Maratona dles Dolomites REVIEW
5:30am, and I’m stood in a pen full of colourful lycra and expensive carbon, with the sun rising behind the mountains, the skies an already brightening blue, and the initial chill of the morning already in retreat. Welcome to the Maratona dles Dolomites. 9000+ riders all gathered together ready to test their legs against thousands of metres of climbing.
9000+ Ready For The Off
As the 6:30am start approached, the music started, the tannoy welcomed us to the event and talked the time away, and the atmosphere grew. The TV helicopter buzzed the crowd from time to time, causing a cyclist’s Mexican wave as we all tried for our moment on screen. Finally the countdown was over, and I rolled over the start line at 6:32am, on my way to climb mountains.
Like a tube of toothpaste, 9000 riders were squeezed up the first climb of the day, the Passo Campolongo (5.8km/6.1%). Faster riders jostled for position with the slower, weaving through any gap possible, on either side, or maybe both, of the less confident or more restrained. Tempers got a little heated from time to time, so I kept my head down and my wheel straight, and concentrated on getting my head around the first of the seven climbs that were ahead of us.
On The Campagnolo
The temperature was climbing with us, and by the summit we were warmed up in more ways that one. Time to remove the last clinging layers and see what descending a Dolomite was like. As the bold and brave, or possibly foolhardy, hurtled past at speeds beyond my ken, I concentrated on getting to the bottom in one piece while keeping out of their way as best as I could.
On to the Passo Pordoi (9.2km/6.9%). Ribbons of cyclists stretched away into the distance, leading the way as far as the eye could see. The sun was rising behind us over the still shaded valley that was getting ever further below us. The helicopter flew past again, the downdraft nearly knocking us sideways, as the gradient varied with each switchback making getting into a rhythm quite a challenge. The Campolongo had just been a taster of what these long climbs are like, and it seemed to go on forever. When we reached the top at 2239 metres, we were definitely on top of a mountain.
Stunning Passo Pordoi Bends
Descending once again, I discovered just in time that thanks to an accidental wheel clash with another rider at a food stop, my rear gear cable had twisted all the way round and was now catching in my spokes. That wasn’t the only problem, my indexing was now out. I became a retro cyclist. Like the riders who used to stop on the Tour de France back in the day and swop their wheels over, I had to stop at the beginning of every climb for the rest of the ride and manually get into bottom gear, before getting back and getting on with it.
Foodstop Before Passo Sella
The noise makers in their lederhosen after the foodstop in the valley brought smiles to all the faces around me, until the start of the Passo Sella (5.5km/7.9%) climb wiped them away.
Passo Sella Climb
If you talk to anyone who has done the Maratona, an instant beaming grin appears on their face as they extoll the wonders of the scenery, and the higher we got the better the views became.
Dolomite Views From La Sella
As the ride became a question of climb, descend, climb, descend, the hills started to blur into each other, and the Passo Gardena (5.8km/4.3) almost passed unnoticed. The long descent from there brought the route back to Corvara where the short route riders headed for the finish line, and the more determined tackled the Campolongo again. Three hours later and at least 10 degrees hotter it was a little more challenging than the first time around. Maybe that’s why the food stop at the top was far busier this time, as riders topped up bottles with essential liquid, breathing a sigh of relief to be safely past the first time cut off point.
Campagnolo Food Stop
Two big climbs were yet ahead, and the heat was starting to make even smaller hills feel a challenge. Time to start pouring water over myself as necessary and letting evaporation help keep me cool. Even so, by mid-ride I hit my usual doldrums. Rescued by another food stop, by the time the route split again, and ahead of that time cut off too, I was ready to see what the Passo Giau was really like. No shortcut for me.
Passo Giau Sign
The Passo Giau was used in this year's Giro, it's 9.9km at 9.3%, and it's really pretty constant. After following the river upstream, through trees and forest, the road gradually takes you up above the tree line to mountain, and the world opens up around you. "Go Cav" yelled the road at some point, and I channelled as best I could.
Passo Giau Long Way To Go
I found my rhythm, settled in for the duration, and plodded my way up.
Passo Giau Ribbon
Passo Giau Gradient
Inexorably and inevitably, I made it to the top, with a massive grin on my face.
Me At The Top Of Passo Giau
Look at those views and where we've come up from. We're even higher than the helicopter! Not the highest point of the day when it comes to altitude, but definitely the apex from an achievement perspective. I climbed a mountain!
