Feltre was first described by Pliny in Roman times and has in turn fallen under Lombard and Venetian rule. Annually, in July, it falls under two wheeled rule when it plays host to the Granfondo Campagnolo.
Broken cloud awaits us on arrival in Feltre. The temperature is noticeably lower than the previous day giving us some apprehension about the mountainous terrain we are about to tackle. The impressive arêtes surrounding us leave no doubt as to the challenge we are tackling today. The route undulates gently out of town in the direction of Belluno, but rather than taking the main road, we follow a minor road, nuzzling up against the peaks that climb almost vertically from the valley floor. I appreciate the traffic free tranquillity of the back road but the numerous small climbs seem unfair given the proper climbing yet to come.
The first main climb of the Forcella Franche rises steadily at first out of a lake-bottomed valley and inevitably the hairpin sections kick in. Sensibly we maintain a steady pace, all of us minded to what lies ahead. As we ascend, rain starts to spit sporadically and we hope that it remains just that. A tough last kilometre brings us up onto the main road and the top of the climb. A relatively short, main road descent leads us into Agordo at the foot of the Passo Duran. The brown road signs guide us towards our day’s goal. The rain has disappeared for the moment but a damp chill still hangs in the air. The Duran climbs steeply out of Agordo tracing a direct route towards the summit. The road narrows to a single track in places forcing us to give way to timber lorries harvesting the pine forests that surround us. The gradient of the climb seems all the more formidable as it stretches ahead in full view. Only as we approach the top does the road follow the contours as it sweeps round in a gentle left hand bend. From this point the gradient eases and progress can be made in the big ring. By the summit, the falling temperature can be felt for the first time. Not wishing to catch a chill, we pull out our rain capes and descend towards Dont’. The descent is twisty and narrow and made all the more hazardous by the thin film of drizzle on the road surface. It requires my full concentration to make it to the bottom safely.
In Dont’ we hit the main road, hang a left and immediately start the climb of Passo Staulanza. Compared to the tranquillity and peacefulness of the Duran, the Staulanza is a main road drag past endless ski resorts, which are now deserted and abandoned in the spring season. Ian seems to be enjoying the easier gradient as he surges ahead. I’m feeling less than inspired by the aggressive main road traffic and decide to hold back a bit. A short, terraced hairpin section adds some brief interest and the opportunity for the camera crew to catch some footage. By the summit, the drizzle has returned and we enter a winter scene with a lot of snow still lying at the road side. Mist swirls round the mountain peaks imparting another worldly quality to the summit.
A chilly descent followed through the villages of Selva, Caprile and Alleghe. We’re finally in the heart of the Dolomites here. At Selva a wrong turn would have us climbing the Marmolada or the Passo Giau. We leave those to the Giro riders set to tackle them in a few weeks time. We stick to the valley road and take the opportunity to recover and refuel. At Cencenighe, the valley road, almost imperceptivity at first, starts to rise once again. This is the beginning of the climb to the summit of the Passo di Valles. Although officially classed as a seven kilometres, we’ll be gaining in altitude for the next twenty. We make a pact to stick together on this long drag of a climb. Cam has suffered his way over the Rolle and Staulanza; Ian appears frozen through by the descent of the Staulanza and I’m trying to stomach a few mouthfuls of energy bar. An occasional shaft of sunlight illuminates the valley bottom but even approaching mid-summer the villages appear cold, damp and starved of solar sustenance. As we climb out of Falcade, the first signs for Passo di Valles appear. At last the upward slog of the last half-hour is acknowledged. We fork left, ignoring the right turn to the Passo San Pellegrino. We leave what civilisation existed in the valley behind and climb up through pine forest. A wooden bridge carries the piste over our head in winter times; an alpine flyover. Higher up we hit the waldgrenze, where impoverished trees finally give best to the elements leaving only bare rock and the hardiest of vegetation. From here the summit of the Valles is in sight and we press on with renewed energy, at least for the moment. At the top we are greeted, in what seems like a hilarious cliché, by an enormous St Bernard. With no brandy to offer us, we start the descent.
And what a descent! The near deserted road permits us the racing line and the sweeping curves and decent surface allow us to push it. A sharp left and we’re on the Passo Rolle. I think we sense that the Rolle marks the beginning of the end. A long descent follows the Rolle and from there only the relatively simple Croce d’Aune separates us from Feltre and redemption. We each seem to choose our own rhythm on the Rolle. I’m keen to make progress and forge ahead of my two companions. The familiar pine forest imparts shelter on the lower slopes, banks of snow still lying serenely between the arrow straight trunks. This summit, like those that have gone before, appears to exist in a parallel dimension. We are totally alone as we grab our capes from the car. The ski season is over but snow still lines the road. The small restaurant and shop are closed and give the impression of having been so for years. I feel unnerved up here and drawn instead to the physical warmth and security of civilisation promised by the valley below.
The road is shrouded in mist as we descend. The twists and turns are hardly visible as we gingerly pick our way down. Slowly the mist clears to reveal stunning vistas towards Val di Schener. It seems like we are descending for an eternity as we lose over 1500m in height. The air noticeably warms as we pass through San Martino and rejoin the valley road at Imer. It feels like we’ve moved into spring as we spin gradually downhill towards the final climb of the day. The chill of the high mountains is replaced by a renewed optimism that the finish is within reach.
The Croce d’Aune is the raison d’etre of the Granfondo Campagnolo and it’s with a sense of the history of this place that we tackle its lower slopes. Compared to out earlier travails the climb seems over in a flash belying its 10km length. Brief homage is paid to Tullio at the summit and then only a frustrating descent, made slick by rain, remains between us and the finish. Careful not to undo my good work of what now seems like a very long day, I pick my way down the last few hairpins before Feltre hones into view. Basking in the late afternoon sunshine we all feel the glow of achievement and the relief that the hardest star, the black hole of the challenge, has been charted.
The Granfondo Campagnolo is now the Granfondo Sportful. On the La Fuga Sportful Weekend you’ll get all the support you need to complete this epic event. Visit the La Fuga website for more details