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Home / News / Cycling the Maratona Dles Dolomites - Italy Author: Rens Rezelman - Winner of Enervit SA and Bicycling SA competition
10 July 2015


So when I used to race in Italy.... I've always wanted to say that. And technically speaking, now I can! Two months ago I entered a competition via the Bicycling SA Facebook page. Was I aware of what I was entering? No. Did I have any idea what the Maratona Dles Dolomites even was? No. Did I have a clue about the natural beauty of the northern part of Italy. No.... Did I expect to win the competition? Like the lottery - not really (but the hope it gives is a wonderful feeling!) Am I glad I won? Ummmm - read on and I'll let you decide.

Enervit, one of Europe's leading sports nutrition companies, is expanding into South Africa under the guidance of Tess Mcloughlin. Together with Bicycling SA, they ran a competition to take "a lucky reader" to one of Italy's most prestigious events, the Maratona Dles Dolomites. As the primary sponsor of this Gran Fondo race, Enervit opted to take me (the lucky winner) and a representative from Bicycling magazine - none other than the well known and magnetic Oli Munnik. I had met Oli a few times prior to this occasion, so when we met up at Cape Town international we weren't complete strangers. Which does help - especially if we were to hang out for 5 days together!

Although I have traveled to various countries - primarily on business - I can now say that Italy is a special place. Its usually HOT in the summer - and we were caught up in a heatwave that was sweeping Europe, so the temperature was maxing out at 35-40 degrees (the mercury topped off at 41 degrees in Milan on our last day!). The antiquity and natural beauty of Italy are enough for any tourist to go all wobbly-kneed over...but for someone who loves cycling...well, therein lies the true beauty of the country. It is steeped in cycling history and the country and its people are knowledgeable about all things road cycling. Bianchi; Pinarello; Cappuccino; Nibali; Fabiano; Gucci; Fettucine alfredo; Coppi; Linguine; Bartali....the list goes on (make sure you read the list again - but this time pinch your thumb and forefinger; raise your wrist and repeat the list in your best Italian accent whilst you shake the hand...go on - it gets you into the whole Italian vibe! Also, I threw in the food and coffee names for some familiarity...)

The Maratona Dles Dolomites is a grueling event. This is not a fun ride through some idyllic Italian countryside. Save those images for when you have a steel bike and you're pedaling under a Tuscan sky with a baguette and bottle of red wine in the front basket. This is not that movie. Rather turn away from the flowing fields and vineyards and cast your eyes northwards to the mountains. Big mountains. Start imagining images of snow-capped peaks; endless switchbacks; treacherous descents; and most importantly - the torturous climbs that summit on rocky outposts. Don't believe me? Check this out:

The mountain ranges of the Dolomites are primarily known for skiing - but the breathtaking scenery and steep roads are too inviting for cyclists to ignore.


The Maratona as a race is not for sissies. The profile itself demands respect as its 138km distance is thrown into a jagged crocodile-smile profile with the 4300m ascent thrown in. That's the real challenge. Due to the nature of the beast, there's no such thing as peloton riding on this event  - you're either climbing or descending - nothing in between. So to think that its "like the Argus (Cycle Tour) with some hills" would do this race a great injustice. From the loud cannon that sets you off, you're climbing. For ages. And then you're screaming down the other side of the slope - with white knuckles on the brakes as you approach one of the hundreds of switchbacks you swoop into. Six category 1 climbs mark the landscape of the battle.

Trek bikes once again looked after me. They offer a concept called Trek Travel (see here for detail: www.trektravel.com) which in principle allows you to choose a global destination and Trek will have bikes waiting for you. No hassle of flying with bikes! Utterly brilliant! In this case, the lads from Dark Horse Trading (read Trek Bikes SA) organised me with a PROPER machine on the Italian side: a Trek Damone 58 with Shimano D.I.2 electronic shifting and disc brakes! As a larger rider, I could not have asked for a more appropriate weapon in the artillery. Light, responsive, smooth - it ticked all the boxes - and how about that matt-black finish? It was my first interaction with the electronic gear shifting capability on the Shimano D.I.2 system and I can only comment on how smooth and almost intuitive it is. Its literally a tap-and-click mechanism that is very user friendly. So its official - I want it. The whole bike! (When the bike and I parted ways in Milan, I was almost tearful. We had shared so much together...the hard times; the crazy climbs; the ridiculous speeds; the angled turns...I think a small part of me may well be imbedded in that particular bike :-) )

The Trek Damone Disc with Shimano D.I.2 Dura Ace components. Cycling brute force meets cycling poetry. 


So the riding in the Dolomites was absurd. Its like The Sound of Music meets Transformers in a National Geographic magazine (I'm aware its hard to imagine that - but that's the challenge of describing picturesque classic awesomeness). We know that the scenery is postcard pretty. I've established that the terrain is steep - both up and down. And now for the race:

The Maratona Dles Dolomites is an Italian Gran Fondo race with Enervit being one of the main sponsors. With 3 race courses to choose from (short; medium; long) the 9000 entries are very hard to come by. Hens teeth would be an apt description. Over 62 countries were represented this year - but I can confidently say that there were less than 5 South Africans in the mix of 9000.

Its either up or down over the course of the Maratona Dles Dolomites


Oli had decided that he was going to give the race a bash and pit himself against the best Italian amateurs in the country (as well as Dutch; German; Swiss; Spanish; French; and English riders too - no easy task). Oli will tell you how the climbing was endless and that a minimum of a compact crank was needed just to get up the climbs - never mind compete!

Some of these pics will tell the story:

The start is a 9000 mass participant start - that is surprisingly calm and organised - no "hold your line" yelling and all that angst.



