The 23rd Maratona Dles Dolomites took place on Sunday 5th July 2009. Italy’s biggest and best granfondo took 9,000 riders from 37 countries around the spectacular course – all of them following our very own Jamie Burrow who won the event. Jamie’s first triumph at the Maratona is reward indeed for all his hard work and compensation for his near miss here last year.
About 250 riders from Britain and Ireland, most of them under the banner of Cycling Weekly, braved the giant passes on a glorious, clear day. Only some of the last riders on the long course got caught in an isolated electric storm and the ones I spoke to said even that was fantastic!
An enormous number of celebrities and ex-pros come to the Maratona and this year it was possible to take a spin the day before the event with Fausto Pinarello, DJ Linus, Maria Canins, Fabrizio Ravanelli and superbike (boooo!) champion Troy Bayliss amongst many others. In the past we’ve met Maurizio Fondriest, Francesco Moser, Mario Cipollini and Gianni Bugno. What a sport we have to be able to do this! It’s not possible to go and have a kick about with Maradona, Pele and Bobby Charlton is it?
There are three courses on the Maratona and you don’t have to decide beforehand which you are going to do. Everybody does the first four passes – Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella and Gardena – covering 55kms and 1780 meters of climbing. That completes the short course. If you still have the legs you continue up the Campolongo for a second time, taking a different direction after the descent to speed along the only long flat section of the course taking in the incredible beauty of the valley before the climb of the Passo Falzarego.
What 9,000 cyclists looks like from the air
A short way up the Falzarego is decision time. You can continue up and do the middle course of 106kms and a total of 3090 uphill meters, or turn off to tackle the mighty Giao and the full 138kms of the Maratona with 4190 meters of ascent.
Those who take on the Giao then ascend the Falzarego from the opposite side and both groups merge to take on the short, but painful by now, Passo Valporola. There’s a general consensus that the Valporola is mentally the most difficult climb. It’s only a couple of kilometres long and the gradient is shallow, but everyone seems to agree it’s a sting in the tail after the massive challenges that have gone before.
The race starts at 6.30 am and you need to be in your start pen about a quarter of an hour before that. This means an uncomfortably early breakfast. Some of the Italian regulars at this sort of thing have pasta laced with honey at 5am – perfect fuel, but a bit hard to take at that hour. The organisation of the whole thing is first class. Once you get near the start village there are teams of volunteers looking at the number on your bike and directing you into your pen. It is absolutely impossible to end up in the wrong place.
Busy on the first climb of the day
The excitement and anticipation builds as bands play and helicopters circle above you. Early sunlight glistens from the tops of the mountains. It really is breathtaking and does get the hairs on the back of your neck standing to attention. Add to this the glare of the television cameras, as the whole thing is live on national television, and you really do feel like a professional cyclist for a few moments.
Michil Costa the president of the event was hoisted above the crowd by an enormous crane to address the riders and a priest accompanying him blessed everyone. Michil was then lowered to mount his massive penny farthing to lead the pros over the line.
Once the gun goes it can take a little while to cross that line, but once you do your timing chip sets your start time and things move very quickly. It can be a bit frantic as riders jostle for position and some even use the pavements or grass verges to get past. Absolutely the safest place is the middle of the road as those desperate to get ahead can go either side of you.
After the first few kilometres things settle a little and by the time you’ve climbed and descended the Campolongo you’re with riders of similar speed and ability and much more able to relax. It’s a good first climb – not too difficult after the first half a dozen hairpins – and it sets you up nicely for what is to come. The second climb, the Pordoi, is probably the most spectacular as you can see it snaking ahead of you with the bobbing heads of riders an unfathomable distance above you.
Some like to clock the number of bends and count them down as they turn, 33 in this case. Once you approach the summit and look back down at the landscape and the thousands still winding their way up, the sense of achievement at what you’ve just climbed fills you full of confidence and spurs you on to the next.
Stunning scenery equals tough mountains
The long descent aids recovery as you begin to climb the Sella. This is a slightly shorter but fairly difficult climb with one or two steeper sections, but nothing too horrible. After the Sella comes the Gardena, which is probably the easiest of the lot and has a flat section before the final rise. The descent of the Gardena is an absolute delight. Technical bends open out about two thirds of the way down and high speeds can be reached as you roll into Corvara and the end of the short course.
Those continuing know exactly what to expect as they tackle the Campolongo for the second time. The feed station at the top is a very popular stop this time round – hardly anyone uses it first time as it’s too early in the ride. Just an aside here to say the feeds are frequent and have an enormous range of goodies, there’s really no need to carry vast quantities of fuel to weigh you down on the Maratona.
Following the descent of the Campolongo, is a very fast, slightly downhill, section of the ride. Long lines of riders fly along at around 50 kph. There aren’t too many bends and it really is a great section to appreciate exactly how beautiful this region is. As mentioned earlier you’re about to approach the big decision point. A short way up the 6th climb, the Falzarego, you really need to assess your capabilities, mental state and pain threshold.
The Falzarego is a difficult 10km climb, but to say the Giau is a difficult 10km wouldn’t come close to an accurate description. It’s an unrelenting monster to be tackled only by the boldest. The sense of achievement you felt after the Pordoi pales into insignificance when you’ve reached the top of this one. You still have to ascend the Falzarego after the Giau, but it is slightly easier coming up from the opposite side to those on the middle course who chose to avoid the Giau.
Both groups join for the Valporola and the enormous descent to the start town of La Villa then the flattish, slightly uphill, final kilometres into the finish in Corvara.
Team Cycling Weekly: A fine looking bunch if ever there was one
There’s a pasta party in the sports hall at the finish line, tents offering free massages and a whole host of diversions. Most people, however, seem to just lie on the grass and be thinking, ‘Did I really just do that?’
There’s something for everyone at the Maratona, whether you want to take on Jamie Burrow or spend the whole day doing the short course. Loads of events and activities for families are on offer and the whole thing is a celebration of the bicycle. The youngest rider this year was born in 1994 and the oldest in 1930. Ten per cent of the riders are women. Worthy of mention are ‘The Worthies’ from Worthington Excelsior who had a 58 year age span between their youngest and eldest rider.
Thanks need to go to Pat O’Hare who is responsible for introducing us to the Maratona at a time when there were less than 20 British and Irish entrants. Also to the lovely Tolpeit family at Ostaria Posta in Piculin who looked after many of the Cycling Weekly riders this year.
Entry into the Maratona is by online lottery in October. This year over 23,000 applications were received for the 9,000 places. The official website is www.maratona.it but Cycling Weekly have built up a sound relationship with the event and have guaranteed places. For details on how to enter through us send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All food on the day, a top quality cycling top, a CW T-shirt and lots of other stuff is included in the entry.
Maratona dles Dolomites: Climbing stats
Campolongo. Climb of 6kms at an average gradient of 6%
Pordoi. 9kms at 7%
Sella. 5.5kms at 8%
Gardena. 6kms at 4.5%
Falzarego. 10kms at 7% – or 10kms at 6% from the other side after the Giau
Giau. 10kms at 9.5%
Valporola. 2kms at 4.5%