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12 September 2023

Words & Photos: Dave Mitchell & Ditte van der Meulen


A few hundred million years ago the monolithic peaks and pointy pinnacles of the Dolomites, now in north-east Italy, lay many fathoms under the sea and formed part of a massive coral reef in the primordial ocean of Tethys. But the earths crust was on the move with immense tectonic activity and volcanic eruptions wreaking havoc. Uplift became the buzz word and mountain building the result. Ice ages came and went, sculpting massive U shape valleys below these ever rising peaks.

The brutal face of Langkofel

Ciampinoi lift bike wash

Since 1937 when the Giro d’Italia first ventured into the Dolomites, with mountain stages over rough gravel roads, snow covered passes and epic descents, it's where legends have been born. Italian cyclists Alfredo Binda, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi cemented their legendary reputations on these slopes and in many ways were the first mountain bikers. Long before they became famous and way back at the beginning of cycling itself the four Sellarronda passes: Passo di Campolongo; Passo Gardena; Passo Sella; and Passo Pordoi would have been conquered by locals out of necessity, or for fun on bicycles made of Italian steel.

Dantercepies lift to cir Tier

Flara singletrack

Plans Valley downhill

Every year in September the Alta Badia Region runs the Sellaronda cycling event in the UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites. This enables amateur riders to challenge themselves over the four passes amongst the stunning mountain terrain. The Sellaronda road tour is considered one of the most impressive and renowned circuits in the Alps.

Plans to Corvara

Corvara giants

For road bike enthusiasts, Sellaronda recalls a legendary cycling experience with hairpin bends and mountain passes, challenging climbs and adrenaline-fuelled descents. All this surrounded by a unique panorama: the UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites. Now that I have introduced the Dolomites properly and filled in a sliver of earths history and its cycling history, let us consider our Dolomite mountain biking back story.

Arabba refill

Trail Porta Vescovo


Let's ride the Sellaronda, but which one. Nearly ten years ago Ditte and I, along with a mate from NZ, Murray Dwyer, decided to do just that. Starting in Corvara we utilised a mix of farm access roads and walking trails to circumnavigate the majestic Sellagruppe on mainly technical singletrack. We dropped into the mountain towns of Arabba, Canazei and Selva di Val Gardena, crossed innumerable passes and cols, and admired endless balcony views of all the surrounding Dolomites in their geological tectonic uplifted splendour. We used uplifts where we could to soften the blow of the 6000 m of climbing our endeavour had entailed.

Arabba heavy lifter

Oh how times have changed, with many of those trails now off limits to bicycles. Luckily the locals have taken the bull by the horns and built their own singletrack and produced two almost totally different and remarkable routes. There’s a Stanley Kubrick inspired 'Clockwise Orange' route and a Greta Thunberg 'Counter Clockwise Green' route to choose from. We opted for the former and set out early to get the first uplift from Campitello di Fassa to Col Rodella at a lofty 2400 m. We followed flowing singletrack down to Plan de Gralba and onto Selva di Val Gardena for a dog leg uplift to Dantercepies. More singletrack took us just about all the way into Corvara through forest blocks and open meadows.

Wild flowers

Tea bags

In a past life we had spent two weeks in Corvara and recognised a few land marks but that didn't stop us from getting slightly lost. Two lifts joined by a squiggle took us to Braia Frida where we wandered around to Rifugio Alpino Pralongià for lunch in the sun. Did I mention it was almost a cloudless windless day, yes one out of the Italian pizza box. Singletrack continued halfway to Passo Campolongo for a short uplift to Bec de Roces. More ST to the beautiful town of Arabba, where we filled our empty bidons, admired the flower boxes on the way to the most impressive uplift of the day called DMC Europe.

