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14-09-2023 | Jean-Marie Henckaerts

Haute Route Dolomites: from the snow to the sun

The 2023 edition of the Haute Route Dolomites spanned from August 29 to September 2, navigating participants from Bormio to Cortina d'Ampezzo. The event featured four demanding mountain stages and a challenging climbing time trial, covering a total distance of 450 kilometers and scaling 14,500 meters in elevation. Amidst this demanding terrain, cyclists were treated to the breathtaking natural beauty of the Dolomites, a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site.

Photo: Riders geared up at the start of the first stage. © Haute Route

Snow stops play

The first stage, originally planned to traverse the Umbrail pass via the Stelvio from Prato back to Bormio, took an unexpected turn due to Mother Nature's intervention. Heavy rainfall led to the closure of the Umbrail pass descent, resulting in a shortened route restricted to the ascent of the Stelvio from Bormio. On race day, the last three kilometers from Umbrail Pass to the Stelvio were canceled due to overnight snowfall. Climbing the Umbrail pass under such conditions was a heroic endeavor, with cyclists ascending well above the snowline. Some daring individuals even extended their journey by conquering the additional three kilometers to the snow-covered Stelvio summit, where temperatures hovered just one degree above freezing. While the ascent in these frigid conditions was manageable, the treacherous icy descent presented the real challenge.

Photo: Snow blankets the slopes of the Stelvio.

Passo Gavia

The second leg embarked from Bormio, leading cyclists to the frosty heights of the Gaviapass, reaching an altitude of 2,621 meters. Surprisingly, the temperature there was twice as warm as on the Stelvio, at a mere 2 degrees above zero. The descent remained bitterly cold, but thereafter, the wintry adventure concluded. Progressing to the next pass, the Tonale at 1,872 meters, participants enjoyed a more pleasant 13 degrees. Finally, they reached Passo Predaia at 1,250 meters, basking in a welcome warmth of 20 degrees.

Photo: still some snow remnants on day 2. © Haute Route

Glorieux dominates the race

In the realm of competition, Belgian rider Frederic Glorieux and Brazilian female rider Maira Catenacci asserted their dominance during the initial stages and ultimately secured their positions atop the final rankings.

Photo: Overall winner Frederic Glorieux in the middle.

The third stage entailed an individual climbing time trial on Monte Bondone from Trento, encompassing a daunting 1,500 meters of elevation over approximately 20 kilometers. The time trial unfolded under favorable conditions, with temperatures neither too hot nor too cold. Remarkably, Ilnur Zakarin, who transitioned from professional cycling to amateur gran fondos in 2022, emerged victorious among the men, despite suffering a puncture shortly after the start. He outpaced Frederic Glorieux by a mere 53 seconds.

Read also: Should (ex)-pros be banned from gran fondos?

Queen's stage

The fourth stage, a grueling 143-kilometer journey with 3,800 meters of elevation, assumed the role of the queen stage. Departing from Trento, cyclists endured a 90-kilometer uphill trek to Passo Valles, again ascending above 2,000 meters. This ascent was followed by the renowned climb to Falzarego, nestled at an altitude of 2,105 meters in the heart of the Dolomites. Frederic Glorieux yielded victory to Pim van Diemen on this stage, as Pim gained a significant advantage with a 10-minute lead on the first climb. However, this win did not threaten Frederic's overall position. For Pim, the Haute Route primarily served as altitude training for his triathlon ambitions.

Photo: Navigating the famous tunnels of Falzarego. © Haute Route

The fifth and final stage epitomized the quintessential Dolomites ride. Covering a compact 78 kilometers but still ascending 2,800 meters, it presented a condensed climbing challenge. Starting from Cortina d'Ampezzo, the route included consecutive ascents over Passo Giau (2,236 m), Passo Campolongo (1,850 m), and culminated at Passo Valparola (2,192 m). Cyclists were treated to awe-inspiring vistas of the enchanting Dolomites throughout this stage. At the Valparola summit, all riders received their well-earned finisher's medals, and countless snapshots immortalized the stunning natural landscape.

Photo: The famous junction with Valparola.

Pushing the limits

The Haute Route Dolomites boasts eleven mountain passes, with eight exceeding 2,000 meters in elevation, offering participants a truly demanding test of endurance. For the riders, it's a journey of self-discovery, a test of personal boundaries, as they strive to "reach new heights," as the Haute Route slogan proclaims. For an average amateur like myself, it's more of a personal challenge, an opportunity to gauge how far I can push, how fast I can pedal, how long I can sustain a certain power output, and whether I can maintain a specific heart rate while conquering these grueling stages, all stretched across five intense days.

Picture: Mission Accomplished.

The daily massage, rider briefing, stage ceremonies, and more provide participants with a taste of the professional cycling experience. It's an immersive journey that consumes physical and mental energy. The Haute Route stands as a stage race like no other, an experience highly recommended for those yet to embark on this remarkable cycling adventure.

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