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Thomson Bike Tours: Climbing Northern Italy
As we’ve shown the past two weeks, Thomson Bike Tours are not known for taking the easy routes on any of their cycle trips, and their Tour of the Dolomites & Italian Alps is no different. TBT’s Andrew Ward offers this report on what makes cycling in the Italian mountains unforgettable.

– Special Travel Feature By Andrew Ward of Thomson Bike Tours –

This tour maintains our tradition of selecting beautiful and challenging cycling terrain whilst maximising our support for a spectacular week of cycling – a real treat for cycling enthusiasts of the Giro and with 380 miles and over 50 000 feet of elevation gain you are certain to emulate the epic stages of this grand tour.

The Thomson Bike Tours Statistics for the Tour of the Dolomites and Italian Alps:
• Total Distance 380 miles
• Total Elevation Gain 50,600 ft
• Total Number of Climbs 14
• Average grade of climbs 7.6%
• Total miles climbed 103.9 miles
• Average Difficulty Index 103.8
• Maximum Difficulty Index 185

The Trip Profile

The empathy between Thomson Bike Tours and the high mountain passes of Europe grows year on year and in particular the Dolomites appears to be the area of special significance for us. The TBT design team, like the Giro d’Italia organisers, are onto a good thing in this part of Italy as we offer a tremendous cycling challenge in a perfect theatre for performance cyclists. This is an ideal trip if you’d like to ride many of the Giro d’Italia’s most famous routes and climbs – the Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo, Fedaia, Giau, Duran, Pordoi and many more Giro favorites all feature in this extremely challenging week. And by scheduling the trip at the end of June, access to the highest climbs is virtually guaranteed – many of the higher passes are actually closed until the end of May due to snow.

Climbing the spectacular Passo Gardena with Thomson Bike Tours in June 2008.

The best support in the business is a key feature of every Thomson Bike Tours trip!

I asked Peter Thomson about his choice of routes for this tour: “We’ve pulled together a fantastic route that combines the top climbs of the Dolomites and the Italian Alps. We start in Alleghe in the heart of the Dolomites, we then transition over the Passo San Pellegrino to Lana, only 40km from the base of the Stelvio, then finish with 2 classic days in the Italian Alps. Our route includes many of the mythical climbs of the Giro d’Italia and of course we’ve designed the trip so there are absolutely no van transfers! If you’ve followed the Giro d’Italia in recent years and would like the opportunity to ride the same routes as many of the epic Giro stages this is the perfect trip. Each of our daily rides presents a significant challenge but 3 days really stand out both in terms of the challenge and historical links with the Giro – days 3, 5 and 6.”

So let’s take a look at these 3 queen stages – just how challenging are they?

Day 3: Passo Fedaia, Passo San Pellegrino, Passo Duran, Passo Staulanza

Total ride distance: 85 miles
Total Elevation gain: 13,100 feet
Climbs of special significance:
Passo Fedaia; 3475 feet, 7.5%, 8.8 miles, Difficulty Index 133
Passo Duran; 3255 feet, 7.9%, 7.8 miles, Difficulty Index 126

On day 3, with a warm-up ride behind you and over 10 000 feet of climbing already in the legs, we will take you over 4 cols. The route goes over, amongst others, the Passo Fedaia and the Passo Duran, two very important climbs in the Giro d’Italia and will give you a total route distance of 85 miles for the day. These may be lesser known climbs in comparison to their famous cousins that come later in the trip, but nonetheless very challenging with over 13,000 feet of climbing.

Climbing the Passo Duran (June 2008)

Day 5: Passo Stelvio

Total ride distance: 65 miles
Total Elevation gain: 9,500 feet
Climbs of special significance:
Passo Stelvio; 5930 feet, 7.4 %, 15.1 miles, Difficulty Index 172

This day looks like a baby in comparison to Day 3 but don’t be fooled! One look at the profile will allay any fears that we are taking it easy on this day. The Stelvio pass is fourth in the list of highest paved roads in the Alps so a day not to be taken lightly and the Giro d’Italia has a special relationship with the Stelvio ever since it was crossed for the first time in 1953. Coppi cemented his victory there that year against Koblet but ever since the race returns to this mountain pass and its 48 switchbacks and is a must-do climb on anyone’s list of ascents. We will do a circular route on day 5 and the total ride distance will be 65 miles with over 9000 feet of climbing. This pass is never cleared of snow until the end of May and normally opens the first week of June. By the end of June temperatures are usually quite pleasant but the vast snow fields and glaciers that cover the Stelvio National Park make it a spectacular climb.

The final switchbacks of the Passo Stelvio (June 2008).

Day 6: Passo Mortirolo, Passo Gavia

Total ride distance: 70 miles
Total Elevation gain: 10,150 feet
Climbs of special significance:
Passo Mortirolo; 4265 feet, 10.5 %, 7.7 miles, Difficulty Index 185
Passo Gavia; 4470 feet, 7.9%, 10.7 miles, Difficulty Index 147

Little can be written that has not already been written about these two mythical mountains of the Italian Alps. Thomson Bike Tours visit these climbs on day 6 and you can follow in the tire tracks of Andy Hampsten who won the 1988 edition of the Giro. It was sleeting the morning of June 5, 1988 when the race started. At the point where the Gavia steepens to 16%, he attacked….

“…So I attacked. Not a hundred percent, but because everyone was so intimidated by the whole climb… It was the climb of the race, everyone had been talking about it. Gianni Motta, who was always really friendly with Americans, super encouraging, told me the first day ‘you can win this race, and you can win it on THAT day…”. For the description of that day on the Gavia see the PEZ article Andy’s Epic Day here.

Climbing the Passo Gavia (June 2008)

The Mortirolo is, of course, another legendary climb of the Giro and no trip to this area would be complete without a visit. Though shorter than the Stelvio and the Gavia, the Mortirolo is rated the most difficult climb of the trip because of its incredibly steep grades. In fact, the average grade is over 10 % with sections of 18% – a major challenge, even for the professionals!

The Mortirolo:
“…on the hardest parts I was riding a 39 x 27 and I was hurting, really hurting…..the Mortirolo is the hardest climb I’ve ever ridden.” Lance Armstrong, Team Astana.

On the climb of the Mortirolo towards the top there is a statue of Marco Pantani looking back at you, evaluating your response after one of his attacks……he’s almost imploring you to follow! How are you going to respond? Well, you have until June to prepare your response.

The Marco Pantani Memorial on the Passo Mortirolo (June 2008.)

If you need more information about this or any of our legendary trips, check out
for further details.


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