Back from the Dolomites

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If you like climbing – and I do – then The Maratona of the Dolomites is a tailor-made sportive. The 138km full course offers barely any flat sections, so forget about who is or isn’t doing work at the front, forget about getting in a group; it’s about controlling your effort and staying hydrated in the heat. Neither of which I was very successful at on the day.

For mountain scenery, this is the most spectacular sportive I’ve ridden. At every hairpin you get a new panorama of lush valleys and jagged peaks. Especially early in the morning, when shafts of sunlight poke through the gaps in rock towers and light up patches of road – it’s outrageous.

It was nice to have a chance to appreciate the views; this, together with the fact that I wasn’t able to blow my energy reserves too soon, were the only up-sides to the serious congestion at the start of the ride. In all other respects the sheer number of riders starting together (8,640) was frustrating and dangerous. I spent 3 hours riding in a massive cavalcade of slower cyclists, pointlessly jostling for position, wary of errors on the descents.

Very busy roads - but stunning views.

Jonny, Millsy and I started together, but pretty soon it was just Jonny’s wheel I was trying to follow up the crowded slopes of the Passo Pordoi. That Ironman-wingnut Mills had done a triathlon on the Friday before; this was to be a long training ride for him.

The first 7 passes all felt easy, but somehow Theobald got the early jump on me. Suddenly he was nowhere to be seen amid the mass of jerseys. I caught him exiting the Belvedere feed stop at 83km. With the crowds and the views, the day had felt more like a charity ride than a sportive. But by now my legs were buzzing and my head was full of the Giau.

The event is really all about this one climb. As I remember it, I began the ascent in the lead, Jon on my wheel. We had a good tempo, and passed many. The sun was full-on now, and perhaps 30 degrees. I had a problem with my gears which meant the chain wasn’t sitting on my top 26 ring, and kept slipping down one, so I was fiddling with the barrel adjuster with sweating hands whilst climbing. There was complete silence from the mountainside. The gradient was unrelenting, and brutal.

35 minutes into the climb, the invisible elastic tying me to Jonny’s back wheel stretched one last time, and snapped. He had one bike length, then two, then he was beyond the next hairpin, then out of sight. The ascent and the heat was pushing me into a physical and mental state I’d not experienced since riding the Galibier last summer: pins and needles in the face, and a sick feeling in my stomach rising into my throat.

Summiting the climb, I should have stocked up on more food, but instead I reeled past nauseating piles of jam tarts and banana halves, grabbing bizarre things I never normally consume on a ride – like plastic cups of coke. I had one gel and two enervit squares to last me, and somehow I thought it would be enough.

Possibly descending from the Passo Giau to Pocol.

I descended hard, hit the foot of the Passo Falzarego, then bonked. My morale sank too – riders were passing me, Theobald was way up ahead, and I was annoyed with myself for not eating properly. The Falzarego should have been my climb: 10km long, it’s gentler than the Giau, a more gradual ascent that I would normally have powered up. I pulled over into the shade, pissed, consumed everything I had on me, and started climbing again.

The Passo Falzarego has an evil sister: the Valparola. Just after the drinks stop at what you think is the top of the climb, the gradient kicks up for just over a kilometre. Millsy told me later this little feature nearly finished him off; to be honest I can’t really remember how it was for me. I do remember gunning final the descent, though, and passing the finishing banner 18 mins after JT. Final time: 6hrs 39.

Grimacing in the final km's

I’m planning to ride the Maratona again. It’s a great event, flawlessly organised and well supported by the locals. It’s also excellent value for money. Entry is 50-odd euros, but you’re showered with freebies before, during and after the ride.

Finally, if you’re looking for a place to stay, check out these apartments. Drop Norbert Nagler a line and tell him I sent you…

2 Responses to “Back from the Dolomites”

  1. Legs, Feeling No Pressure » Cycling around Lake Garda July 18th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    […] the Wednesday after the Maratona, Jonny and I rode around the whole of Lake Garda, where we were supposed to be having some R&R […]

  2. Dorney to the Dolomites: part 2 « Ironman365 July 30th, 2010 at 2:16 pm

    […] 8.07.48 clicked up as I free-wheeled under the finish banner. An unimpressive time, but still an achievement I’m happy with. An easy training ride? Yeah right. Al and Jonny put in top notch performances – read more here. […]

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