My Ride: Ian Stuart and Jon Derricott accompany the CW readers? team around the Maratona dles Dolomites on July 1, 2007

Distances: 55km, 106km and 138km

Challenge: Long climbs, fast descents, big bunches

Sixty-two Cycling Weekly readers enjoyed an incredible day in this beautiful part of the southern Tyrol and their efforts placed the CW squad a very creditable 18th out of 215 teams competing, covering a total of 4,795 km.

It is truly not possible to put into words how great an occasion this is. We?ve taken part for the past six years and each time we?ve travelled with at least one person who hasn?t done it before. The reaction is the same each year. ?You weren?t lying were you??

There were three Maratona rookies in our party of eight this time. John, Peter and Andrew. Peter and Andrew are experienced riders, but John deserves mention as he has only been riding a road bike for three months. His cycling experience had been limited to pottering around the lanes of Anglesey on a fifty-quid mountain bike as part of his recuperation from a cruciate injury.

He was with us in a pub in Formby, Merseyside last November when, by amazing coincidence, we recognised a couple we?d seen at the race. John was listening to the excited conversation and, with a rush of blood to his head, exclaimed, ?I can do that!?

So, training on a heavy, crappy mountain bike commenced as he forced himself up a cluster of short, sharp 25 per cent and 35 per cent climbs near his home. Not perfect training for the Maratona, where the gradients are not steep, but the climbs are very, very long. It was, however, a start. Eventually, in March, he got himself a road bike, clipless pedals, and began to put in some distance rides before declaring himself ?ready? in June.

Stunning scenery is what the Maratona dles Dolomites is all about

Panic stations

As we made the drive up to the Dolomites from Treviso, panic set in for John. This is the same panic almost everyone we know has experienced when they approach these massive mountains. There?s an ache in the legs and a feeling that you may have bitten off more than you can chew. The simple sight of these 3,000m peaks can play tricks on the mind of the less experienced cyclist.

There is a truly wonderful atmosphere at the Maratona. A feeling of total inclusion, camaraderie, of family, friendship and a sense that you are in the best place it is possible to be on a bike. There are so many cycling-related activities going on around that I lament the fact that I live in the UK and that we just don?t do bikey things like the Continentals.

There are three routes to choose from for the Maratona and you decide which one on the way round. Everybody does the first four passes totalling 55km: Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella and Gardena, following which you either finish or continue. Continuing, the Campolongo is tackled again and a long flat and fast section leads to the Passo Falzarego where you decide to continue up it for the 106km route or take the turn for the massive Passo Giau and the 138km route.

Whichever you choose there is a superb moment when both remaining fields of riders join again from different directions to tackle the short 1.5km ascent to the Passo Valporola. At this point the sense of relief and achievement is palpable. There?s a sense of exhaustion and exaltation in equal measure as you know you?ve done it and it?s all downhill from now on.

And what a downhill! A very long and very fast descent takes you to the finish in Corvara where, after seeing your name flash on the scoreboard and, if you?re lucky, having it announced, there is music, pasta and drinks awaiting the Maratona finishers. In return for the transponder taped to the number of each rider you are offered either a commemorative baseball cap or 10 euros. I always take the 10 euros because it feels like prize money and is the nearest I?ll ever get to being a pro!

Relaxing at the finish, watching riders come in, seeing the highlights replayed on the screen and sipping a cold drink, at that moment I don?t think it is possible to feel any better!

Back at the hotel by mid afternoon the debriefing session had started in earnest. Terry had a grin as wide as the valley we were sat in. He?d taken on the middle route after deciding the long one had been too hard last year and was, quite simply, a very happy man.

Peter and Andrew, our other two rookies were almost unable to put into words what an incredible day it had been for them. Tim had raced around the long course and was feeling the effects of a couple of ill-advised beers so soon after the finish. Steve had spent most of the day with John and had constantly given encouragement with such nuggets as, ?Dig deep mate? and, ?You?ve broken the back of this thing now?.

John eventually finished the middle course in a rather long 7hrs 46, but described it as the best sporting day of his life and vowed to attack it next year. We were happy with our modest performances too and, as veterans of the short and middle courses, decided we?d do the long one in 2008. Funny that. We say the same thing every year!

‘Team CW’ – a job well done!

Way to go

I don?t think it mattered to anyone from team CW, but the race was won by South African, Tim Jones. Raimondas Rumsas was in the lead with him when his chain snapped and he crashed into a wall. It was spectacular but he was unhurt.

The group we travelled with flew to Treviso, picked up hire cars for the two and a half hour drive north and stayed in Picolin, about 15km from the start. Innsbruck is the nearest airport, but most flew to Venice, Verona, Milan or Bergamo. Accommodation is plentiful and of a good standard. Special mention needs to go to Christian and Petra for their help with the Cycling Weekly entries and the staff at the superb Osteria Posta, Picolin who could not have done more to look after us.

Route details

The ride starts in La Villa, north of the finish in Corvara. There are three route options: 55km, 106km and 138km.

All three routes take in the first four passes: Campolongo, Pordoi, Sella and Gardena. The 55km finishes but the other two routes then ride the Campolongo again before taking the Falzarego pass where the medium route winds up.

Riders on the 138km trek must climb the Giau pass before rejoining the route for the final short climb up the Valporolo pass and descent to the finish.

Want to ride it?

Should you like a key to the door of the Maratona dles Dolomites for July 2008, CW will have the same number of places available for next year. Send an email to wdcyclesport@hotmail.com.

EXTERNAL LINKS

Maratona dles Dolomites site: www.maratona.it.