Custom Search

Maratona Tour – Day 7 (The Maratona dles Dolomites)

Jul 12th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog, Travel
Today’s Distance: 55.6 KM
Total Distance for the Trip So Far: 390.0 KM
Today’s Climbing: 1,733 meters
Total Climbing for the Trip So Far: 9,644 meters
Today’s Kit: Team FredCast

NOTE: Scroll all the way to the bottom (it’s a long way down there today) for today’s photos and ride maps/metrics.

The Maratona dles Dolimites begins at 6:30 AM, but the roads between Corvara (location of our hotel) and La Villa (about 6 km away, and the site of the start line) close just after 6:00. Our hotel therefore planned to begin serving breakfast as 4:30 AM since the majority of the people in residence were here for The Maratona.

Everyone in our tour group took it very easy on the vino last night and went to bed early in order to try to get some needed rest in advance of the race. Despite those precautions, however, it sounds like very few of us actually got more than a few hours of sleep. For some, it was the anticipation on their first large group cycling event. For others, it was nerves about whether or not the climbs could be accomplished and, if so, which of the three courses would be completed. Everyone had their reasons, all of them good ones.

So it was that I found myself getting up at the very uncivilized hour of 4:00 AM to meet my compatriots for breakfast at (yawn) 4:30. A short hour (and lots of coffee) later, I found myself once again mounting a Ciclismo Classico Bianchi Nirone for the ride to the start line. Along with 10,000+ of my closest friends from all over the world.

When you receive your registration credentials for The Maratona, you receive two number plates, both printed with your number and full name. One of these number plates is intended for the back of your jersey. Enrico cautioned everyone in the briefing yesterday not to put these high up in the middle of your back (between the scapulas) in order to avoid looking like a sfigato. At first, I thought that sfigato meant Fred, but when I looked it up on Google Translate, I found out that it means loser. Freds are not losers.

The other number plate is intended for the front of your handlebars and includes a timing transponder that needs to be returned at the end of the race. The number on this plate is surrounded by a field of blue, green or yellow, signifying your ‘starting group.’ I was in the Pinarello (blue) group and therefore had to ride past the start line on a side road (which included a climb, just to taunt me) until reaching a ski area parking lot where I waited, along with thousands of other men. The three women in our group all had yellow numbers, which positioned them between the pros, former pros and top-level amateurs and our Pinarello group. I later learned that about 10% of the starting field were women.

And then the waiting began. Due to the impending road closures, we arrived at our starting chute before 6:00 AM and the race wasn’t scheduled to begin until 6:30. Meanwhile, we marveled at the eye candy that surrounded us. We estimated that there had to be millions of Euros of bicycles, cycling gadgets, electronics, and kit arrayed before us. Brands we knew, brands we didn’t, and brands we hadn’t seen in years. And this was only one of several starting chutes!

Meanwhile, the Italian network, RAI, had begun their live television and Internet coverage of the event, with no fewer than two helicopters making continuous low passes over the participants waiting at the start line. At first, everyone waved to the camera (I heard several Ciao Mamas! ring out, so I made sure to yell Hi Mom! — although I found out later that only people with an Italian IP address could actually watch the live online coverage, but I did yell it, I promise!), but soon we became bored and went back to drooling over carbon fiber, titanium, etc.

Right at 6:30 AM we heard the countdown in Italian and the race was on!

Just not for us.

Our race didn’t begin until about 10 minutes later when the thousands in front of us finally cleared the Start line and we were able to get on the road. It was a few hundred meters from our starting chute to the actual Start line, and although there were a few people lining the starting area fences, I was surprised not to see more. I would have shot GoPro video of the start line, but somewhere between the chute and the line, the brand new handlebar mount sent to me by GoPro decided to snap and break, further stuffing my already over-stuffed jersey pockets, and leaving me without the ability to shoot POV video during the ride. Very disappointing and very troubling for anyone who relies on this mount to keep their camera safe and sound on their handlebars. I’m sure I’ll have more to say about that on a future podcast but for now, I strongly recommend steering clear of the GoPro bike mount.

Once past the start line it was 6 km back to Corvara and the start of the Passo Campolongo climb. No matter which course you choose to attempt, everyone first does the entire Sellaronda course together, comprising 55 km of the Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella, and Passo Gardena, before returning to Corvara to complete their day or continue on to the Medio (two more passes – Campolongo [again] and Falzarego) or the Maratona (including the dreaded Passo Giau).

