by Mark Cohen
It doesn’t sound like a long day in the saddle. Really, it doesn’t. But at 138 kilometres and 4,230 m of climbing, the Maratona dles Dolomites is quickly earning a reputation as Europe’s most difficult one-day sportive.
Participants are given a chance – on closed roads – to perform on Italy’s biggest stages riding the climbs, in front of big crowds and in a grand tour like atmosphere. Some of these same roads feature prominently in the Giro d’Italy and capture the imagination of cyclists everywhere.
Only a third of the individuals who try to secure space in the Maratona are successful. (There are no stats available on how many short-turn.) Those fit enough to make it over the course’s epic climbs (including the Passo Giau, the route’s toughest at 9.9 kilometers and an average gradient of 9.3 per cent) are rewarded with a test of legs and lungs that in cycling is unparalleled.
Before heading out to ride the 31st edition (thank you, race organizers), Canadian Cycling Magazine connected with Claudio Canis, managing director of the Maratona dles Dolomites, over email and asked for his reasons why the ride – among the many legendary European sportives (Haute Route, the Marmotte) – is worth riding.
1. The Passo Giau and the climbs in general
Dolomite roads factor heavily in the Giro D’Italia – a natural amphitheater where, in each year’s race, the general classification is typically decided. In 2012, the year Ryder Hesjedal was triumphant, the scene was no different. Giro organizers unveiled a 187km stage in the race’s final week prominently featuring the Passo Giau: 14 per cent at the foot of the climb and a soul-shattering average the rest of the way up.
Climbing the Giau pass has been a staple in the Maratona since the ride’s early days. While there are tougher, longer climbs to tackle in Italy, sandwiched alongside the Passo Pordoi, Sella and Valparola, you have a major gauntlet in front of anyone who attempts to ride it.
2. Ride shoulder to shoulder with ex-pros
Earlier this week, Bradley Wiggins announced he’d be wearing number 14 at this year’s Maratona – a site not uncommon at a ride that consistently attracts former pros – five-time Tour de France winner Miguel Indurain among them. Few other sportives draw like fields; riding it gives you a chance to turn the pedals with some of the sport’s biggest personalities.
3. The stunning scenery
Yes, you can break down the Maratona parcours into a rhythm of “climb, descent, climb, descent,” however Canis points out it’s much more. The short, long and Maratona course options are all substantial efforts; the gentle purr of cassettes humming down descents adds to the day’s beauty. Same goes for the collective effort of climbing its massive passes. The region was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2009 on account of the “18 peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres, featuring some of the most beautiful mountain landscapes anywhere, with vertical walls, sheer cliffs and a high density of narrow, deep and long valleys.” It serves as the perfect backdrop for a long day in the saddle.
4. Swag bags
Maratona partners – Kask, Castelli and others – shower ride participants with kit that shame most other sportives. Registration covers the cost of closed roads, a jersey, gilet and other stuff you’ll want (we’ve not yet picked up this year’s). Coupled with Alta Badia’s hotels and reputation for food – which make logistics simple – the experience off the bike becomes almost as memorable as the one on it.
5. The perfect venue to fly the Canadian flag
Of the 9,164 riders who started the Maratona in 2016, only 24 made the pilgrimage from Canada. The international field is dominated by Italian cyclists; the roadsides littered with fans and TV cameras (yes, RAI covers the event live) that make it the perfect venue to nab a unique experience for most club riders at home that’ll amount to one of your best ever rides.
The climbs: a quick breakdown
The Passo Campolongo (5.8 km at 6.1 per cent)
The Passo Pordoi (9.2 km at 6.9 per cent)
The Passo Sella (5.5 km at 7.9 per cent)
The Passo Gardena (5.8 km at 4.3per cent)
The Passo Giau (9.9 km at 9.3 per cent)
The Passo Valparola (11.8 km at 6.7 per cent)
The Mür dl giat (the cat wall) (300 m at 13.1 per cent)
Ballots open for the next year’s Maratona in September. Your best chances of lining up in 2018? Claudio Canis says there are two ways: check the site obsessively to keep on top of registration deadlines or pay the premium with one of the tour operators who are allocated approximately 4,000 of the ride’s 9,000 total tickets. Popular wisdom says it just might be worth it.