Miracle at the Miramonti
The fantastic 2023 club trip to Dolomites. We stayed in Corvara, Italy and took on the breathtaking climbs of the Dolomites.
Each year, since 2014, the club has organised a trip to a European cycling destination. In keeping with the spirit of the club, the trip aims to make visiting some of the most iconic cycling destinations in Europe both accessible, fun and achievable for as wide a group of people as possible.
The success of previous trips and the continuing growth of the club meant 24 members had eagerly signed up. A record of nearly a third of the regular cyclists in the club!
By popular vote, the club trip to Dolomites was chosen and Corvara selected as our base camp from the 9th to the 13th June.
The Training and the Anticipation
There was a huge amount of excitement, with a “planning meeting” held upstairs in The Norbiton with Jeff – the Club President – presenting a comprehensive Powerpoint on all the arrangements, logistics, potential routes etc whilst the rest of the attendees decided it was really was too late for any serious training and that the decimal places had clearly been put in the wrong place throughout the section on the various climbs we would be attempting.
The Grand Depart
For some reason best consigned to history, it was decided to see how early we could possibly get to and leave Gatwick on the Friday morning. The answer was very early indeed, with the flight to Venice leaving at 5:55am
Everything went well at arrivals, no lost luggage or broken bike boxes. We were ladled onto a deluxe coach for the express transfer to our hotel. A splendid trip followed with a very nice stop for coffee and – the first of many – strudel. The trip was only slightly marred when the driver decided he needed to reverse on a hairpin bend halfway up a cliff overlooking a 500m plummet to the valley floor.
Our Hotel – the Miramonti!
Our club trip to Dolomites was clearly the first large cycling party they had catered for in this Summer Season. Perhaps we actually were the first ever party of cyclists they had catered for, as our possession of 24 bikes & the need to store them somewhere seemed a bit of a surprise for our esteemed hosts.
Though this was quickly addressed through Marco’s negotiation (more of this later).
Rental Bike Pickup
Luckily for them – eight team members had chosen to bring their own bikes.
The remainder of us were left to the tender mercy of the local bike shop SportsKostnerRental. Even LoveVelo conceded ‘they were a bit of a handful’. Fortunately Jeff had read the fine print and spotted the shop’s unique position – previously unheard of in hundreds of other bike rental shops – of not actually providing pedals along with the bikes. I guess we should have been grateful they provided wheels and saddles?
All the bikes were brand new 2023 Pinarellos in Ferrari red! Vincenzo’s bike, a Pinarello Dogma F, was so hi-end that every time he rode down the main street he was mobbed by well wishers wanting to shake his hand, take selfies and hold a ticker tape parade.
Meanwhile as he rolled off the red carpet the rest of us were left with the mechanics unboxing our newly arrived bikes, assembling them from first principles and lashing us to them with duct tape.
The Sella Ronda Bike Day (more of this later) meant that their entire stock of bikes were committed already which resulted in quite a lot of shrugging of shoulders when Nilkunj highlighted his bike appeared to be a child’s bike. Anyway Nilkunj proceeded to beat nearly everyone up most climbs for the next two days until we could finally replace his toy ride with a tractor with no engine and anchors.
We all left the cycle shop to test our bikes on the return loop to Arabba via the Passo Campogolonga climb.
Club trip to Dolomites Day 1 – Bike check including Arraba & Back
But then we were off! The excitement palpable! We were climbing out of town!
Everyone dropped everyone else – accidentally and temporarily – with people quickly reassembling at the top and bottom of climbs. It wouldn’t have been a NMV ride without a bit of dispersal.
Bar Table – our Local
Bikes tested. First spin done and back to the hotel via Bar Table for the obligatory beer.
Bar Table was deemed our ‘local’ and the first of many Forsts were consumed.
Then classic first day bravado kicked in.
The previously agreed route for the next day was deemed too easy ‘on paper’ and before dinner as the Forst flowed the talk was all about the ‘DOUBLE SELLA’ and the need to do the route twice next day. Just like two laps of Richmond Park before the Royal Oak on a Tuesday.
Fortunately before this got out of hand we had to return to the hotel for dinner.
