Maratona dles Dolomites

Twelve Months After Lucca

Twelve months later, the lobster pappardelle and rose wine in Lucca a distant memory, and it's 7.00am and we are at Gatwick......

We are a pack of nine with eight riding. Flying to Venice and then a two hour drive brings you to the Alta Badia region, popular with Italian skiers but not so well known in the UK.

Road Rags Maratona


The Maratona takes in the Pordoi and Gardena climbs which were part of this years Giro D'Italia, along with our long final swooping descent, which is worth the climbing any day.

There are three routes -

  • 55km with 1780m climbing
  • 106km with 3130m
  • 138km with 4230m

Just for fun, 3km out from the finish the two longer routes throw in the Mur Di Giat, a short burst climb of 400m with max gradient 19%. Just what you want at the end of the day, but unsurprisingly a popular waving point with the crowds who cheer, encourage and laugh as your lungs burst through the back of your throat!

The organisation of this closed road 'Gran Fondo' is excellent. 9000 riders are out on this jolly but over 30,000 applied to enter. Every ride number has the riders name and national flag which makes striking up conversation easier. 

Riding the Dolomites (It Is NOT The Quantocks!)

The setting of the Dolomites is exciting and worrying from the moment you arrive.  

We read reports by the likes of Joe Saumarez Smith. The climbs are long, taking you above 2000m and across snow capped crests.

Training in the Quantocks and Blackdowns of Somerset a regular 80km ride has been throwing up only 1525m of climbing. We are looking at so much more today and the ride starts at 1436m at La Villa, Partenza and hits 2244m at the top of Passo Sella.

At these levels and particularly when over 2000m you feel the affects of altitude, some riders more than others. Arrive at least two days in advance would be my advice and take in a couple of leg warming rides to help you acclimatise. We rode the first two climbs and it certainly helped understand what was afoot and the correct pace for each of us.

Arriving on the Thursday we also saw the rider village grow and the buzz around town build.

Getting Ready

We spent some time checking out the display of bikes at Pinarello, including Froome's TdF winning bike. Wiggins was due in and we all hoped for a smile or a nod if he passed us on the road.

The Lions beckoned on Saturday morning and the victory put us in great spirits, especially as colleagues and friends were part of the Ride of The Legends NZ 2017, cycling from Wellington to Auckland raising money for local and UK charities.

Collecting your kit from the riders station, the site of 9000 musettes piled high is a site to behold.



For the entrance fee you receive a good quality Castelli jersey, excellent gilet, ride fuel from Enervit and even a small bottle of fizz to see you right at the end.

Our party was organised by Ian Parr of Cycling Weekly and an excellent job he did.

An early dinner with plenty of pasta was the norm across the town that night. Alarms are set for 5.00am and after a good breakfast we head to our departure station.

Many are dressed in decorators white suits, cycling towards them it looks like there is a large convention of forensic scientists in town! There was a bit of a wait, we chatted to guys from Rapha cycling club bedecked in the full RCC kit.

Helicopters flying overhead was something I hadn't experienced at any ride before, especially noticeable when the cannon blast for the start comes from some giant speakers hanging underneath one of those beasts.

RAI Sport, the Italian national broadcaster, covers the race.

A priest gives a blessing, Sir Bradley is interviewed, grunting and mumbling his way through... obviously a bit early for him these days, or maybe just a late night?

Buying Better

As soon as we are off the climbing begins. Such a large number of riders on these mountain roads mean the first miles are pretty busy, needing you to keep your wits about you as riders pass each other. 

Preparation is everything. I've undertrained, but 'bought myself better', taking the decision to grab myself a new piece of carbon.

The reliable Cinelli had been with me for four years, survived a bounce down the M5 but had really seen better days. A lot of searching of reviews and advice from others led me to the Canyon website and a purchase. 

I bought an Ultimate, by all accounts a great bike for climbing. One word of caution, straight from the factory comes a big box with parts and a pile of information sheets.

My need for a quick and importantly, correct, build took me to Pankhurst Cycles, Pangbourne where Ricky had it up and purring in no time. Always something special about the first rides on a new bike.

Clothing & Other Pressures For The Ride

In the early months of 2017 the British weather was poor and the ride a long way off. In March we geared things up with a week in Majorca, tackling a couple of tough climbs. As things came nearer I checked out an online training regime and started to play catch up.

The closer the day got the harder we trained, with the odd sportive thrown in to see how we were doing, yet time pressures always leaving us with a feeling that not enough had been done... heyho.

The feed stops have a good reputation but you always want to take some of your own gels and nibbles so as not to bonk somewhere out on the course. One bottle of water, one bottle with powder.

Clothing was always going to be tricky on a day starting cold, with possibilities of rain and then spells of strong sun. I was happy with my merino baselayer and Hoxton top. Merino keeps you warm in the cold and cool in the heat, because the sweat wicks off your body and evaporates rather than sitting on your skin and in the jersey, as it would with manmade fibres.

Hoxton jersey maratona


Throughout the day we try to keep in touch and ride in pairs or more. The snaking climbs of riders zig-zagging up mountainsides is a sight to behold, a vision to savour.

You fill your water bottles from mountainside fountains or at the feed stations.

Cycling through a corridor of locals swinging huge cowbells, the cheering crowds in the small villages all help. It was certainly chilly up high but the merino did its job.

The descents were long and winding, some riders really flew past at break neck speeds. I wasn't so gung-ho, my desire to keep limbs intact overriding the need for speed, but we were still cracking some good pace downhill.

What will never leave you is the memory of The Cat Wall, just 3km from the end and only 400m long but a steep section that tops out around 20% after a long day in the saddle was brutal. 

Some stop, some get blocked but the crowd cheers you on.

My only problem was thinking the finish must only be yards away.... it was a long 3k to the line. 

Maratona - The Finish

Once home, we waited for all the team to make it back and within minutes the rain came. Torrential and with avengeance.

Wet and cold we scuttled back to hot showers at our very smart appartment that was, thankfully, bang in the middle of Corvara, making it so easy to reach at the start and only a short ride back at the end.

This was a shame though, in many ways, as we missed the pasta party!

Showered, we were out for dinner, tired but happy. Strangely I didn't have any great feeling of elation. I think the worry about completing and the sheer exertion of the day left me drained. It had been my focus for so many months, whether causing joy because of a good training ride or frustration at work and other commitments causing cancellations.

Is this a common feeling? Would love you to let me know your experience.

Maratona - 2018, perhaps?

Would I do it again? Yes.

Would I train harder? Yes.

Would I buy a new bike? Come on, you can never have enough!

All in all, Maratona is a great experience, one I would thoroughly recommend.

Is the Maratona Dles Dolomites dangerous?

In general terms no, it is just a long and hard day.

Train well, ride at your own pace, be careful and aware at all times, drink and eat along the way. If you are not racing then make sure you spend a moment looking at the incredible views and soak it all in... because you will have spent a lot of hours training to get there.

Ride Stats for the 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%)

Mur dl giat (length: 300m average gradient 13.1%)

Read where it all started, over rose wine and crab pappardelle in Lucca.

Or take a look at why merino wool is such a great material for riding in.