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View from the saddle: the Haute Route Dolomites 2016

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STAGE ONE MONDAY 5TH SEPTEMBER

GENEVA – CRANS-MONTANA 177KM|4050m D+ ∗∗∗∗

Just as for the Pyrenees and the Alps, there is no easing in to the first stage of the Haute Route Dolomites and Swiss Alps. It is the same first stage as last year, when it caught many riders out.

There are no two ways about it, the first day is tough. Don’t be misled by the relatively low altitude of the climbs.

The stage begins by the lakeside in the centre of Geneva before making an excursion into France for the first four climbs of the week. The first one up is the col de Cou (1116m). Only 8 km long, it is surprisingly hard: the average slope is 8.3% and there are a couple of sections at over 12%. Take it easy…

After the col du Cou we will hardly notice the col de Terramont (1096m). From this side it is a short, easy climb. A long, two step descent follows to the foot of the next climb, the col du Grand Taillet (1041m). The road is beautiful, winding back and forth up a steep mountain face. It will take us over from the valley d’Aulps to the valley de l’Abondance. Not much more than 6km long, the average is 7.5% but the presence of sections at 10% mean that this is not an easy climb.

A short descent and a long false flat bring us through Abondance, yet another French village famous for its eponymous cheese, to the head of the valley. The last 4 km to the Pas de Morgins (1369m) get progressively steeper until the final km at 8%.

We cross into Switzerland on the col and the timing will stop for the next 60km of descent and long drag up the valley to the start of the climb to Crans Montana. (This is due to Swiss regulations).

The climb begins in Sion and goes up through the vineyards via Grimisuat and Lens, progressively opening up fantastic views across the valley and towards the Matterhorn. Totalling 22 km for 1140m, the average slope (5.2%) is meaningless since the climb is highly irregular. There is a 3km descent in the middle. The steepest sections are at km 4 (8.3%) and from km 17 to 21 where the slope is again above 8%.

Tips: Treat this day with respect, and pace yourself well below the level you would ride at if it were a one-day sportive. Make sure you ride from the Pas de Morgins to Sion in a group and conserve energy.

STAGE TWO TUESDAY 6TH SEPTEMBER

CRANS-MONTANA – SAN GOTTARDO 137KM|3250m D+ ∗∗∗

The day begins with a long and probably cold descent from Crans Montana to the bottom of the valley. We are then faced with 90km of false flat climb, gaining only 800m, to the foot of the first serious climb of the day, the Nufenenpass (2478m). Unfortunately the majority of this transition is on a busy road and will most probably not be timed. It is the price to pay for the twin pleasures to come…

The Nufenenpass is the second highest pass with a paved road in Switzerland. We will be climbing the north-western side. It is a climb that will leave its mark: from the turn-off in Ulrichen, a rise of 1132m over 13km. The average is 8.5% but expect several stretches at over 10%!

The descent and transition to Airolo, at the foot of the San Gottardo, will probably be neutralised.

After 125km of cycling, we will be at last at the start of the real treat of the day, the cobbled (yes, you did read that correctly) climb on the old road to the San Gottardo (col du Saint Gothard, 2091m).

On this road, at least, there will be no cars! It is an amazing climb, cobbled almost all the way for 14km, with 40+ hairpins and astounding views… The road engineers did a great job all those years ago and the average gradient is 7.5%, rarely exceeding 8.5%. The cobbles are quite smooth and nothing like those in Paris-Roubaix. That’s Swiss road-building for you…

The stage finishes on the summit, from where there will be a coach transfer to St Moritz.

Tips: The transfer from Crans Montana to the start of the Nufenen will feel long, very long, especially if you drop off the back. Make sure you stay in a group at your level.

STAGE THREE WEDNESDAY 7TH SEPTEMBER

ST.MORITZ – PASSO DELLO STELVIO (BORMIO) 97KM|3560m D+ ∗∗∗∗∗

Stage 3 this year is the same as Stage 4 last year. The stage may be short, but it is at high altitude, with nearly the whole stage spent above 1800m. On top of that, there is hardly a single metre of flat between the five climbs, meaning little time for recovery.

After the (probably early) start in St Moritz, we will be convoyed out of the town and through Pontresina. The timing will start at the foot of the Passo del Bernina (2330m). This is a relatively easy climb, very irregular, much of it at 2-4%, with the notable exception of the last two kilometres before the summit, which are at 7%.

