Whilst it’s not usually talked about in the revered terms associated with the Passo Giau or Pordoi, the climb to the summit of the Passo Fedaia from Caprile is thought by many cycling aficionados to be the best climb in the entire Dolomites range. It’s also one of, perhaps THE, hardest and has striking scenery.
The Passo Fedaia lies at the base of the Marmolada (the highest peak in the Dolomites). It was used as a location for the ‘Italian Job’ film and one way to the summit takes you through the beautiful Serrai di Sottoguda canyon.
Whatever views people have on the Fedaia, the one thing that is indisputable is that it is a very tough climb, with the final five kilometres being particularly brutal.
The pass, which does not feature in either the Sella Ronda or Maratona dles Dolomites events, stands at an elevation of 2,057 metres above sea level. While it isn’t in the Dolomites’ big sportives, it has been used many times in the Giro d’Italia.
All metrics in this article are approximate.
Highlights of the Passo Fedaia
Depending on your particular psyche and your climbing ability, the final stretches of the Fedaia are as brutal as they come. But if that’s your thing then you will revel in the ultimate man versus mountain challenge.
The scenery and views on the climb are impressive. In particular, the Sottoguda gorge and the Marmolada peak are simply stunning.
Passo Fedaia route info
The climb officially starts in the tiny commune of Saviner di Laste at the junction of the SP563 and SP641 roads. The legs are soon burning as the incline in the first kilometre towards Rocca Pietore bounces around with a few stretches of double-digit gradients.
The steepness of the road eases somewhat for the next four kilometres as the twisting road hugs the right-hand side of the valley wall. It meanders through a natural cleft in the mountains flanked on either side by high woodland. Straight in front you get your first view of the high peaks in the distance.
When you arrive in the tiny commune of Sottoguda, you have the fantastic opportunity to briefly divert form the main SP641 for a couple of kilometres and use the pedestrian/cyclist only road that cuts through the Sottoguda gorge.
The gorge, considered a jewel of the Veneto Alps, has towering vertical sides and has something of an eerie effect as the extremely narrow road snakes alongside a stream beneath the massive cliff faces. At times the cliff walls almost touch each other. It’s a tough climb through the gorge, but we think it’s worth making the detour (our GPX file above includes it). There’s more information on the gorge below – it might help you decide whether you want to stick to the main road or ride the gorge.
After Sottoguda (don’t miss the water fountain here) and seven miles into the climb you reach a tunnel just before the village of Malga Ciapela. Once into the village the gigantic craggy face of the Marmolada becomes a reality, and this is where the “fun” really starts.
The last five kilometres have an average gradient of 11% and can be brutal after a long day in the saddle. It is this stretch that really makes the Fedaia and ensures that it is considered as one of the great Italian mountain climbs.
There is a little respite however at a bar named Capanna Bill with 2.5 kilometres to the top should you feel the need to take a breather. If not, it’s more of the same with the final hairpins ramping up to 15% gradients.
The two-time Giro d’Italia champion Gilberto Simone believed that the final five kilometres of the Fedaia made it ‘probably the hardest climb in the world’. The 1988 winner, Andy Hampsten said it was ‘definitely one of the hardest climbs in professional cycling – it’s like someone’s horribly steep drive way’.
There’s not much at the top save for a small bar, but if you continue on the flat plateau for a couple of kilometres there is a huge man-made lake (Lago di Fedaia) at the foot of the Marmolada glacier where there is a café and restaurant.
In the summer months you can ride around the lake before you descend back to Caprile or continue to Canazei.
There are two pizzerias and a café/bar in the small village of Sottoguda five kilometres into the climb.
Just after Malga Ciapela there is a restaurant (Albergo).
The Capanna Bill Refuge and Bar is 2.5 kilometres from the summit.
There is a café and restaurant by the lake at the top of the climb.
To easily access the Fedaia the best places to stay would be either Arabba or Canazei. Both villages have a reasonable selection of hotels and apartments together with various shops, bars and restaurants.
Check out our Dolomites guide for more information.
Take a look at our tips for cycling in the Dolomites before you leave home.
The Fedaia is one of a few climbs in the Dolomites that peaks at over 2,000 metres and if you’ve not been at that altitude before you might notice it getting a little harder to breathe towards the top.
Make sure you’re ready and able for this climb as it is extremely hard especially towards the top. If you’re riding out from Corvara or Arabba to the foot of the climb, then make sure you’ve got enough gas in the tank for the finale.
There are a number of small cafes and bars at various points on the climb, so you could consider splitting the ascent into two and take it a steady pace.
Information on the Serrai di Sottoguda (the Sottoguda gorge)
The gorge stretches for about two kilometres from Sottoguda to Malga Ciapéla at the bas of the Marmolada. It is very narrow, in places around four to eight metres wide. It’s a popular tourist spot so be aware that if you arrive in the middle of the day, you may be contending with tourists as you cycle through.
In the past, shepherds drove livestock along the path to higher pastures and wagons pulled wood and hay down to the valley. The canyon could only be used for a short period of time, as the Pettorina stream would swell with winter snow melt.
The route was used in the First World War to convey vehicles and animals to the front lines. There are also two underground tunnels that were dug into the rock, used for storing gun powder.
Along the route there is also the ancient church of Saint Antonio.
History (and cycling history) on the Passo Fedaia
If you’re into your history, you’re probably aware that the Fedaia, and the surrounding Marmolada Massif, was part of the front line in the First World War and witnessed some harrowing battles between the Italian and Austrian troops.
There’s a fantastic museum dedicated to the First World War battles on the Marmolada glacier. What’s special about it is that it’s actually on the Marmolada glacier itself – you take the cable car up. The view from the top of the cable car (at 3,343m) is also incredible. If you’re with family they might like to visit – or it’s worth coming back to on a rest day. There’s more information on the museum here.
In cycling history, it was on the Fedaia that the late Italian climber, Marco Pantani, set the Giro on fire in 1998 as he demolished the ascent with an incredible burst of pace and power and then afterwards asked one of his domestiques exactly where it was that the mountain actually got difficult!
Other useful information
Fedaia Strava segment: https://www.strava.com/segments/15475816
This climb does not appear on the Sella Ronda or Maratona dles Dolomites routes.
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 Gardena, Sella, Pordoi, Campolongo, Falzarego/Valparola and Giau.
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I really like your website and find it an inspiration when planning my own solo 21 to 31 day European tours with the carbon road bike very lightly rigged for TCR bags. Is it possible to subscribe and download some of your GPX route files for me to possibly use for my own solo rides. Thanks Jim
Hi Jim, thanks for the kind feedback. You should be able to download files by clicking the relevant button or clicking through to the RWGPS map and downloading from there. Thanks and best wishes, Clare