Riding in the Dolomites
The Dolomites are different… more rugged and less populated than the Alps; greener and of greater stature than the hills of Provence. This is mountain riding at its best: climbs that are not known by many, but revered by the few that do.
The Maratona dles Dolomiti is the world’s oldest sportive event. From its genesis in 1987, it has challenged riders on the sabre-toothed profiles of the Dolomite passes. For most Italian bike riders, this is an event with as much standing as L’Etape du Tour or La Marmotte.
In 2017, Velusso Ride Leader Tim Wiggins took on a self-made challenge to complete the five historic routes of the Maratona, over five consecutive days. This #5MaratonasChallenge would entail 873 kilometres of riding, with 28,300 metres of elevation: a true mountain marathon.
His ride notes tell a story of adventure in the Italian peaks…
Day 1 – The 1987 Maratona (175km distance x 5,300m ascent)
Mist rises from the valleys, as first light casts a golden glow on the Dolomite Mountains.
Clip in for the first time. The climbing begins: Passo Gardena. Passo Sella. Passo Pordio. The temperature rises.
An hour-long descent to the foot of Duran Pass cools things down. Then, the Haute Categorie climb begins, in the heat of the mid-day sun. After an hour of relentless double figure gradients, the summit is reached. Salt marks glistening on fresh kit. An espresso is consumed, to bring life back to empty legs.
The Staulanza Pass is next. In contrast to the Duran, there is no shade to hide in here. The summit demands gelato and a second caffé; fuel for the ride.
The final ascent is Valparola pass, and then just a long descent home. Day 1 complete.
Day 2 – 1988-89 Maratona (180km distance x 6,200m ascent)
I am awoken by the sound of heavy rain. Sat drinking coffee, I look out at the forepromised storm. 8 hours plus of riding is required, on some of the steepest of mountains. Today will be a hard day.
The rain has abated a little by the first summit, but at the summit of the second the skies look ominously dark. Stopping to pull on a rain jacket before the long descent, the heavens open… temperatures plummeting as I hurtle towards the valley floor.
The toughest climb of the challenge – the Fedaia pass lies in waiting at the end of a long dragging valley ascent. Thunder, lightning and torrential rain strip away any memory of sunshine. Passo Fedaia is an exposed and constant ramp: 10-15 percent for 10 kilometres. By the summit, fingers and mind are numbed.
A cautious descent follows, before hands are revived with coffee and pastry in the valley town of Canazei. The skies are clearing in the late afternoon, and a hard push up the final two passes provides enough rejuvenating body warmth to get home.
Day 3 – 1990-91 Maratona (180km distance x 5,800m ascent)
Sunshine returns on the morning of Day 3.
The twisting mountain passes take today’s route first to the mountain resort of Cortina, and up the Passo Tre Croci. A warm wind then blows on the open slopes of Passo Giau.
The Passo Fedaia is kinder, and instead of wrapping hands around a warming coffee in Canazei, gelato seems like a more appropriate reward for the still challenging effort.
Day 4 – 1992-97 Maratona (182km distance x 6,200m ascent)
Sella Pass. Fedaia. Valparola, Giau and twice Campolongo. The names are familiar by now, both to mind and legs.
Day 4 is a slow affair: beginning to note real fatigue. As the penultimate day of the challenge, it has an air of relief about it though.
Temperatures are refreshingly cooler.
Day 5 – 1998+ Maratona (138km distance x 4,300m ascent)
The final day: the final challenge.
A Sellaronda loop for starters: in beautiful and fresh mountain conditions.
Passo Giau looms as the greatest challenge: 30 hairpins take you skyward for 1,000 vertical metres. Euphoria has kicked in now though; the end is in sight. Chasing an Italian whippet up the slopes, enough respect is earned to warrant a fist pump at the summit.
From Giau, all that is left is the final gradual ascent to the summit of the Valparola, then a descent to Corvara for a celebratory gelato. Bellissimo.