Mike Cotty is back in the Dolomites for his latest Col Collective video – this time tackling the Passo Fedaia, memorably described by writer Daniel Friebe in his book Mountain High as perhaps “the ugly duckling” of passes in the north-eastern Italian mountain range.
Also known as the Marmolada – the name of the peak that lies above it – it probably doesn’t resonate as much among cycling fans as others in Italy – the Mortirolo, the Stelvio – or elsewhere in Europe, such as the Angliru in Spain or France’s Alpe d’Huez, Tourmalet, or Mont Ventoux.
But as Freibe notes, two-time Giro winner Gilberto Simoni judged it “probably the hardest climb in Italy,” while American rider Andy Hampsten, who won the race in 1988, said it was “definitely one of the hardest climbs” in the sport.
Here’s Cotty’s take on the ascent from Caprile:
Watched over by the highest peak in the Dolomites, the 3,343 metre high Marmolada, the Passo Fedaia is an enchanting journey of mystery and intrigue right from the very beginning. From Caprile, in the east, you’re faced with just over 14 kilometres of climbing at an average gradient of 7.5%, not so bad you may be thinking? Guess again.
I remember the first time I tackled the Fedaia it was the ninth climb after a monster day on the bike. We needed to make it back to Canazei before dark, just one little peak stood in our path. Meandering our way through the early villages past mythical creatures, sculptures and goblins towards Serrai di Sottoguda, one of Europe’s most beautiful gorges with limestone rock 100 metres high on either side, cascading waterfalls and a slither of tarmac pitching up to 11% felt like something out of Alice in Wonderland.
Captivated by its beauty it was only a matter of time before the Fedaia unleashed its full fury, reinforcing exactly why this is one of that hardest climbs in the region. From Malga Ciapela the road ramps up viciously to over 12%, holding its form for nearly 3 kilometres. A second to catch you breath at Capanna Bill rifugio and “BOOM” it hits you again, only this time harder. It was on this very section of road in 1998 that the great Marco Pantani set the Giro d’Italia on fire, demolishing the peloton and launching himself towards overall victory in the race.
Make sure you have compact gearing. As the road starts to switchback the gradient just keeps rising - 15%, 16%, 17%, 18% until the summit when you’re blessed with the beauty of the Lago Fedaia and the satisfaction of taming a true mountain legend.
Elevation gain: 1,031m
Average gradient: 7.5%
Max gradient: 18%
You can find hints, tips and videos on tackling this climb and many others on the Col Collective website.
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.