There is little than can prepare you for the feeling in your bones at 6.30am on the start line of the Gran Fondo ‘Maratona dles Dolomites’. As you wait with 10,000 fellow cyclists from over 60 countries, the anticipation and tension begins to build. The helicopters streaming live pictures to Italian TV buzz above you and a local priest blesses you and your fellow riders. You look ahead and can see the peaks you are about to climb illuminated in the early morning sunshine. The hairs on the back of your neck stand on end. You are seconds away from the famous gun sending you on your way and your palms are sweaty.
This is my 3rd Maratona with Love Velo and this is my story.
I have chosen to take on the long route of 138km this year (there are options of 106km and 55km as well) and as a result I have over 4000 meters of climbing over 7 cols ahead of me. This years event starts in cool temperatures and I am grateful as last year’s 30+ degree weather really added to the challenge!
Now in it’s 31st year the Maratona dles Dolomites is one the best organised closed road events you can ride anywhere in the world.
I start with thousands of others straight up the Passo Campolongo. At 6.1% it is by no means the steepest but it definitely gets the blood pumping early and is a great marker given I will see it again in about 3 hours! The climb is beautiful and as I look around the sight of 10,000 cyclists snaking their way through the Dolomites, it really is a sight to behold.
The next 80km is a series of steep ascents and descents with very little flat. I am used to training in the Surrey hills or commuting through London and it’s fair to say this is somewhat different! My legs are burning at the top of each ascent and with heart racing and increased sweat rolling down my face each descent becomes more of a challenge of concentration as much as anything else. The descents are fast, very fast. I max out my speed on the Gardena decent but in truth I am holding back as the descent is pretty technical.
After a good fuelling stop and quick chat to some fellow Brits, the big one now stares back at me. The Passo Giau is 10km of over 9% and a climb I already have a love / hate relationship. Two punctures, yes two last year, I already feel the climb has something against me. Today though, as I hit the bottom, I feel positive. I am actually feeling really good and I reach the top in record time. A euphoric wave engulfs me untilI remember the Cat Wall is still to come!
The cat wall, or Mur Dl Giat, is only a few hundred meters but at 19% and after over 130km of riding, it is a challenge for the best of riders. I just try to stay upright and moving as there isn’t much left in the tank. The noisy Italian crowd get me to the top and I feel as though I am in the famous pink jersey at the Giro.
The finish comes pretty quickly soon after and at a little over 7 hours I’m pretty pleased with my time. But then I check a couple of friends on the Datasport App and they have beaten me. Oh well, here’s to next year then.