The descent is quite steep (8-9%) with several tight bends before the left turn to Livigno. it will probably be neutralised.

The climb to the Forcola di Livigno (2315m) begins immediately after the descent from the Bernina, without a metre of flat. The climb is straightforward. We cross into Italy on the summit. The first 5km of the descent are again very steep (there is even 0.5km at over 11%) and fast, with almost no bends. The last 7km are less steep. 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, to the Passo di Foscagno (2291m).

This is only a 4.6km climb, with an average of 5.9%. There is nevertheless a section at 10.5% about halfway up. Don’t be surprised to see the customs post, we are not leaving Italy again, just the duty-free region of Livigno!

Almost 20km of descent will see us lose 1075m in altitude down to Bormio and the start of the Big One, the mythical Stelvio. All of that height just lost (and some) needs to be gained back on this final climb of the day. Once again, there is no transition before the climbing starts again.

The Passo dello Stelvio (2758m) hardly needs an introduction. The second highest paved pass in Europe, it frequently holds a starring role in the Giro. Last year the forecast of snow forced the Haute Route to cancel the climb: let’s hope for better weather in 2016.

From Bormio, the climb to the summit is 21.5km and 1340m. The slope average is 6.2%, but is quite irregular, varying between 3.6% and 12%, with the last 2-1/2 km being the hardest. Read more about the Stelvio in our Iconic Climbs series.

The finish is on the summit. We will then freewheel back down to Bormio for the night.

Tips: This is going to be a very hard climb at the end of a long day. Make sure you keep plenty in reserve for the final climb: you will need it. If the weather is bad this will be one for the annals!

STAGE FOUR THURSDAY 8TH SEPTEMBER

BORMIO – PASSO DELLO STELVIO 21KM|1550m ∗∗∗

If you were not satisfied with your performance on the Stelvio at the end of Stage 3, now is your chance to improve it! The time trial takes us from the cobbled centre of Bormio back to the summit of the Stelvio.

Tips: The majority of Haute Route participants will treat this as a rest day and ride up at a steady tempo pace, preserving energy for the next 3 days. Unless you are feeling VERY strong and are hoping for a place on or near the podium, we suggest you do the same.

STAGE FIVE FRIDAY 9TH SEPTEMBER

BORMIO – ALTO ADIGE 144KM|3150m ∗∗∗∗

The majority of today’s stage is the same as Stage 5 in 2015. Taking us into the heart of the Dolomites, this is a tough one. From now on, the climbs are steeper, the roads are narrower and the descents are difficult and dangerous.

The climb to the Passo Gavia (2652m) is 25.6 km from Bormio, at an average of 5.5%. As is often the case however the average is meaningless. The climb is fairly easy to San Caterina (km 12) and gets much harder from then on. The last 12 kilometres are at 7%, with a good stretch at almost 9% and some shorter, steeper sections. The road is narrow and winds up through the trees for the earlier part, before the windswept desolation of the upper slopes.

The descent is a single-track road, very steep (up to 16%) and very dangerous. It will almost certainly be neutralised for safety reasons.

There is no transition between the Gavia and the Passo del Tonale (1884m): at the bottom we cross a bridge at Ponte di Legno and immediately start up the other side.

You may be happy to hear that the Tonale represents only 50% of the Gavia. The 11km are at a relatively constant gradient around 5.9%, except for an easy kilometre in the middle immediately followed by a tougher one.

The next summit is 70km away, including roughly 45km of descending and 25km of climbing… None of it, we hasten to add, too difficult. From the Tonale to the Passo della Mendola (1363m), a first for the Haute Route, we will follow the valley floor in a never-ending false flat descent to the Santa Giustina lake, where the climb starts again. The climb is straightforward, with just one kilometre at 8% worth the mention.

Over the top and down to the valley for the night. At the time of writing, the exact location of the arrival village has not yet been confirmed.

Tips: The key to having a good ride today is to make sure you are in a good group for the long transition from the Tonale to the start of the Mendola.

STAGE SIX SATURDAY 10TH SEPTEMBER

ALTO ADIGE – CORTINA D’AMPEZZO 150KM|4050m D+ ∗∗∗∗∗

Stage 6 is completely new. On our way to Cortina we will take in 3 climbs the Haute Route has not visited before. All three however should be familiar to fans of the Giro d’Italia!

