The Passo Valparola is the final big climb of the Maratona dles Dolomites granfondo and is accessed via the Passo Falzarego. For the Maratona long course route, the start of the climb is from the tiny commune of Pocol and this is the route we write about here.
The Valparola Pass connects the Badia valley with the Falzarego Pass and then with Cortina d’Ampezzo on one side and the upper Agordino on the other.
Valparola is a strikingly beautiful pass, rising up to 2,192 metres from dense woodland into a rocky landscape framed by giant mountains.
Competitors on the Maratona long route will have already climbed the passes of Campolongo (twice), Pordoi, Sella, Gardena and the Giau before they set foot on the lower slopes of the Falzarego. Fortunately for them, it is not too steep with an average gradient of around 5%.
The Pass is steeped in cycling history and people still speak of the incredible battle on this pass between Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali in the Giro d’Italia way back in 1946 (more information on that below).
All metrics in this article are approximate.
In a region of spectacular scenery, the landscapes between the summit of the Falzarego and summit of the Valparola are something special.
There’s the raw, physical beauty but, even with our superficial knowledge of the intense fighting that took place on these slopes in the first world war, and on a bright summer’s day, we also felt a certain haunting, brooding atmosphere that has stayed with us and is present whenever we think of this pass.
Passo Falzarego/Valparola route info
The climb starts outside the Sport Hotel in Pocol on the SR48 road at 1,545 metres above sea level.
It gently twists and turns, but is generally straight and not overloaded with hairpins. You will notice a small wooden chapel after around 3 kilometres (see photo below), which represents an unusual photo opportunity. Whilst there are spruce and fir trees bordering much of the roadside, the tops of the big mountains are clearly visible in the distance from the start of the climb.
Halfway up the climb there is a small car park and rest area which is a great place to briefly stop to take in the views. To the right there is the amazing sight of the Lagazuoi peak (2,835 metres) and on the other side of the road lies the Sass de Stria (2,477 metres).
This pass takes you really close to the Dolomite limestone – so close it feels you can almost touch it.
The road continues to cut through the pass and by the time you get to the Ristorante grill da Strobel Paolo Michielli the trees are beneath you and beyond the mountain pastures lie the giant rock formations of the Dolomites range. You can stop here for a breather or power on for the next kilometre to the top.
At the summit of the Falzarego at 2,117 metres there are a couple of café/restaurants and a souvenir shop.
At the Falzarego summit, you have not quite reached the highest point so you need to push on for a little over a kilometre to reach the top of the Passo Valparola.
The final ramp touches 15% gradient as you rise to almost 2,200 metres above sea level. There are also quite a few points where you think you spot the summit only to find a cruel illusion!
The scenery at the top of the Passo Valparola is vast and austere. There were fierce battles here during the First World War, and we felt a haunting presence of these past scenes. In terms of facilities, there’s nothing at the top other than a sign, a car park and the Tre Sassi Fort museum, but you could always go back down to the summit of the Falzarego if you need food and drink.
Ristorante Grill da Strobel Paolo Michielli – kilometre 9
Café/Bar/Sandwich shop at the summit of the Falzarego
Bazar Bar at the summit of the Falzarego
Corvara is a great option as you can access most of the Dolomite climbs from there. However there is also a selection of hotels and apartments in Arabba, where you are well situated for the Valparola.
Check out our Dolomites guide for more information.
Check out our tips for cycling in the Dolomites before you leave home.
Note that this climb doesn’t feature in the Sella Ronda route.
The Falzarego/Valparola Pass is spoken of as one of the most scenic mountain passes in Europe so have your camera handy and, unless you’re climbing against the clock, take your time and memorialise your ascent.
You might want to consider riding over the top of the Falzarego to the summit of the Passo Valparola to actually finish the ascent and then just freewheel back for a kilometre to the restaurants at the top of the Falzarego before you select your route for the descent.
At the top of the Falzarego, rather than turn right for the Valparola (and Corvara), should you wish to carry straight on the road will take you to the Paso Pordoi and towards Arraba.
We hit this climb in the early afternoon and found a lot of traffic. If you can ride it early in the day, or as part of the Maratona, so much the better.
There is a lake at the summit as well as the small Tre Sassi Fort museum which memorialises the conflict between Italian and Austrian forces in the First World War. It is housed in a fort built in a spectacular spot surrounded by the mountain peaks of the summit. After only a few weeks of war, the fortress was bombed and evacuated. It now displays soldiers’ kits and their everyday objects.
Cycling history on the Falzarego/Valparola Pass
The battle between Coppi and Bartali on these passes is one that still looms large in cycling folklore. The story goes that Bartali, who was in the maglia rosa (leaders pink jersey), had an argument with a race organiser the day before the Valparola stage which led him to then consume copious amounts of wine.
The following day Coppi, several minutes behind on the General Classification standings, sensing all was not well with a hungover Bartali on the climb launched a powerful attack nine kilometres from the summit and crested the Valparola some 3’40” ahead. He later stretched it to 5 minutes 35 kilometres from the stage finish.
Coppi at that point had ridden himself in to the virtual maglia rosa.
Folklore tells that Bartali had no other option than to approach a person he intensely disliked, Aldo Bini, and offer to pay him to help chase down Coppi. The result was that whilst Coppi won the stage, Bartali managed to reduce the time gap and retain the maglia rosa.
One to ponder as you ride these hallowed roads!
Other useful information
Falzarego/Valparola Strava segment (Falzarego): https://www.strava.com/segments/619017
Strava segment (Valparola): https://www.strava.com/segments/11978833
Maratona dles Dolomites climb number 7 (and last) (Pocol to Corvara)
More info on cycling in the Dolomites…
Don’t miss our main guide to cycling in the Dolomites – you’ll find loads of information to help you plan your trip and links to all our other Dolomites cycling guides, including Passo Sella, Gardena, Pordoi, Campolongo, Giau and Fedaia.
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