I have done a lot of mass participant events, but I have never found myself in such a throng. Because all 10,500+ participants complete the Sellaronda, the road from Corvara and past the summit of the Passo Campolongo was one of the most awe-inspiring and dangerous I’ve ever ridden. From the point of view of a spectator perhaps 100 meters away from the road, I am certain that it must have looked like the road had been transformed into a single, undulating, pulsating, psychedelic, snakelike organism, winding its way up the twisty road toward the summit. From my perspective, however, I saw thousands of cyclists of all abilities fighting for position and enough asphalt to get safely up the road without leaving a piece of themselves thereon.

Had everyone been of the same ability level, the climb up Campolongo and beyond would have been a graceful dance. In reality, however, the discrepancies in abilities, strength, experience, language, etiquette and bike handling skills made for a very stressful first hour or so. Early on, I chose to pick a line along the side of the road, not in the middle of it, and stay on that line. If others wanted to fight for position, let them. I was here to enjoy the ride.

At the top of the Campolongo was a rest stop and I could have used some water. Unfortunately, I was on the right side of the road, the rest stop was on the left, and there was this psychedelic, undulating snake thing in between. So instead, I stopped at the summit just long enough to take a photo and to tweet this first accomplishment, before putting on my wind jacket and heading down the descent to the base of the Passo Pordoi. Once there, I took a few more photos and videos, removed the jacket, and headed up the climb.

The turns/switchbacks on many of the climbs in the Alps are numbered from top-to-bottom or vice versa (how they choose whether to count from the bottom or from the top seems random). On the Pordoi, the turns counted down from the bottom to the top and there were useful kilometer markers indicating the distance to the top, so it was easy to pace myself. Somewhere in the middle of the climb, I stopped into a local bar and asked the proprietor for some water. He was happy to oblige.

On large rides like the Maratona you find a rhythm and a speed, and I typically find that I am among the same group of people for the entire ride. Somewhere along the way we strike up a conversation (this is especially true on charity rides when we compare reasons for riding and what the charity means to each of us) and continue these each time we’re near each other. The Maratona was different because as an Anglophone, I was clearly in the minority. I heard Italian and German, of course, but also Dutch, Flemish, French, Russian and many other languages, but very little English. Near the top of the Pordoi I ran into a group of Brits, joking their way to the top. It was nice to hear some English being spoken, so I joined in on the joking around. We had a good time together for a few hundred meters before I continued climbing on my own.

Once again we began a descent (after putting on my windbreaker, of course), this time toward the Passo Sella, a climb we had done just a few days previously. We made the turn onto the Sella, I removed my jacket, and headed up the hill. After a few kilometers, I knew I was approaching a rest stop because I heard such a cacophony. Upon making a left turn I found the source of the noise: several men with HUGE cowbells, greeting riders as they approached the rest area. As I approached they were in discussion about something, and just after I passed I found out what they had been discussing. The men formed a gauntlet, with a line on each side of the road. As a ride approached, they began a chant that got louder as the rider got closer, then, as the rider hit the first portion of the gauntlet, they banged their cow bells until the rider was through. It made everyone smile and, yes, hammer just a little bit harder.

The rest area was well-stocked with water, juice, electrolyte powder, wafer cookies (yum), fruit, and Coke. Yes, Coke! This was the first time I’ve ever seen soft drinks at a rest area, but I hope it’s not the last. Caffeine and sugar were a welcome treat.  Alas, however, no Fig Newtons.

Before leaving the rest area I decided that it was time to set this ride to music, so I plugged my headphones into my iPhone, put it on shuffle and hit the road. Somehow my iPhone always seems to find just the right songs for my mood and the ride, and today was no exception. The first song I heard was Mighty Mighty by Earth, Wind and Fire (no, I am not making this up). Others included Viva La Vida by Coldplay, Free Bird, and Face Up by Rush. I always love it when that song comes on during a ride. Here are my favorite lyrics:

You get all squeezed up inside
Like the days were carved in stone
You get all wired up inside
And it’s bad to be alone
You can go out, you can take a ride
And when you get out on the road
You get all smoothed out inside
And it’s good to be alone!

