I just gave myself this idea the other day while writing a blog article on a tour we just finished running in the Dolomites. It’s as much a memory exercise for my ageing brain as a list that I hope will be useful to someone. I feel like I’ve got a little ‘authority’ now, at least here in Europe, having passed 12 years of riding here and nearly 10 of them guiding clients.
Sella Ronda (Dolomites, Italy)
Possibly the most perfect mountain cycling loop there is, this 55 km route climbs 4 mountain passes, while offering some of the best views you can imagine. The climbs are:
- Passo di Gardena (2121m)
- Passo di Sella (2213)
- Passo Pordoi (2239m)
- Passo di Campolongo (1875m)
Being a loop, you can of course ride this either direction. Sella Ronda Bike Day does it counter-clockwise, which is what we did with our clients, starting and finishing in Corvara.
Does all this sound too good to be true? Right, it is. This route, along with many others in the Dolomites, is jam-packed with cars, motorcycles and tour buses. We had no issues with these other vehicles and we cohabited quite nicely together, but if you are looking for a quiet, pristine mountain ride, this is not it.
Still, you will be hard pressed to find a more stunning route of this length anywhere.
Col du Pré de la Dame (Cévennes, France)
One of my ‘go to’ rides when I want to get some climbing in and put a smile on my face at the same time. The Pré de la Dame climb actually finishes on top of Mont Lozère, the highest mountain in the area, and this is one of two ways to climb it (the other is to the Col de Finiels). At 1475 m this is not a high col, but it is a proper climb: 15 km at 6.5% average gradient.
My ride starts 20 km before the start of the climb, in the former mining town of Bessèges (also known for the stage of the first pro stage race on the calendar each year). You start this lovely 83 km loop along a river valley that very gently takes you up through chestnut forests and terraced fields till you find yourself in Genolhac, 20 km in and 450 m of climbing in the legs already.
The climb itself starts off steeply but then settles into a nice 5% to 7% rhythm the whole way up, leveling off a little before the top. The descent down to Villefort is fabulous and you won’t need to worry about meeting many cars on blind corners. You will have to contend with loose gravel in early summer, though, till they get it swept up from ski season.
The last time I did this climb I passed two cars on the way up and one camper van on the descent.