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5 Reasons to ride La Maratona

Mirko Meerwaldt Tekst Mirko Meerwaldt Gepubliceerd 10 July 2018

The 32nd Maratona dles Dolomites took place on Sunday the 1st of July 2018. We felt honoured and privileged to ride along, and share this momentous yearly occasion with the people of Alta Badia and everyone else involved. We crossed a highlight off our bucket list and it’s safe to say we’ll be back for more. These are our 5 Reasons to ride La Maratona.

The Surroundings
We’ve all seen the photographs. Be it the Kodachrome images of the 60’s, with legendary names riding up the impressively steep mountainsides or the saturated digital TV feed of the modern age, in which a multitude of tifosi line the roadsides, supporting every rider that comes up the Pordoi, Sella or Giau passes. But these images can never compare to actually being there.
The natural beauty of the Dolomites is, simply put, astounding. Towering cliffs with ragged peaks stand guard over the lush green valleys, unspoilt by concrete apartment-blocks. Here, pastoral elements of Austrian and Swiss architecture blend harmoniously with heaps of classic Italian charm to create a picture worthy of any cyclists’ undivided affection. Each switchback yields a different panorama and every valley a different vista upon another distant peak. And seeing the sun come up over the jagged peaks of the Passo Sella, with the Marmalata glacier shimmering in the distance, is a sight I will forever cherish.

The Culture
The Maratona is a big event for Alta Badia natives.
This wasn’t always the case, as in the 60s there were serious doubts whether a cycling event would be good for the area. But is had proven its worth for 32 years now, and the local population take enormous pride in their region and their Maratona. From dawn ‘til dusk, they line the roads expressing their appreciation and their support to all who undertake the Maratona. I am told the cakes in the feedzones are locally baked, and brought up by bike on huge wooden trays.
The hospitality and helpfullness of the locals has no bounds, and they are always keen to talk about their history, their culture, their food and their language; Ladin. This native language originated in secluded mountain valleys in the times of the Romans, and it’s a dominant factor in the intrinsic regional pride today; it is still taught at schools and spoken widely.
Alta Badia is known for its produce of superb cheese, vegetables and wine, and its wider region is home to a disproportionate high number of Michelin star restaurants and fabulous wine cellars. But as we are in Italy, it is never hard to find a proper good meal anywhere. Topped off with a perfect Italian espresso of course, much to the delight of every cyclist.

The Road
Through intense collaborations with its surrounding communities, Alta Badia has achieved the best way to experience the majesty of the Dolomites for 10.000 participating riders: as one of very few events in the world the entire Maratona is cycled on closed-off roads.
Accompanied solely by the sound of your own intensified breathing and the hum of wheels and hubs, you can really take in the greatness of the Dolomites. Birds sing in the pinewoods and cowbells toll on the meadows, interspersed by the applause of supporters and the blowing of their mountain horns to welcome the enormous peloton.
It is an absolute delight to descend the countless switchbacks without having to worry about oncoming cars cutting corners, or loud motorbikes passing by in a cloud of exhaust fumes. For one day each year, when you look back from any vantage point, the road is an endless procession of cyclists coming up the pass. It is an almost otherworldly, yet ever so delightful sight. 

The Organization
I’ll admit, I’m not a Gran Fondo aficionado. The crowds, the waiting, the chaos, the frenzy, it doesn’t really agree with my idea of cycling. But the Maratona is something completely different. It is very well organized by hugely passionate people. Despite the enormous number of cyclists descending upon the region of Alta Badia and its small villages and hamlets, the run up to the race was smooth. No chaos at the start, no overly long waits.
There were plenty of well-placed food stops with friendly attendants, who were happy to dish out locally baked cakes and acqua salé to keep us going. Dangerous points on the route were properly signposted or attended to by volunteers. And, it seemed, everyone pretty much knew how to handle their bike among loads of people. There were some crashes, of course, but I hardly noticed any clumsy behaviour or dangerous descending.
Arriving at the finish, there was enough room for everyone to get a plate of pasta and chill out in the grass, or indulge in the excellent local Fors lager.
Director Michil Costa is a remarkable man, and thanks to that, I believe the Maratona is a class apart from other Gran Fondos. I hope he can make some more necessary steps towards the sustainable Maratona future he dreams of (plastic cutlery and plates are not contributing), but I am definitely an admirer of his fervour.

The Excitement
I don’t think I have ever been more excited and/or nervous before a ride as I was before the Maratona. Part of it had to do with waking up at 4.30AM and thinking about the tough day ahead, but mostly it was the electricity that hung in the foggy morning air above the Corvara valley. The RAI broadcasts this day live, and no less than three helicopters were swerving and swooping over the 10.000 cyclists lining up at the start. Legends Merckx, Indurain and Viviani stood at the start and spoke some words which added to the exhilaration.
As the enormous peloton got going, riders who were intent on setting a good finish time sprinted past left and right towards the first ascend of the day, accompanied by a good many Italian swearwords. A chopper rushed over, and a girl in front of me, momentarily distracted, broke her chain in an inopportune effort to shift gears for the first climb. But after the first ascent up the Campolongo and the preceding descend towards the Pordoi, talk between riders quickly fades en groups spread out.
Through it all, the feeling of excitement runs deep during the Maratona. Participants feel they are part of something big. Your can see it in the faces of the riders getting in line for breakfast. In those who cross the line full of emotions. In those whose sincere support accompanies all riders. And in those who claim that they will be back again one day, surely, to explore more of those majestic Dolomites.

The countdown to the next edition has started. More info at www.maratona.it


Thanks to SHIFT Active Media


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