The Freedom of Closed Road Cycling

sellaronda

Closed-road cycling in the Italian Dolomites

There’s nothing quite like cycling in the mountains when you can be certain that a fire-breathing automobile won’t come whipping around the corner and force you over the edge of the precipice.
This wonderful state of affairs plays out twice a year in one of the most scenic areas of Europe – the Italian Dolomites, during Sellaronda Bike Day.

The authorities close a 30-mile loop to all other traffic.   Anyone can ride, and there’s no charge to participate.

Here’s a video of this year’s ride (titles in Italian), followed by an article written by Trevor Ward, of The Guardian, who joined thousands of riders to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ride.

Closed-road cycling in the Italian Dolomites that’s free for all

June 21  was the 10th anniversary Sellaronda Bike Day in the Italian Dolomites. The event is held twice a year and involves closing off a 33-mile loop of roads, including four mountain passes, to motorised traffic.

Bus services are suspended and workers have to arrive early to beat the 8.30am road closure which affects the communities of Alta Badia, Val Gardena, Arabba and Canazei.And it’s all so that thousands of people can get on their bikes and have some of the most scenic roads in Europe exclusively to themselves.I was one of an estimated 20,000 cyclists who took part in yesterday’s ride.

Join or Leave Anywhere

Being a non-competitive event with a route you can join and leave at any of several points along the way made it feel more welcoming and inclusive than the typical British sportive.

Though the climbs are quite testing – gradients averaging seven per cent and lengths up to seven miles – I saw children riding mountain bikes, toddlers being towed in trailers and, in one case, a young teenager being pulled along by his dad with a piece of rope tied between their bikes.

Sellaronda Bike Day costs €20,000 (about $22000) to organise and promote, and the cost is shared between the local councils in the four valleys it involves.

Tourism Benefits

Oscar Alfreider, the head of tourism for Alta Badia, who rode yesterday’s route on an electric bike, says some of the region’s 600 hotel and guesthouse owners were initially sceptical when the idea was first mooted. Shops and restaurants on the four mountain passes were particularly concerned, as most of their custom came from coach parties, motorcyclists and drivers.

But Alta Badia had the advantage of already hosting one of the most popular closed-road cycling events in Europe, the Maratona dles Dolomites, which next month holds its 29th edition. 35,000 cyclists apply each year to take part, but only 9,000 are accepted, and the event is televised live on national television.

Alfreider says: “If any hotel owner or other business makes a fuss, we remind them that many of the riders are coming here for the first time – maybe they didn’t get a place on the Maratona – and many of them will return with their families.”

Interestingly, the people that did protest during the Bike Day’s early years did so for an unexpected reason.

Reverse Direction

“Shops, cafes and restaurants on the downhill sections of the route complained they weren’t getting any business because cyclists were less likely to stop for a drink or snack when they were descending. So, four years ago, we introduced a second Bike Day, in September, and changed the direction of the riders,” says Alfreider.

The majority of yesterday’s riders were Italians who had driven to one of the “hub” villages where they could park their cars before joining the route on their bikes.
Non-cycling tourists I spoke to said their hotels had given them plenty of warning.

If they had planned to visit any of the mountain trails or passes on the Bike Day route, they had either driven to their destination before the roads were closed, or used one of the many cable cars that operate during the summer.

More information at altabadia.org and sellarondabikeday.com

Thanks to The Guardian for this article.