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Dolomite Delight

15 years ago I made the mistake of forgetting my walking boots on a trip to climb a Via Ferrata. Faced with the option of hanging around for mates to return or hiking back to base I chose the later which turned out to be a great choice as the route back involved a drop down the Ghardena pass, then up and over the Campolongo. Mostly on quiet paths well away from roads, and with no one to share conversation with I'll never forget how close I got to wildlife. I saw several Chaamois on rocks above, watched a family of Marmots going about their business on a verdant ski run and memorably got within about 15 yards of a grazing deer who had not heard me approach from downwind.

With its sheer sided, bare cliffs the Sella Massif itself was also a highlight of the day. The rockforms almost look manmade in parts lending the Massif the air of a gigantic castle that dominates the surrounding valleys. Containing the peak of Piz Boe(3151m) the Sella is a playground for skiers, climbers and walkers that is well serviced by Rifugios and cable cars.

The standout moment though, that is etched clearly in my mind was whilst grabbing a coffee at the top of the Campolongo. A fair few cyclists crested in front of me and quickly dropped away without really registering until the moment when two cool as flip Italians hove into view. Dressed in matching kit and chatting away volubly with stereotypical arm gestures they approached from Arraba. Going at a rate of knots they paused neither cadence or conversation to don arm warmers before descending to Corvara and in that moment I made up my mind to return one day and ride this Sella Ronda route that I'd been hearing so much about. In the intervening years I often imagined myself flying up and over the Campolongo and here I was 15 years later finally trying to emulate that film like memory. Whilst I failed miserably to match the style, speed and effortless chatter of those two Italian cycling-style icons I did at least come away with some new imagery to fuel future dreams...

Was the worth wait it? Absolutely! Even on a grey and overcast day that turned to rain later the Sella Ronda delivers stunning views throughout with a parcours that is challenging without being extreme enough to dampen any enthusiasm.

Overnighting in Corvara, our 9 strong group had about 50 metres of flat before the uphill started and in no way were muscles warmed up as we tackled some 10% stuff at the top end of town. Once through these early switchbacks though the Campolongo settles down and is a beautifully gentle 4 or 5% for much of the 6km to the top, which comes far too early for a coffe stop but with it still being a bit nippy about the gills an extra layer was wise for the descent down to Arraba. Sweeping curves allowing time to drink in the views both down the valley and up to the top of the next climb  of the Pordoi. This is the longest climb of the day at a little over 9km long at an average of 6.2% - not exactly a monster but still a great climb. The top is often in view with many arrow straight sections pointing straight up the valley, but the reverse view can be comtemplated as you turn around each of the 27 hairpins that carry you to the top.

Now is a good time for a stop with over half the climbing done and also gives you time for photo opportunities at the Coppi memorial that stands here in monument to Il Campianissimo. Grey clouds and the threat of rain meant we didn't loiter for too long but just long enough for Calum to get his over used selfie stick out. Than man sure does love a photo of himself !

After a rapid descent the turn up the Sella road comes upon you quickly - too quickly for some who found themselves in the big ring trying to tackle a savage openng ramp and promptly fell off. I tried not to laugh.

The Sella climb is a great atmospheric climb, being initially more wooded and hunkering close up against the cliffs above, and short at only 6km long again so is soon ticked off. Going over the top the heavens opened and the tain stayed with us for the remaining two decents and one climb(Gardena). This last is the easiest, despite rapidly chilling feet and hands which get much colder as we drop back to Corvara which over 9 kilometres has around 20 hairpins to test your desecending skills. Out of 10 I'd have scored me about 1 for this section - although to be fair this was about double what I'd have scored Niall who I rode this last section alongside. Still, better safe than sorry and as it was still only just pastmidday we needed to get back in one piece as there were beers to be had.

Whilst this may be a short ride it is a true gem. Famed cycling photographer Gered Gruber said:

 ‘’If I had one last ride to ride, I would ride here. I’ve ridden the famed Sella Ronda twice now, and afterwards, both times, I left for home shaking my head, overwhelmed by the grand cathedral I was leaving behind. It is beautiful, it is grand, it is nigh spiritual. It’s a must. ‘’ We concur.