Maratona dles Dolomites recce

Looking back down to Corvara from the start of Campologno
The Maratona dles Dolomites has easily the most spectacular setting of any Granfondo in Italy.  The shattered pinnacles of massive rock mountains ring the course, and the slight gaps in between them is  where  the Granfondo slips through.

The Maratona course is also unusual because it starts in one location and ends in another, follows a figure of 8 route and climbs one pass twice.  And notice that I say “pass”, there’s no question of riding over the tops of the peaks instead you are riding the impossibly high roads that wind in between them.

You set off from La Villa and head immediately towards the finishline at Corvara.  This is all the warm up you get as once in Corvara you start to climb the Passo Campolongo.  The steep bit is at the start with 8% hairpins up and out of Corvara giving you great views of the town and surrounding landscape.  Once you lose sight of Corvara the gradient drops to a long 5% drag up the remaining height to top out at 1,875m.  This is the real warm up for what is to come.

One extra thing to note is that this is all happening at considerable height – the start is at 1,436m and the highest point will be the Passo Giau at 2,236m.  I didn’t notice any altitude effects and I had good weather.  I can imagine at this height that when the weather goes bad it can happen quickly and be severe.
dropping off Campolongo
After Campolongo you drop via a good quality road into Arabba and again start climbing immediately.  This pass is different and represents the first real challenge of the day.  The Passo Pordoi has an illustrious Giro history stretching back to Fausto Coppi.  What you need to know is that it is 9km long and will take you up to 2,239m (638m to gain from Arabba) and perhaps what you don’t need to know is that the peaks in the far distance are your destination. 
Towards the top on the Pordoi
Much of this is done at around 8% gradient with perhaps the final 3km dropping to a more manageable 5%.  Temperature will have changed by the top of this ascent and when you reach the passo you will have entered the world of the high peaks of the Dolomites.  Have you packed enough layers and a wind jacket?

The descent off Pordoi is fine with smooth roads and hairpins you can assess well before you arrive at them.  What’s both good and bad is that the drop is short.  Bad because you could do with more recovery, good because it means the next climb will be short.
You go to the left of these
An abrupt right turn plus 11% kick up (will catch some out in the wrong gear) starts you on the Passo Sella.  Yes it’s short and now you are only trying to gain 436m but the difference in gradient after so long on the Pordoi will come as a shock to the system.  Your destination remains hidden until the last corner and turns out to be truly spectacular.

Click on this picture to get a better view of it.
All this climbing is rewarded by fantastic views.  What will it be like when you go back to regular mountain climbing and don’t get the remarkable sights as recompense for your labour?  After the Maratona will you stop climbing other hills?
Looking back down the Gardena
The descent off Sella is great too.  Wide open roads with no hairpins so you can pick up real speed safely.  Again you aren’t dropping as much as you’ve gained and another sharp right starts you on the next pass.

This is Gardena and this pass comes in two parts.  The first is steep with a few hairpins but short.  And pretty soon you reach a wonderful flat, high road.  This is the first flat bit of the route and allows you to go quickly through yet more extraordinary scenery. 

You can see that the second part of the climb is ahead but when you arrive there isn’t too much trouble dealing with a few more hairpins to top out at 2121m.
The bumpy, twisty drop off Gardena
The descent off Gardena isn’t quite so good.  Very bumpy in parts and you are aware that you are losing a lot of height: nearly 600m.  From Pordoi to Sella to Gardena you have been up in the high mountains, now you are leaving that environment and re-entering the green valley and Corvara.

For those doing the short Sellaronda you day is done.  For the Medio and Maratona cyclists there’s the second climb of the Campolongo and then dropping through Arabba (again) but this time going left and through a valley before splitting at Cernadoi. 

From here the Maratona people will tackle the Passo Giau then go on to the Falzarego.  The Medio ones will shortcut straight to the Falzarego which they climb from a different side.

Part 2 of the recce will cover these last passes - tomorrow.