Words by Giacomo Pellizzari
Images Archive Maratona dles Dolomites
Sunday July 6th is the day of the Maratona dles Dolomites, the most sought and prestigious granfondo in Europe. A ritual that renews every year. Like the one of St Januarius's blood, the patron saint of Naples. A pagan and sporting ritual that – like a liturgy – takes place amongst some of the world's most beautiful scenery: the Dolomites, a Unesco world heritage site. A cathartic event for every self-respecting cyclist. And 9,000 souls on a bike are taking part. Amateur cyclists arrive from every corner of the world. The ingredients for its success are many: the location, the welcome, the people, the many moments that mark this weekend at the beginning of July. People here – the Ladin people – consider the Maratona dles Dolomites a huge collective celebration. Everybody is invited, not only those taking part: children, the elderly, restaurant owners, hotel owners, and Alpine herdsmen. Everyone takes part in this huge ritual from 6 in the morning. Everyone gives what they can from their land, generously. I took part in this granfondo five times. And every time, it gave me back something intimate and precious. Starting from what was possibly the most beautiful and magical moment of all: the starting line. It is 6am. The sun has yet to rise, but the air is crisp. The scent of freshly cut wood is intense and pleasant. And then, there they are: 9,000 silent cyclists have suddenly appeared overnight, like mushrooms.
Everyone is wearing waterproofs, somebody is eating the last banana. Indispensable source of potassium. And then all of a sudden, the race starts. The first hairpins to tackle are the ones that from Corvara bring you towards Campolongo Pass, the first climb.Then the magic of Pordoi follows: every cyclist turning behind here can see the big colourful snake created by the other cycling colleagues while climbing. The silence is only broken by the mechanical noise of the derailleur gears. It is magical.After Pordoi, to complete the so-called 'Sella Ronda', the Sella and Gardena Pass. This is where the short route ends, while the medium and long ones continue. For those who decide to tackle the latter (138 km and 4,200 m of overall altitude difference), there is the dreaded Giau Pass waiting, after passing the top of the Campolongo for the second time. It is the hardest Pass: ten kilometres with an average gradient of 10%. A regular and majestic climb that, after 2,000 m of altitude, opens on the barbed towers of the Nuvolau. A castle of rocks, often smeared with a layer of snow. It is easy to get lost in the ecstatic contemplation of the panorama. After the Giau Pass, a steep and technical descent brings you to Pocol, close to Cortina – the pearl of the Dolomites, where the last effort is required: the Valparola Pass. 'Intra i Sass' as the locals would say: in the middle of rocks. There, at 2,000 m of altitude. A place both gorgeous and wild that connects Veneto to the South Tyrol region. The sweet pain is about to end. Muscles relax and happiness takes the place of tiredness. Now only one descent is remaining: the one that brings you back to La Villa followed by Corvara, where the finish line awaits. It is often warm here and the sun shines generously on the legs, allowing the waterproofs to remain in the pocket. Done! The magic of the Maratona dles Dolomites has taken place. Sunday will happen all over again. Like the miracle of St Januarius.