The summit of the Giau (pronounced "Shi - yow") - a 10km ascent at just under 10% average. Its a long, dark hour in the mind....the Enervit tent at the top beckons like a small piece of heaven, offering a chance to reload on supplies and briefly rest your battered legs...before the next climb, that is.



Tess and I tackle the climbs on our Treks



Assume the position - just keep on climbing...



Oli "Pinner" Munnik put his racing legs to the test on the Maratona. Even the experienced and highly competent Bicycling Gear writer was humbled by the sheer profile of the event.



Much of the scenery on the big climbs was lost on me as the stinging sweat just seeped into my eyes! 


The last two climbs were morale-sapping brutes. The Gaiu managed to put a pin-hole into my climbing confidence balloon and the altitude and gradient slowly seeped the strength from my legs. I think at about the 38 minute mark of climbing I was comfortably inside my dark place, trying not to look up. Every time I did, it was just another steep climb littered with cyclists way above me with no end in sight. The 10 km of climbing took forever...

Some of the stats of the Giau pass



The summit of the Giau Pass - 2236m. This was also the KOM climb for the front runners.


In a kind of Epic-design mode, the organisers threw in a nasty surprise 5km from the finish - the "Wall of The Cat" (or "walladacat" as the locals pronounce it). This little bastard is just like the Boyes Drive climb from the Kalk Bay side. Now imagine it being straight up, packed with frenzied locals in costumes; and at that gradient (19%)...after 133km of pain in your legs?
Did we ride it? Did we...? We made a pact (Oli, Tess and I) that we would MURDER the bloody CAT when we got there. And we did. No Foot Down was adhered to by the Enervit South African Riders - even though it was painful and tempting to do so. Cat murdered? Tick!

The official statistics of the Wall of the Cat (so named because you need your claws to scramble up the hill!)



Team Enervit SA - Rens, Tess, Oli, and our Italian host Vittorio on the first training ride down the Compolongo pass


Oli rode a highly respectable 5hrs40 - placing him in the top 140 riders. Tess and I rode together and spilled over the line just over 7 hours - with Tess placed as the 31st women overall - and plenty of ladies took part! We were well impressed with our efforts and came in 1,2,3 in the entire Enervit Maratona Team....
It certainly ranks as the toughest road race I have ever competed in. With 5 One Tonners and 6 DC's under the belt on the road riding side, I think I have a good comparative reference on the road riding races on offer here in South Africa (the last DC being a 6-hour ride with Team Fat Bob). Even with 3 Epics done, this would be a long day for ANY rider...the mental and physical requirements were exceptionally demanding

Before the Race:
Enervit were the perfect hosts/ As a successful company that sponsored the event, Oli and I were invited into full and busy itinerary. We were exposed to some revolutionary new products that will be released large-scale into the market shortly and wined and dined like movie stars. I cannot express enough thanks to Tess and Vittorio from Enervit SA and Italy respectively for the experience. I'm still getting my head around it.
Oli was the most relaxed roommate - although the chap certainly did enjoy getting prone on his hotel bed whenever he could (which, in fairness, was not often.) Looks like a gentle case of love-sickness can do that....but enough about Oli.

My first time riding in the Dolomites - Salute!!!



Oli decided to take us off piste (off the beaten track) and we rode some of the local MTB trails...on our ride bikes. Note to Chad from Trek - none of the bikes photographed here were hurt or injured during this photo shoot! Here Tess gets to the top of a long gravel climb through the valley.



The Italian landscape is truly magnificent



One of the mountain passes we drove through to get to Corvara



Gabriele Mugnaini - a former cycling professional and veteran Soigneur - with 42 Giro d'Italias and 23 Tour de Frances under his hands... I was very privileged to have those mits massage me before the race. He has worked with the likes of cycling greats Chippolini and Ulrich



The entire Enervit racing crew - from Italy, Spain, Columbia. and South Africa (only 6 of us were crazy enough to enter the long version of the race!)



In an almost surreal environment, the hotel pool room (empty) housed our bikes



The Treks took to the mountains like Italians to pasta.....



One evening Enervit took us out for dinner...to a James Bond-like setting...at the top of one magnificent mountain...by cable car (who needs uber taxis?)



Enervit SA's Tess Mcloughlin and Enervit Italy's Vittorio Mazzola (aka Steam Cat!) - the best hosts we could've wished for.



Meeting with Enervit ambassador and former Italian cycling champion Davide Cassani - a former Tour de France rider and winner of 2 Giro D'Italia stages.... we're close now. Tight. Big Chinas!! 



Some more off-road work as navigated by Oli Munnik ("Ja we can ride here....its not that far to the top....look out for the cow shit! Oops...")



Going real-retro with some original cycling jerseys from the 1950's - 1970's...As expected, not many fitted me. Looks like pro cyclists have always been a small breed!



This pic will end up in a magazine - because its awesome. Simple really....


This event was truly amazing. Thank you once again to Enervit for the opportunity to ride in such a prestigious (and tough!) event. Thanks to Tess from Enervit SA and Vittorio from Enervit Italy for being such generous hosts. It was great to get to know Oli "Pinner" Munnik even better - a great cyclist and genuine guy all around.

To Chad and the team at Trek for arranging a training bike here in SA and then upgrading it on the Italian side - I could not have asked for a more superb creation to ride this event on. The Classique shoes and Bontrager helmet were a perfect match for the matt black bike...and in Italy, style is EVERYTHING!! I think us South Africans have a bit of a way to go in that department...

I sign off now as a slightly more experienced rider but definitely a more humbled and honoured person to have been invited to this race.

But that's what its like racing in Italy....Web Bug from http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/TheSmoothKnobblies/~4/gWZ_Mk5f4A4?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email



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