I sang along, most probably at the top of my lungs. I don’t know how many people heard me singing, but I the music definitely put me in a great mood. My insides were, as Neil Peart said, all smoothed out inside. It was indeed great to be alone, and I was enjoying the ride.

One thing I did not appreciate was the amount of trash left behind by the cyclists. From the base of the Campolongo and all the way back to Corvara, the roads of the Dolomites were strewn with all manner of trash, especially the summits. Gel packages, energy bar wrappers, electrolyte powder packets, even bananas were simply tossed onto the roads, without any concern for whether or who would do the cleanup. The bananas were especially troubling because of their well-known slip-inducing properties, making me wonder whether some hyper-competitive rider had created a Wile E. Coyote Acme bike with the ability to eject banana peels in order to stymie the competition.

But I seem to have digressed.

From the rest area with the huge cowbells, it was back on my bike to the top of the Sella. Somewhere along the way I passed a couple of our amigos de Venezuela, said buenos dias! and ¿como estas? We chatted briefly, wished each other well, and I continued on my way.

We had descended this portion of the Sella several days ago, so I enjoyed seeing it from a new angle. I am fairly certain that this is the more difficult side to climb, but I preferred it. The view at the top is nothing short of spectacular and I stopped for a moment to enjoy it before putting on my windbreaker again and beginning the fast, but not-too-technical descent (other than the well-marked and -marshaled construction area). Halfway down we made a right turn (I recalled this turn from our earlier climb of this section and also from CycleFilm’s reconnaissance DVD where their rider missed the turn and had to climb back up) for the climb up the Passo Gardena (off with the windbreaker!).

About a kilometer or so up the Gardena I found another rest stop, and this is where I ran into Alex, one of the Americans on our Ciclismo Classico tour. We chatted about how wonderful the day was, the beauty of the scenery, the spread at the rest stop, and whether or not we would make the time cut in Corvara. It was then that I realized that until that moment I hadn’t given the time cuts a second thought; I was just enjoying the ride. I thought that I recalled the time cut being 11:30 or 11:40, so I wasn’t too concerned. I therefore lingered a bit, enjoying the view (and the Coke), and taking my time refilling my bottle of Perpeteuem.

The climb up the Gardena was perhaps my favorite of the day. The crowd had thinned considerably, the climb was not too difficult, and the scenery spectacular (I wonder how many times I’ve used that word to describe The Dolomites). Midway up the climb there is a flat/slight downhill section and then it begins climbing again to a most beautiful summit before descending a fun, fast and technical road into Corvara. At the top, I checked the time and since it was only 11:00, I figured I had plenty of time. Still, I enjoyed a fast descent into town. Before the descent, however, I took the time to tweet, “The four passes of the Sellaronda are behind me. I think I may even make the time cut for the medium course!”

I reached the Finish area where, amazingly, cyclists were already finishing the long route (now that’s fast!). As for me, I spied the chute to the right that would take me back up the Campolongo again so that I could complete the medium route. With Oingo Boingo’s Cry of The Vatos in my ears for motivation, I headed straight for it. But then, without warning, my ride was over. The chute was closed! I had misunderstood the time cuts and missed the cut for the Medium route by less than 10 minutes. I was therefore ushered to the left, through the Finish line. I can’t wait to see my Finish line photo — hopefully there isn’t a video because I don’t think what I said was anything less than R-rated. My race number with the timing chip (the one on my handlebars) was cut off, I was offered a finisher’s hat (or 10 Euros — I took the hat) and a bottle of sports drink.

Just past the Finish line, I stopped and leaned my bike against the barriers. I tweeted saying, “Didn’t make the time cut. Oh well. I still had a great time, and that’s what it’s all about.” I meant it (and still do), but a few minutes later it hit me that my Maratona was over. There I was at the Finish line with the legs to complete the Medium course, but without an opportunity to do so. I had obviously made a mistake in understanding the time cuts, chosen a pace that was too slow, and stopped too often to take in the scenery, snap photos, and enjoy the rest areas.

