Maratona dles Dolomites

The Maratona dles Dolomites is perhaps the most popular cyclosportive in the world, and also one of the oldest, most beautiful and well organized. Every year, around 9000 participants from more than 70 nationalities start after an entry ticket lottery that usually sees close to 40.000 applicants. Although there is also a course of 106 kilometers with 3130 vertical meters and the Sella Ronda (55 kilometers with 1780 meters of altitude), it is the Granfondo course of 138 kilometers with 4230 meters of climbing that makes many cycling hearts beat faster as it includes the notorious Passo Giau. A really nice and quite unique feature of the Maratona is the fact that all the courses are closed to other traffic all day.

Course of the Maratona dles Dolomites Cyclo

The village of La Villa in the Italian province of South Tyrol is completely turned upside down as the starting place of the Maratona dles Dolomites Cyclo on the first Saturday of July. From the start it is a flattish 4 kilometers or so to Corvara which lies at the foot of the Passo Campolongo. This is the first climb of the Sella Ronda. The Sella Ronda is probably the most beautiful cycling tour in the world. It can also be done on the MTB and in winter it is a famous ski outing. On a road bike you conquer 4 passes over 51 kilometers and clock up 1691 meters of climbing. From Corvara, the Passo Campolongo, Passo Pordoi, Passo Sella and Passo Gardena are waiting for you. These ascents are all quite gradual and not steeper than 6, 7 or 8% on good roads. The Passo Pordoi is by far the longest at 9.2 kilometers. What makes it tough is the altitude. The entire Sella Ronda is ridden above 1600 meters above sea level. That means that on many parts you will not be able to produce the power that you are used to at sea level because of the lower oxygen tension.

After one lap of the Sella Ronda, the two longer courses hit the Passo Campolongo for a second time before descending in the direction of the Passo Giau. This historic climb has often been decisive in the Giro d’Italia. Over 9.9 kilometers you climb to a height of 2236 meters at an average gradient of 9.3%. This means that your have to do just under 1000 altimeters of non-stop climbing. The whole climb is very sustained, there are hardly any flatter stretches that allow for some recovery. After the descent of the Giau, the course climbs to the Passo Falzarego and the nearby Passo Valparola over 11.5 kilometers at a slightly more forgiving, average gradient of 5.8%. From the top it is some 20 kilometers downhill to the finish, but a few years ago the organizers squeezed in the Mur di Giat climb about 5 kilometers before the finish. This short (only 400 meters) but nasty steep (19% max) ‘wall’ is the last thing you are looking forward to if you have already clocked up 4000 of climbing in over 6-8 hours. The middle Fondo distance of 106 kms turns left of the road to the Giau to climb directly to the Passo Falzarego, at 11 km at an average gradient of 6.1% it is not nearly as steep and sustained as the Giau.

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How hard is the Dolomites Marathon?

It’s hard, but that’s not all. Apart from the really steep and sustained Passo Giau, most climbs are not that long and steep and have flatter stretches that allow for some recovery. But an added difficulty is the many kilometers at high altitude. The weather conditions can also be quite bad or at least very changeable even in the middle of summer. The winner usually takes about 4.5 hours to complete the 138 kilometers, while the red lantern takes around 9 hours. In comparison to other Granfondos, like La Marmotte, where the winner usually needs 5.5 hours and the last finisher often only arrives after midnight, Maratona dles Dolomites is a big day for sure, but certainly not the toughest cyclosportive or granfondo out there.

How much should you train for the Maratona Dolomites Cyclo?

Your endurance capacity is the one element that you will need to build for this goal. This applies to almost all cyclos rides in the mountains; it is mainly about building your endurance. An ability to cycle very hard for 5 minutes is not of much use in cyclos like the Maratona. The crucial point is that you have trained your body to produce a lot of from fats very efficiently and especially that you can sustain that for a long time. That is why you want to be very well trained, especially in the area below your FTP, and you will have to put in a lot of hours of the preparation. For this kind of cyclos you need some years of cycling experience due to its hard nature. And also don’t forget about elements like descending in the mountains, that is definitively something you want to have experience with. If you have not, and you find it quite scary, you are in for a long and unpleasant day. In the last six months before the Maratona you want to train at least 6-8 hours a week and the last 2 months even 10 hours or more. Of course this also depends on your talent, but for the average cyclist these are the ballpark number of hours they should put in to be able to complete it in a responsible and enjoyable way.

Medical certificate for a Gran Fondo

As a foreign cyclist participating in an Italian Gran Fondo, it is essential to have your paperwork in order. This means that you have to ‘upload’ a medical certificate about 3 months in advance, which can be a maximum of 1 year old on the date of the Maratona. The medical certificate is little more than the signature and stamp of a (sports) doctor who declares that you are fit enough to participate. For this you will therefore have to undergo a medical examination by a sports doctor or your GP, who can decide that you should have an ECG (heart film) taken during an exercise test. Don’t forget it, because it is a legal obligation for the Italian organizers. (The same at French cyclosportive events, by the way).

Race day strategy.

Perhaps the most important thing to consider is the altitude you are at. From about 1500 meters altitude you will lose about 5% in power on your FTP if you are not acclimated. Above 2000 meters this can rise to even 10%. This is not the same for every individual and if you are at altitude for longer (more than 2 weeks) this effect will be less, but no one performs better at altitude than at sea level. Now you want to stay away from your FTP anyway with so many altimeters on the menu, but even at lower intensity the intensity for your body is higher than your power meter indicates.

Uphill you actually want to stay just below the aerobic threshold, so between 80 and 85% of your FTP. Then you keep your energy on the flat by certainly not exceeding 75% of the FTP and finally the intention is to keep your legs still when you can go downhill.

What should you eat and drink during the Maratona Dolomites Cyclo?

In fact, for all cyclos of this kind, you want to go for the maximum absorption capacity in terms of drinking and eating right from the start. This will only work with good isotonic sportsdrinks, energy bars and gels. With sandwiches in the jersey pocket and lemonade in the water bottle you will never be able to get to those 60 to 90 grams per hour of carbs. Drink 600 to 750 ml per hour with up to 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates added. In total, including these carbohydrates, you want to consume 90 grams per hour with a maltodextrin:fructose ratio of 2:1. Make sure you have accustomed your gut to this kind of intake during your training sessions back home in advance of the Maratona.

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