Trail Porta Vescovo

Trail Porta Vescovo

This rumbled its way up to Porta Vescovo perched at 2485 m on a ridge top with a commanding, in your face, stretch out and touch me view of the Queen of the slip stream and the Dolomites - Marmolada. At 3349 m it still has a major glacier, even if it has receded somewhat since we last viewed its shiny white tops so many moons ago. An unrelated piece of superb rocky and technical ST also drops back down to Arabba. How could we not ride it, secure in the knowledge that our all-you-can-eat lift pass (that incidentally cost a kings ransom) would come to our rescue and return us safely back up to the top to continue our quest. Arms hanging off and with brake finger overuse we beamed back onto our favourite lift for the second time.

Trail Porta Vescovo

Passo Pordoi

The end was in sight with a traverse to Fodom and a final lift up the bright green slopes to Passo Pordoi where Infinity Trail and Animal House rocked us back into Canazei for a well earned huge gelato. 65 kms and well over 5000 m of supremo descent.

Canazei after a fun day out

Canazei last orange marker


The Selleronda anticlockwise is a new ride on different trails with its own unique sights and sounds. There are far less lifts to make life easy peasy and a whole host of newly built singletracks to explore. We set out early to catch the Fiat Ducato sized lift to Pecol, followed by a Bambina sized one to Col di Rossi. A wide gravel track wandered to Refugio Sass Becé where flowing singletrack rolls down to Vauz. The spectacular North face of Marmolada disappears from view as we descend, switchbacking our way through a forest of Norwegian spruce, Swiss pine, larch, hazels and elders.

Col dei Rossi

All Feverish

German Monument Passo Pordoi

From Vauz a chairlift elevated us up to Passo Pordoi with its carpark full of the hustle and bustle of holiday makers. Every flavour of large road and adventure motorcycle was on show, but we did not linger as we had a trail train to catch. The line took us past the monumental German WW1 & WW2 cemetery and monument. Its round dark stone edifice is almost brutal. A chilling reminder of the folly of conflict - Russia take note. We eloped onto a stellar section of superb old school singletrack. It reminded us of the trails on our original edition 2014 Sellaronda. Through open country on the south flank of Gruppo Di Sella it roams into Arabba on an endless magic carpet ride through fields of wild flowers.

Pordoi Burz DH

Pordoi Burz

Fields of wildflowers

From Arabba we bombed singletrack then a long uphill over remote farm roads and a dogleg past Refugio La Viza to Passo Incisa. This marked the north eastern section of the tour with the trail winging its way to Planc and eventually down to Corvara. We headed west from Corvara to Plan de Gralba where one of the classic Giro climbs prevails, Passo Gardena. We rode this tar-seal climb out of necessity as the lift operator was still on holiday in Sardinia. The top of the pass came eventually and delivered amazing views down the rocky west face of the Gruppo di Sella and this views kept following us as we descended the valley down to Plan de Gralba and out to Selva di Val Gardena.

Leaving Verda Village

Entering Bike Galaxy descent

Val Gardena

A super long gondola took us from Selva di Val Gardena to Ciampionoi at 2225 m and onto a technical walking track to a second lunch spot at Refugio Sa Sela. Appfle strudel and coffee washed the afternoon cobwebs away. A final chair lift with a nifty wheel on bike-rack lifted us all to Col Rodella, poised to descend the famous Canazei bike park trails. We hooked onto Rodeline 1 & 2, Joel and finally Infinity Trail into Canazei. These covered a mix of terrain from rocky to smooth to more tree roots than you can poke a tree root at, plus a series of switch backs only a magician could ride.

Planc to Corvara

Ciampinoi Lift

A final run delivered us back to the laughing house on the edge of Canazei town. A hot shower and hot cuppa was what we needed plus a big slice of Italian cheese. 67 kms and a 4000 m down payment.

Ciampinoi descent

Rifugio Sa Sela

In conclusion: there are obviously more ways to skin a marmot and plenty of road and gravel road bike options not mentioned, to indulge your cycling passion. Grab a TABACCO topo map and the Sellaronda is yours every which way but loose.

Rifugio Sa Sela

Infinity Trail Head

Joel Trail from Pian Frantaces