40 RPM, 10% incline and 9km still to go. Unlike this blog post, this will not be over quickly!
So you're doing the Maratona? Well here's the good news; of the 7 climbs, only one goes over 10km. Now here's the bad news - it's the last one, and you're not going to like what comes just before!
When you're doing the Maratona, you're actually already pretty high on the altitude scale - our apartment, somewhere on the back end of the Passo Valparola, was about 1,400 meters above sea level, and with the highest climb being 2,236 meters (we'll talk about this one later), it can lead you in to a false sense of comfort, that, when the day comes, it shouldn't be too hard.
Before we talk about the ride, first, lets quickly cover how you get there. Maratona or not, it's a bucket list place to ride your bike and it's relatively easy to get to, so don't wait just to get your hands on one of those ballet places. I've done the Maratona twice - once officially, and one unofficially the day before (to watch a friend who did get in the next day). However, and whenever you do it, a quick flight to Innsbruck will get you just shy of a 2 hour drive away from the village of Corvara, where it all begins. You can also fly to Venice and Milan, but the drive is quicker from Austria, so it's the only one I've tried.
Here is an obvious tip - book car/van hire well in advance, particularly during the Maratona. If you're going as a group, those people carriers start to get expensive, and I promise you that you cant fit 3 bike boxes into a normal car. Free sticker for anyone who proves me otherwise!
Second tip, Innsbruck, and the drive to Corvara, is lovely - take it all in.
That's all you need to know about the car; you won't touch it again until you leave - you have a bike and lots of mountains!
Where to stay
The obvious place is Corvara, it's where you start and end, and just makes life easy! The first year, we stayed in San Cassano, a lovely place just off the last decent, which has a lovely village, with a lively Pizza joint/bar. The only (minor) downside if you have to cycle 15 minutes to get start line, and you have to cycle past the village once you're just about ready to break up with your bike!
Plan some holiday before, not after. So much happens in the days leading up to the Maratona, try to get there a few days before and take it all in. Be it organised rides, the village, the Maratona shop, or just the general buzz around the restaurants and bars, the whole area of Alta Badia is a buzz with excitement, and it was a real pleasure just taking it all in during those days leading up to the ride.
The perfect, and quite possibly the most beautiful 'leg stretcher' ride in the world is the Sella Ronda. One loop of about 55km taking in the Passo Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella and Gardena - every one beautiful and everyone manageable.
I've got some bad news for you - the chances are you're not going to win the Maratona. That said, take it all in, and if not on the Maratona, make sure you do this on one of the days leading up to it; its very easy to get lost in the race and miss out on all the beauty around you, so get in a leg stretcher and take it all in before you're landing back at Gatwick Airport and standing next to Kevin, who's just got off the Kavos flight and is waiting for his bag.
Ok, its 5am, you're trying to stuff pasta down your face, and you're convincing yourself that the sleepless night you just had won't have a detrimental impact on your ability to ride...
The ride starts in 4 waves, which are all sponsored - one by an energy company, one by an energy drink, and one by a bike brand - then there was my wave, sponsored by beer.. all that training and i'm in the last wave, with the sweeper van.. but at least there is a picture of beer.
Helicopters are flying all around, waiting for the race to start, the noise of their blades echoes of the surrounding mountains, only to be interrupted by the start gun. And then it's time to wait.... and we're waiting..... waiting.....waiting.... tip toeing forward.... waiting again, rolling.... rolling a little faster.... and we're off, 30 minutes later! The total norm for a ride like this!
If you've put in a serious amount of training for this ride and are wanting to do this in a super fast time, best of luck to you if you're in the beer wave - the first three climbs are going to be packed! Look for the gaps and hope for the best, and by the time you've completed the Sella Ronda (50km in), you'll see it start to open up. All that being said, the congestion can be a bit of a blessing - save your energy for the post Sella Ronda part!
As you descend off the Gardena and come back into Corvara, the crowds await.. It's not like the crowds you see at the Essex Falling leaves sportive (Peter going to get his milk from the local shop) - these crowds are serious, and the lift it gives you as you go back up the Passo Campolongo for a second time cannot be underestimated. Take it in, and enjoy it!
Descending off the Passo Campolongo, and you've got a rolling 20km until the next climb. Time to eat, take a gel and get ready.
"BRING ON THE WALL" is not just a crappy TV show in the UK. Its what you hear when you start the climb of the Passo Giau.
40 RPM, 10% incline and 9km still to go. The struggle is real, real slow. In the seat, out the seat - repeat for up to an hour. The Passo Giau is 9.9km and 10% of pure battle. It would be bad enough on it's own, but in 2015, in 40 degree heat and 87km in the legs, it' real struggle physically. Mentally, I constantly doubted my ability on this climb, and its why I still find this climb one of the worst I've done. You get some minor rest bite early on, which comes in the shape of a bridge at the start, but that's it, bed in, the incline is a steady 9/10%, and the altitude is already high (topping out at over 2,200m). You'll get to a tunnel just over half way up and you'll truly appreciate the incline, but spin away, and like all good things, it will come to an end and you'll summit the Giau. This is the best part, because you've done the worst part, and you're almost done!
The Passo Valporola is not one to be sniffed at, but the profile of the climb makes it look harder than it actually is. The main issue here is the fatigue in your legs, otherwise the 11.5km climb 5.8% average incline is manageable.
The Maratona likes to finish you off with a 19% climb called the Mur dl Giat - or the Cat. It's a harsh way to end the ride, but having just done over 4,000 meters of climbing, you're not going to let a little cat get in your way, are you?
With the Cat out the way, you're done climbing, and all of a sudden you've found a little extra adrenalin for your legs to knock off 10 seconds on your finishing time!
No it's time to find that beer!
A couple of key takeaways for the Maratona:
- The Sella Ronda is beautiful, just do it
- The Maratona race bag is the best i've ever seen - so much kit
- Stay in Corvara if you can
- You cant wear the current Maratona jersey until you've done the ride - done be that guy!
- If your Garmin cocked up - it didn't happen
- If you dont have the sticker for the Giau, i'm sorry, it also didn't happen