The Dining Experience
Cue a comical evening’s entertainment at Dinner as the hotel trained their new waiting staff and did User Acceptance Testing on their new food ordering phone app.
Needless to say the transition from Ski season to Summer season at the hotel wasn’t going smoothly.
Whilst there was a lot of willingness, there was clearly little experience in dealing with 24 hungry cyclists all clamouring to be fed simultaneously like a nest full of starlings.
More negotiation was needed & Marco was the man for the job.
All four courses were secured – safely in the bag. The food was great. The wine very quaffable and everyone retired early to save themselves for a big day!
Club trip to Dolomites Day 2 – Sella Ronda Bike Day
Conveniently the local officials decided to close the roads of the Sella Ronda (a popular 53km loop including four passes) to provide NMV with the full experience of circuiting the world famous spectacular rock formation.
Unfortunately, they also invited c20,000 other cyclists from across Europe to participate.
It was an amazing day. I learnt so many Italian expletives from Marco that by the end I was virtually fluent.
The club left as a single, united, tight formation of orange. The last time this would be seen on the trip.
As the start of the route tilted up to 7% it was a sobering realisation that we were cycling at 1,500m above sea level.
For some people the challenge of cycling long distances up steep mountains is physical, and for some it’s mental. The altitude started affecting different people in different ways.
Luca being temporarily convinced that an inside out sheepskin jacket was required to complete the tour.
One of the other riders shouted at me ‘I bet this doesn’t look much like New Malden’, as he flashed passed on a descent. I had to agree.
The Sella Ronda was an amazing ride. One I would recommend to anyone who is a keen cyclist. Everyone in the club completed it, in different groups and at different speeds.
A particular shout-out to Neil Cooper for the most resilient and strongest ride of the whole trip. An unfortunate series of injuries had made regular cycling a real challenge recently for Neil. Neil’s completion of the route – in the face of a torrential hail-storm – stands out as a testament to his grit and determination. Chapeau!
Back to the Table Bar
Did I mention that we went here a bit?
Anyway, we went there again. Some people were here most of the afternoon.
Here they are.
The dinner arrangements were improving. The service could not yet be described as a ‘well oiled machine’ but given the Champion’s League final was being screened in the Hotel’s ‘cinema room’ at 21.00 it was essential to get through dinner and get to the footie.
We did try and locate a bar with atmosphere to watch the footie. However no dice, Corvara shut at 8pm every night.
Even Bar Table had no screen!
More importantly though the Italian team turned up, tried to make a game of it, but had the good grace to lose 1-0 to a dominant but profligate Manchester City. Result!
With the next day looming more nonsense was chatted in the hotel bar until bed time.
Day 3 – Passo Giau (pronounced ‘Gee-OW’) and alternatives
Everyone now had gelled into groups of similar speed, pace and keenness and decided on different options of what they were looking for on this day.
Passo Giau was on my bucket list. It was my Everest for this trip so I joined one of the Giau gangs heading out. (For the record there was an incident with a sausage whilst leaving that is best glossed over.)
We pedalled across to the base with the ferocious Passo Giau looming above us (10% for 10km) and hoping that by delaying the start for as long as possible we lucked into the best coffee stop in the world!
The service was great. The chef came out with a tray of pastries and baked delights and said ‘this is all I’ve got – so here you go’.
The coffee and cakes (see below) were breathtaking.
Perfect. We were at least the team for this job.
Struggling then onwards and upwards the next bit of the trip is best forgotten and consigned to history.. 75 mins of type 2 fun took us all safely to the top.
Andrew shot up the climb like a proverbial rat up a drainpipe so he was in position to act as our photographer at the top.
Descending from this climb we re-joined ‘The Fast Group’ for a super lunch stop and re-fuelled with only one significant climb remaining, up Passo Valparola to get back into our valley and home.
We haven’t seen this group before. So here are Marco, JLT and Rob spoiling the view at this great pass.
Part of the team looking back into the valley and contemplating the Museum remembering the military history of this area.
Back home to Corvara where we diverged from our regular to try Bar Iceberg for a bit of variety and then get ready for our big night out!
We had the Pizzeria Caterina all booked and in our sights courtesy of Marco’s forethought and careful planning.
