At this time last year my boyfriend came back from a trip to the Italian Dolomites full of excitement. He had just completed 110 km cycling route across the Italian Dolomites as part of Maratona Dles Dolomites and was blown over by the spectacular scenery, friendliness and organisation of the event. He had no hesitation but to do this competition again the following year.
My boyfriend’s enthusiasm was infections so I decided to go along with signing up to the 2013 race through Cycling Weekly. It didn’t bother me that not only I didn’t have a road bike myself, I had never ridden one, and being from the west coast of Finland, all I had got customised with were flat long roads at sea level rather than steep climbs reaching 2,000m heights. I love a bit of challenge though and I needed something ‘fresh’ to my exercise routine to maintain my motivation in keeping fit. So, I headed over to Evans Cycles and got myself a shiny, new bike with very thin wheels, and, gulp, cleats!
Now looking back at the past 6 months, I think I can be happy with how far I’ve gone. The first times on my BMC, which I now love dearly, were honestly disastrous. I had some embarrassing falls after forgetting that I had my feet stuck in cleats, even a little descent got me in a state of horror as I felt flowing off my bike and uphills caused my breath to explode. Training around London wasn’t always a treat either as it required busy trains from Waterloo to places like Dorking, Boxhill and Woking at the crack of dawn in weather that left a lot for desire. There were definitely a few moments when I just wanted to give up and cancel my registration to Maratona. Now I’m very glad I didn’t.
Day participating in Maratona Dles Dolomites was unquestionably challenging but still and incredible experience. Cycling together with more than 9,000 cyclists from different parts of the world. Gazing towards the top of the mountain from its base and seeing an over 10km long zig zag road climb and thinking that there is no way of making it but still reaching the top. Marvelling at panoramic views for a moment and then whizzing down steep descents with fright and excitement. As much as I enjoy city breaks or beach holidays for relaxation, there is something completely different about mixing holiday with a physical challenge and achievement.
I know I’m just a one-time Maratona goer but I picked up a few learnings during the experience which I thought to share with you.
Route – Even up to the race day, I was pretty worried about how hard the uphills and downhills of the race route would be. Despite some of the decent climbs that I had practiced on in Surrey and Lake District, I had never done 10 km of straight uphill and I really didn’t know what it was going to feel like. Fortunately the climbs in Maratona, although very long, had by and large manageable steepness. As long as I was able to find a good steady pace, it was fine working myself up (well at least now looking back on it!). My favourite hill was The Pordoi Pass which was an incredibly beautiful stretch of zig zag roads where you could just be in awe about how magnificent it looks when thousands of cyclists are together on the narrow mountain pass. The descents, on the other hand, required a bit more technical skills. I’m glad I managed to get down safely!
Nutrition: Whereas in England feed stations in Sportives are all about product, product, product, the break points along the Maratona route were like a fun, Italian family outing. Smily locals were serving cakes, sandwiches, orange slices and coca cola for tired cyclists. If you are one who likes energy gels and likes, it’s best to pack these with you as you won’t be able to grab any along the route.
Gear: +30 degrees in the Italian cities won’t guarantee sunshine up on the mountains and it’s very difficult to get a sense of the climate before you go. I made the mistake of packing too lightly for the event, finding in horror the tops of Dolomites covered in snow and the night time temperature going below zero. An emergency stop in a local cycling gear shop got me new arm warmers and longer leggings to get me through the day. They were definitely helpful particularly in descents despite the sun made sure that I was hot on the way up. The descents can be very chilly, so is the 6.30am start, so best to come prepared with many layers and various options to choose from on the day.
Accommodation: With 9,000 cyclists participating in the event, it’s definitely worthwhile organising your lodging as soon as you know you are going. Corvara, where the finish line of the race is placed, or Alta Badia, which is the Maratona event centre, are the most convenient options. However, we decided to stay in San Vigilio which is a picturesque little town about 20km from the Maratona centre. Although staying in San Vigilio required more logistics in getting back and forth to the race, I really enjoyed it as the town is very cute and has good restaurants like restaurant Tabarel or the one at Hotel Corona and sunny terraces for drinks like by Hotel Teresa. Besides it was more relaxing to stay away from the Maratona hub and, being lower down the valley, San Vigilio had very warm weather throughout the weekend.
Our apartment hotel, Residence Pelegrin, was superb with immaculately clean and comfortable rooms, kitchen and en-suite bathrooms. It was great to have a good bed to sleep in before the race morning which started with a 5am alarm clock! Likewise it was nice to have a hot shower and a sofa to crash on rather than a campsite tent in Corvara, for my liking.
Fam.Erlacher, Str. Pelegrin, 39030 Al Plan – San Vigilio, Dolomites, Italy
Tel. +39 0474 50 19 80
Str. Catarina Lanz 22, 39030 San Vigilio Marebbe, Dolomites, Italy
Tel. +39 0474 50 10 38
Strada Catarina Lanz 28, 39030 San Vigilio di Marebbe, Dolomites, Italy
Tel. +39 0474 50 12 10
Fam. Schanung-Vallazza, Plan de Corones 2, 39030 San Vigilio di Marebbe, Italy
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