At Pelican, as well as being a specialist in marketing and PR for the outdoor sector we also like to ‘walk the walk’, so in July Pelican MD set out to conquer the daunting Maratona cycle race in the Italian Dolomites.
Many of us dream of following in the footsteps of our sporting heroes but rarely get the chance to do so.
Footballers dream of playing at Wembley, tennis players at Wimbledon and it’s Lords for cricketers. For cyclists it’s a bit different.
Whilst we can all ride the roads ridden by the likes of Eddy Merckx, Greg Lemond and Sir Bradley Wiggins, few of us will ever get to experience riding in a large peloton, being followed by motorbike outriders, cheered by fans and with TV helicopters hovering above.
That is unless you ride the Maratona dles Dolomites, or the Maratona as it’s affectionately known.
The event has been held in the Alta Badia area of Italy since 1987. It’s an annual one-day race covering seven spectacular mountain passes in the Dolomites. Open to amateur cyclists, the Maratona, with circa 10,000 riders from over 40 nations, is one of the biggest Italian Granfondo bicycle races. National Geographic described it as “one of the biggest, most passionate, and most chaotic bike races on Earth.”
It’s acknowledged as being a tough ride, so much so that the course was included in the 2016 Tour of Italy and was the scene of some spectacular racing.
So back in the depths of winter I thought to myself, sounds like a bit of fun. How hard can it be? The answer is hard.
Six months of training later, at 6am I stood shivering in the high mountain air surrounded by more cyclists than you could poke a stick at, many of them looking decidedly fitter than me. After what seemed like an age of waiting, we set off at a fair old lick to a deafening cacophony of hooters, cheers and cow bells.
Mountain pass followed mountain pass, including the never ending Passo Pordoi, which at 2,239m is the second highest road in the Dolomites and has featured in the Tour of Italy more than any other climb. Then comes the stunning Passo Gardena where you expect Julie Andrews to appear at any moment.
I had set myself the goal of finishing in under six hours and as I crested the final climb Passo Valparola I had 40 minutes in hand. Never the greatest descender, I thought I’d blown my chances. I headed down the mountain as fast as I dared, whilst braver men than me flew past.
With five kilometres to go the organisers have included one last challenge, the Mür dl Giat, a half a kilometre of pain, the short climb hits 19%. It doesn’t sound like much but after almost six hours of climbing, it’s a killer. Its main purpose, other than to sap any last vestiges of your strength, seems to be to amuse the locals, who gather in their thousands to cheer and laugh in equal measure at the riders.
With just a handful of minutes left I covered the last few kilometres and made it with a minute and a half to spare. Breathless and exhausted I crossed the line with double World Road Race Champion Paolo Bettini, who must have set off a long time after me and who seemed to have barely broken a sweat, as he stood chatting and signing autographs.
Whilst my performance didn’t emulate my heroes, I did get a small flavour of what it’s like for the pros. I trained hard for six months for one ride. They do it day in, day out in all weathers. There’s got to be an easier way to make a living.
Pelican Communications is a specialist in the environment, food and drink, outdoor and leisure and packaging sectors and offers a range of services such as media relations, brand management, event management, design and people development. Contact us for marketing and communications expertise.