Many thoughts and feelings went through my mind at that moment. I was angry at myself for not paying more attention to the time cuts, and disappointed that I hadn’t had the opportunity to tackle one of the longer, more difficult courses. Perhaps paradoxically, I also felt triumphant that I had achieved so much over the past week especially considering my pre-trip fitness, or lack thereof. I realized how fortunate I had been to be able to enjoy The Maratona which, like the Alpe d’Huez, Etape du Tour, and others, is a ride that is on many cyclists’ bucket lists. I also had the great pleasure to not only see The Dolomites, but to spend time in, on, and around their grandeur. Finally, I was extremely thankful to Ciclismo Classico for putting together such a well-organized journey and allowing me to meet and spend time with such a wonderful group of cyclists and guides. It was a flood of emotions that was (and still is, even two days later) difficult to contain.

For a while, I just stood there, alone with my thoughts and emotions, oblivious to the celebrations around me. Slowly, however, I came out of my fog. It was then that I ran into Alex again. He told me that he had just made the time cut, but after climbing a few hundred meters past the Finish line, he began to think what a beautiful day it had been, how satisfied he was with his ride, and how he no longer felt the need to do more than the Sellaronda. Back down the foot of the Campolongo he went, and through the Finish line. He was jubilant and it was contagious.

Together, Alex and I searched for the ice arena, the site of the post-ride meal, and the location for picking up our finisher’s vests. We didn’t think the signage was as good as it could have been so we wandered around aimlessly for a while, along the way running into a quartet of American wives/girlfriends who were waiting for their husbands/boyfriends to finish the race. One of them was married to a man named Fred, so she took a bunch of photos of me and my jersey. I guess it’s time for me to think about making a new batch so if you’re reading this, Fred, stay tuned!

We finally found the ice arena. In place of ice, the rink was covered with long picnic tables filled with cyclists. Our registration packets included five coupons, and the ice arena was the place to use them. One was for our finisher’s vest, one for pasta, one for meat (pork chop or sausage), one for a soft drink or a beer, and the last for dessert. This was the best post-ride meal I have ever seen (or eaten). During our meal Alex spied Massimo. He gave us a report of his ride and an update on those of our group whose statuses were known.

Once we had gorged ourselves on the food (no dessert, thank you), we went back to the hotel where I stripped all of my various parts off the Bianchi (Garmin Edge 500 with speed/cadence sensor, broken GoPro camera mount, pedals, saddle and water bottles) and went to my room for a well-deserved shower. I also napped and watched the day’s stage of Le Tour.

At 7:00 PM we all met in the lobby of our hotel (yes, the Venezuelans too) to swap war stories, compare times, and congratulate each other on a job well done. Everyone had come through the ride successfully, although Dave had gone down on one of the later descents of the medium course when he hit a tool pack in the middle of the road. His road rash is a testament to the fact that he, as the saying goes, left it all on the road. He and his bike will both be fine.

The party soon moved into the hotel bar where Ciclismo Classico had arranged a reception for us with hors d’oeuvres and celebratory glasses of prosecco. We toasted our success, good fortune, and how wonderful it had been to meet and ride with each other. The final capolinos went to Gary (for being such a strong rider) and to Dave (in the hope that his road rash would heal soon). The reception ended too soon as we all said our goodbyes to our new friends from Venezuela who would be leaving early the next morning. Hand shakes just weren’t adequate to express what a pleasure it had been, so there were hugs all around.

Dinner that night was another four-course affair in the Hotel Posta Zirm’s excellent dining room. I learned that the gracious, friendly and well-spoken waiter who had been serving us the past three nights is, in fact, the proprietor of the hotel. The hotel has been in his family for generations. He explained that the ski lift behind the hotel is on the site of the first ski lift in Italy, something his grandfather had helped bring to The Dolomites shortly after World War II. He told us that The Dolomites are a wonderful destination for intermediate and family skiing.

He said that he enjoys skiing in other parts of the world, but that, unlike anywhere else on the globe, when you ski in The Dolomites you truly feel that you are in the mountains, not simply on them; that you become one with the mountains here more than anywhere else. This is certainly how you feel when you ride The Dolomites as well. What he loves about The Dolomites is that they are not created by humans, but have been given to us all to enjoy.

And then he said something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. The Dolomites, he said, are a gift.

I couldn’t agree more.

I lingered a bit longer at dinner than I had on previous nights, not wanting the trip to come to an end. Then Dave and I headed into town to enjoy three scoops (each!) of fine Italian gelato before heading back to our rooms to pack and have a well-deserved rest.

I slept well that night, dreaming of the gift of The Dolomites.


Sellaronda Course


Tags: , , ,

Comments are closed.