Vincenzo intent on his Pizza
The Pizzeria was great. Fantastic pizzas and wine, with the tales of the day’s climbs growing ever more outrageous and difficult. Unable to stand the inferno like temperatures of the pizza oven any longer we decided the sample the delights of the night life in Corvara.
Fifteen minutes and two quick rounds of Aperols, Avernas and Camparis at the Posta Zirm Hotel later and that was done. We were shown the door & heading back. So much for nightlife.
The town was deserted and it was time for a quick drink in the hotel bar whilst deciding what the challenge would be on the last full day for us.
I have no idea how this photo fits into the story but everyone is having a great time, particularly Dickie, so I throw it in here.
Day 4 – When the Fun(es) stops, Stop!
So at this point the cumulative effect of three days hard cycling, some heavy meals, the altitude and other ‘factors’ meant that the groups divided with a variety of different options available to suit all tastes and temperaments.
- Gravel riding
- Reverse Sella Ronda
- Cable car to the Mountain Top for a gentle walk
- Erbe and Funes at 115km and nearly 3500m of climbing. In anyone’s book a Big Day Out!
I chose the Reverse Sella to enjoy climbing Passo Pordoi and descending from Gardena into Corvara. Here are a few photos from that trip.
Not much more needs to be said. Loved it.
We were back in time for lunch in Corvara to rendezvous with the other returning parties.
As we gathered back to the Bar Table though rumours started to circulate about trouble on the Funes ride – the Big Day Out. About 4pm the first breakaway riders began to arrive back in Corvara. But a party of riders was still ‘out on the course’. The ride had been beset with problems from the off – no lunch stop and an extra climb for good measure. Whatsapp messages came trickling in.
The remainder of the club were now gathered at the Bar Table to nervously sip their Forsts and await the return of the last group up the mountain.
Fortunately John C and Andrew were being looked after by Ben and Jeff, so how wrong could it go?
Word came in that at least they were safe. An essential stop for burgers had been called en-route, at the top of the Gardena climb, with only a short descent to the finish.
And then they were back! A standing ovation from the rest of the club, to have pushed beyond the limit and succeeded.
Ben staggered in “that was harder than the Fred ..” read more about Bens Fred Whitton experience
The wreckage was clear for all to see. After dinner, the Hotel Bar was as far as we could manage.
Fortunately we had returned all our rental bikes, so there was absolutely no risk of a rash decision of going for a ride before the coach came to pick us up the next day.
Day 5 – Last Day Ready to Go Home
Everyone chose to do whatever they wanted: some went shopping for tea towels and fridge magnets, others went for walks and took cable cars to view points.
These photos typify the club trip to Dolomites. A fantastic testament to friendships and a great time together. (No bikes required).
Dave and John hadn’t got the memo about the final day being a bike rest day. They went out and found a Monument to cycling, up in the hills, because they LOVE IT!
The Monument was apparently dedicated to the 2016 NMV trip to Italy where due to a navigational error forced the group to climb the Stelvio Pass – one of the hardest climbs in Europe – twice, in both directions.
The resulting International Incident and cannibalism was so painful it was immortalised in bronze to remind everyone never to trust NMV route planning.
Not much to say about this. We were all shattered but happy and delivered safely back to the New Malden area ready for work the next day!
Shout out to the organising committee
Thanks to all the super efforts of the organising committee. There is a huge amount of pressure and stress involved in ensuring that all the arrangements and logistics worked and that everyone from the club had such a great time.
So well done and thanks to the Organising Committee:
- Jeff Forrest
- Lelia Frances
- Ben Parker
- Dinesh Chauhan
Brilliant job! We all appreciated your hard work. Thank you!!
Next year to look forward to
So it only leaves us needing to plan next year’s trip. Ideas abound: Provence for Mt Ventoux, Basque Country for Vuelta action and the climbs of the French Alps are all contenders and options.
Where will we go? And will you be there?
Iain Gravestock, June 2023
Caveat: the names have remained the same to blame the guilty. Any exclusions are solely my fault and are not intentional. Apologies if I missed your favourite photo/moment as I received so many and there were so many great moments I couldn’t cram them all in.