Legendary Passes in the Italian Dolomites
Anyone who watched the 2019 edition of the Giro d’Italia saw an amazing battle between Vicenzo Nibali and Richard Carapaz.
Just when it appeared the Sicilian was bound for another victory, the Ecuadorian added more time to his lead and walked away from the champion.
The great races like the Tour de France and the Vuelta de España always keep the most exciting stages for the end. The Italian Alps are an amazing theatre for some of the Giro d’Italia most epic mountain battles.
We’ve already posted about our favorite passes in the Dolomites. Since there are so many – and they are so beautiful -, we figured we’d give you four more:
From the Giro 2019:
Palade (1,518 meters)
This mountain pass was once an old toll road in 1562. Local merchants paid dues to the Tirol Counts for the passage of goods and materials into Bolzano. It was also, historically, a frontier: a boundary of ancient cultures well before 1592.
In 1939, the military created the massive defensive military system at Sbarramento le Palade: The Palade Bunker. It was one of the most important WWII-era bunker systems in South Tyrol. The fascist forces created this massive network of underground corridors and stockrooms. At the end of these corridors, the fascists constructed sniper nests on every side.
From Cermes, the climb is just under 20 km with an average 6.5% grade. It isn’t a particularly challenging climb and it has beautiful valley views over Bolzano. Our Ciclismo Classico Majestic Dolomite tour will bring you up and over this pass as well as Mendola.
Gavia (2,618 meters)
This thundering beast scheduled in this year’s Giro never made it to the final curtain call. Due to avalanche risk, race organizers decided to cancel the summit.
The Gavia Pass was already in operation during the medieval period. The Venetian Empire was so vast and wealthy, they breached the pass and opened trade with the German, Austrian and Tirolian people. Already in those times, fog, wind, rain, and snow made the pass a notoriously dangerous place to be.
But it was during WWI the road saw significant development and growth. The pass was a major strategic point of operation given its close proximity to the front. However, it was always a dirt and stone road until pavement and tunnels were added in the 1950s.
The Giro d’Italia first showcased the Gavia in the 1960s. Together with Stelvio and Mortirolo, it is one of the mountain passes every cyclist must ride in his lifetime.
Mortirolo (1,852 meters)
This narrow and steep road leads to the top of one of the most famous climbs in cycling history. Partisans and fascists battled over this territory in bloody skirmishes during 1945. However, the name – “Mortirolo” – refers back to those killed in battle during WWI.
From Mazzo di Valtellina, the road is about 12 km long at an average 10.5%. It is one of the most challenging climbs on which many amateur cyclists test their mettle. Thanks to the Giro d’Italia, the Mortirolo has become one of the epic passes in the valley of Valtellina.
Possibly the most impressive professional performance of this beastly mountain was that of Marco Pantani in 1994. Pantani distanced himself significantly from strong adversaries such as Miguel Indurain and Claudio Chiapucci to be the first to summit the mountain. Only after having ridden this climb do you realize what an impossible feat this is.
After the death of Michele Scarponi in 2017, cycling officials have officially nicknamed the Mortirolo, Salita Scarponi – “Scarponi’s Climb” – in his honor.
Plan de Corones (2,275 meters)
This challenging climb in the Dolomites has a very significant name. In 1780 researchers and explorers noted how the striations in the rock created a circular ring effect, forming a series of “crowns” or corone.
Like many of the other mountain passes you’ve read about, Europe’s major wars involved Plan de Corones. Engineers planned to build a teleférique well before WWI to make the peak more accessible to the people of Brunico. After many setbacks and battles, the local community constructed the first access to the mountain – and the first ski station in the area – in 1963.
But its cycling history is another story. From Furcia, Plan de Corones is a dirt road. And while it’s only 5.25 km long, the steepest grade calculated is a whopping 24% for 300 meters. In addition, there is no section of this road that is under 14%.
The Giro d’Italia has only featured this amazing climb three times. Two of which as an uphill time trial. Italian cyclists won all three: Piepoli in 2006, Pellizotti in 2008, and Garzelli in 2010.
So if you’re looking for the ultimate challenge, make sure to checkout Ciclismo Classico’s line of Mountain Tours. They will help you reach new heights!