The exact start point has yet to be confirmed, but we can expect to follow a similar route to last year from the Bolzano area up the valley to Ponte Gardena and the turn-off to the high passes of the Dolomites, the Sella, Pordoï and of course the Passo Gardena (2121m) our first objective of the day. The first 20km or so are unfortunately to be endured rather than enjoyed, but we will soon be in our real playground, some of the most beautiful and iconic roads in the world.

We will be climbing for 50km or so from the start, the first 20km at an easy 1%. The serious part begins at Ponte Gardena – expect 30km at an average of 5.3% to the summit. With the exception of a steep 3km near San Pietro the climb is fairly steady. The “official” climb to the Passo Gardena is usually counted from Selva de Val Gardena. From here the climb is easy on paper: 9.5km, 535m, average gradient 5.3%… It is however very uneven, be prepared to suffer on the sections at 10%!

A 33km descent brings us to the next climb, to the Passo di Furcia (1789m) (Furkelpass for the German speakers). The climb starts in Longega and is 12.3km at an average of 6.1%. However, the first 8km are at 4.7%, meaning there is a lot of altitude to gain over the last 4km! Be prepared to work at it, a good part is at 11%…

There’s a short, steep descent, before a long, energy-sapping false flat climb to the last challenge of the day, and not the least.

The Tre Cime di Lavaredo (2304m) is certainly the hardest climb in the Haute Route this year, at least in terms of sustained gradient. The last 4km are at an average of 11.6%, with peaks closer to 20%… There are no two ways about it, this is an absolute brute, terrible after six days in the saddle. If you enjoy scary movies, watch some of the clips on YouTube from the Giro, and see how the pros suffer!

At least we will be rewarded with a magnificent view (weather permitting)! The timing will stop on the col, leaving you to ride down to Cortina at your own pace.

Tips: Without doubt the hardest day. Managing your energy over the first two major climbs will be crucial. Ride at low intensity all day and refuel well to save your strength for the last 4 km. Don’t hesitate to ride with a 32 tooth cassette.

STAGE SEVEN SUNDAY 11TH SEPTEMBER

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO – VENICE 175KM|1850m D+ ∗∗∗∗

The final day is likely to 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 (2236m), which we hit right from the start. There are 16 km to the summit. The first half of the climb (until the turn off in Pocol) is straightforward. Take time to spin the legs and warm up well, because the climb soon gets tougher. The average grade for the remaining 8.6km is 8.3%, with plenty of stretches over 10% and little relief. The Dolomites scenery is once again absolutely stunning, especially if there is fresh snow, like in 2015! Make sure you enjoy it, because the climbing is almost over for the week.

There are 70km of false flat descent getting out of the mountains before the very last climb of the week, to the Passo San Boldo (706m). This is a mere formality from this side, a gentle rise of some 10km to the summit, where the timing stops and the racing is over.

Going down the other side, you will have the opportunity to 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!

Tips: If you are feeling strong, this is your last chance to make a difference in the rankings. Judge it right and you could cross the Gavia ahead of your rivals and increase the time difference in a fast group ride out of the mountains.

Route maps and stage profiles

CONCLUSION:

This is the second time the route has taken a westerly direction, and although 3 of the stages are identical to the 2015 edition the others show some welcome innovations. The most interesting are certainly the cobbled San Gottardo pass, the Passo di Furcia and the horribly steep Tre Cime. For those who missed the Stelvio last year, you now have the opportunity to climb it twice in two days. Old favourites like the Gavia, the Tonale, the Giau and the San Boldo still feature in starring roles. There is no doubt, the course lives up to its reputation: the “highest and toughest cyclosportives in the world”.

Haute Route Pyrenees 2016

Haute Route Alpes 2015

PREPARING FOR THE HAUTE ROUTE

Update: Alpine Cols was the official partner to the Haute Route for coaching and training for the 4 year period 2014 – 2017. We offer individual coaching as well as coaching camps (in small groups) both intended to help you perform at your best and enjoy the experience. Between them, our coaches have ridden well over 25 Haute Routes, as well as innumerable other mountain sportives, and they will be delighted to share their experience with you.

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Chris Hope
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Chris Hope

Great read, my heart rate has already increased, looking forward to getting together in 2016.