough: there are a couple of sections at over 12%. This is probably not the best time to push hard… It is soon followed by the col du Terramont (1096) and the col du Grand Taillet (1041m), a beautiful, quiet road winding back and forth up a steep mountain face. On the other side, Abondance is yet another French village famous for its eponymous cheese. A long false flat from here brings you to the head of the valley and the Pas de Morgins (1369m).
Here we cross into Switzerland and the timing will stop for the descent and the long drag up the valley to Sion and the start of the climb to Crans Montana (1500m). The climb winds up through the vineyards, progressively opening up fantastic views across the valley and towards the Matterhorn.
Stage 2 Crans Montana – Andermatt
144km | 3300M+ | 3350M-
The second stage, now entirely in Switzerland, will bring you face-to-face with two giants of the Swiss Alps, both over 2000m in altitude. Fortunately both these climbs are on wide, well-surfaced roads with fairly easy, regular slopes (mostly between 6% and 7%). Combined with the altitude, the sheer length of these climbs will however make this a tough day. Make sure you enjoy the incredible views on these majestic mountains: the Furkapass is one of the highest in Europe. In 2014 it was wet and very cold on the summit. Pray for good weather, but come equipped!
There is about 100km between Crans Montana and the foot of the Furkapass, including over 40km of false flat climbing on the main road between Brig and Oberwald. Most if not all of this is likely to be untimed: if so take it (very) easy, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for hard riding a bit later.
The climb to the Furkapass (2436m) is 16km long. After descending the other side we go through Andermatt and up the final climb of the day, past the source of the Rhine to the Oberalppass, (2046m). It is an irregular climb, but not too hard so long as there is no headwind…
After the finish we will have to cycle back down to Andermatt, where we can shower and eat before the long coach transfer to Saint Moritz.
Stage 3 Saint Moritz – Passo del Bernina
14.5km | 540M+
This week the time trial is on the third day. Many riders take it as a rest day, and in fact the climb to Passo del Bernina is very straightforward, and much easier than the time trial on the Stelvio in 2014. This is more a climb for a Bradley Wiggins than an Alberto Contador. Given what is to come in the following days, this is probably a good thing…
Stage 4 Saint Moritz – Bormio
96KM | 3560M + | 1890M –
The distance for Stage 4 might not be very impressive, but the amount of climbing puts this stage well into the “very tough” category. There is hardly a single metre of flat between the five climbs, meaning no time for recovery. It will be absolutely essential to keep pedalling on the descents to evacuate the toxins. Climbing the Stelvio with severe cramps doesn’t bear thinking about!
The stage begins with the Bernina, the same climb as for the previous day’s time trial. Immediately after the descent the climb to the Forcola di Livigno (2315m) begins, without a metre of flat. It is a straightforward climb. We cross into Italy on the summit.
The first 5km of the descent are very steep and fast, with almost no bends. Once more with no transition, the climb to the Passo d’Eira (2208m) starts immediately and will take us through the village of Trepalle, Italy’s highest inhabited village. The descent takes us directly to the foot of the next climb, the Passo di Foscagno (2291m), which is mercifully short.
A long descent will see us lose over 1000m in height down to Bormio and the foot of the big one of the day, the mythical Stelvio (2758m). All of that altitude just lost (and some) needs to be clawed back on this final climb of the day. Once again, there is no transition before the climbing starts again. The summit finish is going to be very hard at the end of a long day. If the weather is bad this will be one for the annals!
Stage 5 Bormio – Merano
148KM | 4000M + | 4800M –
The last three stages will be in the heart of the Dolomites. Anybody that rode the 2014 race will remember the differences from the Swiss Alps: the climbs are significantly steeper, the roads are much narrower and the descents are difficult and dangerous.
If you thought the previous day was hard, this one may be worse. Tackling the Passo Gavia (2652m) cold, directly out of bed as it were, is likely to create some serious damage on the fifth day of the race. Luckily, this time we are going up the easier side, but the Gavia is not the only challenge of the day…
There is no transition between the Gavia and the Passo del Tonale (1884m): at the bottom we cross the bridge at Ponte di Legno and immediately start up the other side. From here and over the next two passes we will be following the same route as the amended 19th stage in the 2013 Giro, when snow on the Stelvio and the Gavia forced the organisers to find an alternative.
Riders will be delighted to learn that the Tonale only represents 50% of the climbing of the Gavia. The final climb to the Passo Castrin (1785m) however is a tough one, with some quite severe percentages. Placed towards the end of a long day it could create some significant time differences.
Stage 6 Merano – Cortina d’Ampezzo
140KM | 3600M + | 2700M –
Many riders will be in survival mode by now as we tackle three more monuments of the Giro. Stage 6 could be the most challenging of the whole week, the long climb to the Passo Sella (2240m) leaving little energy left to admire the truly magnificent scenery, amongst the best the Dolomites have to offer.
The first part of the stage is a long energy-sapping ride along the valley floor, with a succession of false flats, followed by the three massive climbs of the day one after the other. There is 30km of non-stop climbing to reach the Passo Sella, on a relatively straight road that stretches out as far as you can see. Fortunately the breath-taking scenery takes your mind off the length of the climb…
A steep, serpentine descent takes us to the left turn to the Passo Pordoï (2239m), a relative formality from this side. Don’t forget to stop for a picture at the Fausto Coppi memorial on the summit.
After the descent from the Pordoï there is a short transition at the bottom of the valley before the 10km climb to the Passo Falzarego (2105m). Once over the top, the descent to Cortina and the end of the stage will feel easy.
Stage 7 Cortina d’Ampezzo – Venice
194KM | 3500M + | 4600M –
The final day will be greeted as usual with mixed emotions. The Haute Route is far from over, however, since there remain almost 200km to ride to Venice, including the minor obstacle of the Passo Giau and no less than three more significant climbs.
We hit the slopes of the Giau (2236m) right from the start. There are 16 km to the summit, and the Dolomites scenery is once again absolutely stunning. A rapid descent fom the Giau and we begin immediately up the slopes of the Forcella Staulenza (1605m). The first few kilometres are easy, and in truth this climb is never hard. The long descent to Dont is impressive with many tight bends, especially in the first part.
Once again there is no transition before the next climb, to the Passo Duran (1773m). The last serious climb of the Haute Route requires us to make a final effort: another 670m of height to gain. The very last climb, the Passo San Boldo (706m) is a mere formality from this side, a gentle rise of to the summit where the timing stops and the racing is over.
Going down the other side, you can admire the remarkable stack of tight hairpin bends cut into the solid rock. Strategically important, the road was built in just three months in 1918 by the Austro-Hungarian army and conscripted local women and children. It remains as an extraordinary testament to their effort and is definitely worth a photograph.
Time to head to Conegliano, then on to Venice and the party!
Training for the Haute Route
Alpine Cols provides coaching and training camps to help you prepare for the Haute Route. Contact us for more information.