Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to be able to spend some time with my friends from InGamba at the beautiful La Perla hotel in the South Tirol. On the agenda was a race that takes place each year called the Maratona. It’s referred to as a grand fondo, but any time you put a number on a cyclist’s back and start a clock, it’s a race.
The Maratona starts in the postcard village of Corvara. The locals speak Ladin and have lived sandwiched between the Austrians and Italians for generations. The course is 138km long with over 4,000m of climbing and crosses some of the most iconic passes visited by the Giro d’Italia.
Helicopters hover over the 9,000 riders at the starting providing live television coverage. The vast throng of riders is overwhelming and I know I’ve never seen so many avid and fit cyclists at a start line in my life. Ascending the 33 hair pin turns of the Passo Pordoi from Arabba, there is a mesmerizing line of riders as far as the eye can see. At the ski station at the top, snow pockets line the northern aspects of the mountains. The massive glacier the Marmolada looms in the background.
The Passo Giau is the highest point of the ride (figuratively and in fact). It circles mercilessly at an average 9% grade up around the spectacular Cinque Terre just above Cortina d’ampezzo. The Giau sits atop meadows with bell collared cows, jagged vistas, and switch-back turns. It ends with a somewhat sparky kicker over the Flazarego/Valparola, where there stands the Tre Sassi Fort, an open air museum exhibiting relics of the First World War.
At the finish line, with a big smile and tired legs, there is an immense feeling of gratification. One has to spend a fair bit of time on a bicycle in the first place to even attempt a ride such as the Miratona. Reviewing the day with my friends from InGamba over a glass of Alto Adige Lagrein, we compared notes on crashes (and near misses), wind lashed descents and how the pain suddenly disappears the moment you summit. All riders in our group had their own successes.
There are many daunting challenges to be found in Europe on a bicycle such as the Ronde van Vlaanderen Cyclo in Belgium, Quebrantahuesos in Spain and the La Marmotte in France. Italy is one of the world’s most alluring places and there is something so compelling about the Dolomites that I’m quite sure I’ll pack my bags and head back next year for an encore. If you have been itching for a challenge, and some fun on a bicycle, I suggest you check in with my friends at InGamba: http://ingamba.pro/