Blog Post by Emma
14th July 2015: Riding the Route of the Maratona dles Dolomites
On previous visits we have been lucky enough to see riders taking part in the Maratona dles Dolomites event go streaming up the Pordoi Pass (the apartment complex we use is close to bend 7 of this amazing mountain road). So for a few years now I’ve pondered whether or not I’d be able to get round the long-course Maratona route. Although having no desire to ride it on actual event day, as 9000 participants sounds like a nightmare to me, riding the distance appealed massively!
The weather forecast was good, not as hot as our first week, but a decent, dry day was promised. We got up earlier than usual, fully expecting this to be a BIG day on the bike. We both chose our most trusted jerseys, with regard to cargo capacity! For Grant it was the Rapha Pro-Team Jersey, and for me the Assos Six Days Jersey.
It’s definitely important to take a variety of snacks and flavours for days of this duration. So with pockets full of bars and gels of varying brands, we headed off up the Pordoi pass.
The official route starts in Corvara, first taking in the Campolongo Pass, descending to Arabba, up the Pordoi Pass, followed by the Sella and Gardena Passes, back down to Corvara, ascend the Campolongo again, descend to the base of the Giau. After the Giau ascent, it descends to the village of Pocol, then climbs the long but not steep Falzarego Pass all the way past the Tre Sassi Fort war museum on the plateau near the Valparola rifugio. The final part of the route involves a descent into Corvara……finito, 84 miles!! However, for our Maratona day, we completed the same route but by starting and finishing at our apartment, near the bottom of the Pordoi.
The Pordoi was stunning, with beautiful morning sunlight accompanying us on our first ascent of the day….we virtually had the road to ourselves. By the time we reached the Sella ascent, more cyclists were out on the Sella Ronda. You can’t help but look up in awe at the Gruppo del Sella whose imposing rocks surround you on the approach to the summit. This area is also popular with climbers. There are usually camper vans parked here and on this beautiful morning, I spotted a couple of bleary eyed climbers preparing their breakfast, getting ready for a day on the Sella.
At the top you are rewarded your efforts, with views of the Sassolungo and a spectacular panorama of this magnificent area. The descent off the Sella towards the base of the Gardena Pass isn’t too long, and you’re working your way up the next climb before you know it. I love being able to descend without a jacket and we were fortunate that the temperatures were warm enough to allow this.
Taking the Sella Ronda in this direction means that the Gardena is climbed from its easier side. The descent to Corvara is fantastic, with long switchbacks that can provide superb descending fun, if you like a blast downhill! You pass through Colfosco before reaching Corvara. If you need to stock up on water etc, this small town is ideal. Buying water at the summit of any Passo tends to come with a premium! I would highly recommend riding the Sella Ronda in the other direction too, as the longer side of the Gardena is a real beauty to climb, never particularly steep, but always picturesque.
Next came our first ascent of the Campolongo, we’d be hitting that again later as our last climb. The pass isn’t long, only around 3 miles, but its backdrop is breathtaking and I found myself frequently casting a glance over my shoulder, to catch another glimpse. The road drops you back into our starting village, Arabba. We stopped here to buy water at the local Panificero (bakery). Our theory of the altitude premium was proven, with this lower altitude bakery charging us just 50 cents for 2 litres of water. This has cost up to 5 Euros on certain Passo summits!
Next stop……Passo Giau, definitely the toughest but most magnificent climb on the route, and also our favourite. To reach the base of the Giau, you spin your way along the stunning valley road. Tall church spires decorate the mountainside. You can’t help but gaze around you, the view is one that will remain etched in your mind long after you’ve returned home. After riding through Andraz, you approach the base of the Falzarego Pass, but instead take a right turn which takes you down a lovely, shaded road, towards the foot of the Giau at Selva di Cadore.
The Giau doesn’t take any prisoners! The climb starts with a real kick, and you’ll be hoping you got your nutrition right, if not, the next 6 miles are likely to be painful! Thankfully, we got ours spot-on, opting for a mixture of Energy food brands: Torq, Clif Bar, Zipvit, Enervit and Trek Bar. Torq’s Vanilla Energy is always our favoured on-bike drink, and we’ve found their handy Energy Sachets really helpful for big days, so you can top up those electrolytes easily. We found the Peanut Trek bars are very easy to digest, even if you eat them when climbing, plus they provide an instant energy boost. Enervit bars are also very tasty and digestible, but we’ve only ever found these when in Italy.
Today we chose not to hang around for a Giau hot chocolate, as we were conscious that this was going to be a long day. But we did admire the scenery for a short time….it’d be rude not to! We’ve ridden this climb many times across five trips, but will never tire of the view. The Gusella is simply magnificent behind the rifugio. The descent to the village of Pocol is quite technical, with varying gradients, and even some gravelly sections where road repairs had recently been carried out. Combine that with a large group of slightly insane motor bikers, or “crazy boys” as we affectionately call them, you certainly have to take care on this piece of road!
The penultimate climb is the Falzarego, from its longer but shallower side. It was fairly late afternoon by this point, but we plodded our way up, and agreed to regroup on the plateau just before the rifugio at the top of the Valparola Pass. The view from the rifugio is a picture postcard, the panorama stretches out in front of you across the Alta Badia region. It’s quite a long descent off the Valparola, but the surface is good with some fairly fresh Tarmac sections. You pass through a picturesque area called Armenterola which seems popular with walkers. Then onto San Cassiano, a resort town, which has in the past hosted World Cup skiing events. This part of the descent can be a little busy, but soon you’re at the bottom, in the town of La Villa. This is another busy resort town, and it’s home to a well stocked bike shop called Break Out, who also have another shop up the road in Corvara. They are apparently the only shop in Italy who stock Rapha, and it certainly seems a popular brand in this area.
So it was onto the slightly uphill drag to Corvara, which is probably the most tricky piece of road with regard to traffic, as parts of the road are quite narrow. We soon reached Corvara, and I was thrilled to be feeling good, even with all those Passos in the legs. Just one more to go, the second ascent of the Campolongo, and we had no difficulties in tackling this last climb.
I’d asked Grant to take a photo of me at the summit of each Passo, as a memoir of this big day, and I was still smiling on my Campolongo number 2 photo! All that remained was one last descent to Arabba and then just a little climb up to bend 7 of the Pordoi to reach our apartment. I clocked 8 hours riding time, 84 miles with our Garmins telling us we’d tackled over 3900 metres of climbing.
A long, but fantastic day!
May 14, 2016 at 7:58 pm
Fantastic read getting ready to attempt the Maratona 2016 this article has defiantly given me more confidence in completing the challenge and looking at your photos can’t wait to tackle it and take in the magnificent views.
Dave T BHVelo
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May 15, 2016 at 1:04 pm
Cheers for taking time to read the Maratona write-up Dave. You will fall in love with the Dolomites I’m sure. It’s impossible not to!