Summit Of The Giau
Time to top up the bottles again, and descend, for a very long time :). Down now to only the longer route riders, well spread out by time, the roads were much clearer and I could relax and enjoy myself a bit more. That just left the final climb of the combo of Passo Falzarego, and Valporola (11.5km at 5.8%) to do. Less steep, but very long, and not to be underestimated with that many miles both ridden and climbed already taken out of your leg account. The first section was deceptively easy, with an easy climb and even a comparatively flat section, through forests with looming cliffs above.
Passo Falzarego Rock View
Once again in bottom gear, for the last time, I found my rhythm. The roads were re-opening now, adding traffic to the obstacles to be negotiated. I was really feeling the heat again by now, it was well in the mid 30s, and I became aware that I was dangerously close to running on empty. I found a shady patch and pulled over for a few minutes of cool, more water internally and externally, and a gel. I then got back on the bike, and found a wheel to sit on. Not to suck, I hasten to add, but to follow.
Passo Falzarego Following Wheels
His speed was just right. Slightly slower than I would be making myself go if left to my own devices. I needed to let the gel work, and get myself up the hill safely, and as a strategy goes it worked really well. It got me to the food stop at Falzarego, a little before the summit at Valparalo. On the top of the bike number, so that it folded over towards you, was the profile of the ride so you could see where you were, where you were going, what was where - truly an ingenious way of doing it and I'm glad I didn't cut it off like some. Onwards and upwards to that summit, knowing that I was nearly on the way home. I even had time to find the smell of the burning clutches on the cars trying to get past us amusing.
Passo Valparola Approach
The other side, past the war museum, with the most awesome panoramic views ahead, saw the beginning of the end. A lovely long not overly technical descent all the way back down to La Villa, that luckily the cars were not allowed back on, before a little sting in the tail of a climb back up to Corvara. I could have descended faster but how awful would it be to get that close and then not finish for some reason? Exactly. So I smiled my way all the way down instead.
Nearly there, and the marker signs started appearing, while triumphant riders were already on their way home in the opposite direction, draped in medals. Time to get back as fast as possible, safe in the knowledge that pacing myself was no longer necessary. I crossed the finish line, grinning like an idiot, very happy with my day in the saddle.
Me At The Finish Line
The finish village was fairly chaotic, full of riders kicking back in the sun after the ride, meeting their friends, and debriefing. Mere minutes after I’d arrived Datasport texted me my time. In fact they'd texted me at every climb. They’d also texted my other half, who's number was registered as my emergency contact, so he knew how I was getting on all day, which was nice. My text illustrated that I lost the best part of an hour not riding, and I reckon without my mechanicals I'd have been at least 20 minutes faster but I finished and I had a good ride - way more important than my time.
Riders At The Finish
There were free gilets to collect, free drinks, free beer, free food. Lots of happy sweaty suntanned riders enjoying their just rewards.
I met up with my friends and we chilled in the sun for a while. Regardless of where we'd all started, and how they'd managed to pass me, we'd all ridden our own rides, and we were all in at pretty much the same time. Look at us all, don't we look happy?
Posse Of Finishers Kevin, Steve, Chris and Jennifer
Cycling time: 7:57:26 hrs
Official time: 8:50:51 hrs
Distance: 86.04 miles
Climbing: 4823 metres
Avs: 10.9 mph.
Maratona dles Dolomites 2012 - done!
Maratona Haul: Impressive
Verdict? Well I had a great ride. Hard work but doable. If it had been cooler I'd have found it easier, and the climbs were totally my kind so I might even have enjoyed the pain a little more. The scenery IS absolutely stunning. The road surfaces were, for the most part, and taking into account the odd cracks as the roads slide down the mountains, incredibly good. The organisation is great, the goodies likewise. The timing and photos and videos were all massively efficient - all up and available either the same day or before I got home. Hard to fault the event in any kind of serious way.
Niggles? Rider behaviour. The re-opening of the roads towards the end. The repeat of the Campolongo. But that's all they are really, niggles. Speaking personally I'd like to have done it with a bike that was working properly, and got a slightly better time, but hey, it's not a race right? Would I do it again? Not as my big event of the year, no. Maybe as part of a cycling break, or with a group of friends, as more of a leisure laid back ride though - it really is beautiful riding country. And I would definitely recommend it – it’s a great event.
Maratona dles Dolomites
- 10/07/2011 - Dolomites, Italy
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