If you’re a keen and competent cyclist, you’re a sucker for a draw-dropping landscape and you want to experience just a small part of what the Tour de France competitors have to go through, then the Maratona dles Dolomites is right up your strasse.
Established in 1987 to mark the 10th anniversary of a local bike club with only a handful of cyclists taking part, the Maratona dles Dolomites is now an annual event playing host to somewhere between nine and ten thousand participants. The entry process is rigid, if not a little haphazard, with around half the places allocated by ballot with a 1 in 5 chance of success and the rest going to tour operators, cycling clubs and the like. This year there were more than 30,000 applicants, which pays testament to the legendary status and sheer popularity of the event.
The Gran Fondo, the name given to an Italian long-distance road bike race where riders are chipped for times and have right of way at all intersections – the equivalent of a sportive in the UK – starts and finishes in the ski resort of Corvara, just over 100km north of Stirred’s home at Palazzo Casagrande in Cison di Valmarino. It is a 138km ride with 4,320 metres of climbing; there are two shorter routes but most people who make the trip all the way out to Italy want to ride the full route. The winner usually finishes in a little under five hours but plenty of riders take at least double that.
The Maratona route takes in seven major climbs:
• Passo Campolongo (length: 5.8km, average gradient: 6.1%)
• Passo Pordoi (length: 9.2km, average gradient: 6.9%)
• Passo Sella (length: 5.5km, average gradient: 7.9%)
• Passo Gardena (length: 5.8km, average gradient: 4.3%)
• Passo Giau (length: 9.9km, average gradient: 9.3%)
• Passo Valparola (length: 11.8km, average gradient: 6.7%)
• Mür dl giat (the cat wall) (length: 300m, average gradient: 13.1%)
As you can see, the relentless climbs and consequent hair-raising descents with almost no flat sections over the 138km course are not for the faint-hearted (literally), but the outstanding beauty of this part of the South Tyrol and views which, if you have any spare, will take your breath away, make this a once in a lifetime experience that an amateur rider should not deny themselves.
Despite taking place at the very beginning of July, when you would expect the Italian summer season to be deeply settled, the weather for the Maratona dles Dolomites Sunday can be hugely variable. Whereas in 2014 the riders set off in 4C, with the year before some of the passes still covered in snow, some years see competitors sweltering in 30C sunshine, making temperature training for this event a tad tricky to say the least.
If you’re looking to hitch a ride with a bike tour company who will take all the pain out of the organisation and chance out of the equation for you, check out Velocamp Performance Touring (Velocamps.com) who do an excellent job of this, otherwise the ballot registration period for the 2017 Maratona, slated to take place on the 2nd July, opens in September 2016 and closes in early November. Look out for as yet to be posted opening dates.
And look out for a Stirred Cookery Holidays / Velocamp Performance Touring crossover offering in Spring 2017, details to be released this Autumn. We love the riding, we love the food and we love the Dolomites.