The race begins in the town of La Villa at 6:15 a.m. All roads are closed after 5:55 a.m., even to cyclists, so that translates into a very early wake up call. The call comes at 4:00 a.m. Fortunately, I had a great night's sleep. The hotel has breakfast starting at 4:30 a.m. and Ms. E is kind and crazy enough to join me. I ate four slices of delicious rye bread with brie and prosciutto, two brioche, juice and drank a cappuccino. At 5:00 a.m. I'm back in my room making final decisions on what to wear based on the temperature which is 9 C, 48 F, (bib shorts with no leg warmers, undershirt, jersey, arm warmers, my Gruppo 1 cycling jacket minus the sleeves, and short fingered gloves; I pack long fingered gloves in the back in case the descent of the Passo Pordoi is too cold). I stuff 3 Powerbars into my jersey as part of my strategy this year is to not stop at the first three rest stops which tend to be traffic jams.
At 5:15 a.m. I'm off in the dark, to descend into La Villa. Cyclists are coming from every where and volunteers have the roads well marked and are directing cyclists to their proper starting grids. One of the reasons to arrive earlier than later is to at least have a good starting position within your grid. Even though your race time is personalized from when you cross the start and finish lines it's best to try to start in front of as many people as you can. This year it seems everyone arrived early and I'm waaaaayyyyyyy in the back in the last grid amongst a sea of cyclists. As I wait for the start I'm amazed by the number of ultra high end bikes. These are serious dudes and women (nearly 900 participate). One guy next to me, that was so old that flesh was hanging off his arms, has a SCOTT Addict frame with LIGHTWEIGHT carbon wheels ($4,000 a pair). As they say here, it's in the "gamba" (legs).
I'm very relaxed but shivering. The sun is starting to peak over the mountain tops. I know it's chilly now but once the gun goes off it's all uphill to where the first pass, Campolongo, begins. The roads are lined with speakers so you can here all the announcements being made at the starting line. The helicopters are in the air, the race is broadcast live on RAI. You hear the sound of cleats coming at you in a wave as everyone clips into their pedals.
It's slow going towards the start line but once you reach it the road opens up as everyone is motoring. I grab wheels here and there, people are hopping onto mine. It's crazy. I know the first climb will weed a lot of riders and it will thin out more and more as the day goes on. I plan on riding a steady pace, not frying myself. Through Corvara and we are onto the Passo Campolongo climb. The legs take a few minutes to get accustomed to the effort. At the top I skip the rest stop, and make a fast descent into Arabba. I pass many people and only a few pass me; the Richard Sachs is great. Reaching the bottom it's a very quick right turn and bang, it's the Passo Pordoi climb. Many people have to get off their bikes as they get caught in their big chain ring. I roll down my arm warmers and unzip my jacket. It's a grind up to 2,239 m (7, 345 feet). I concentrate on turning the pedals and riders, it's still a bit crowded. The descent of Pordoi into Canazei can be very cold as it's in the shade early in the morning so at the top I roll my arm warmers back up and zip up my jacket. Down the Pordoi like a rocket; unfortunately I pass my first accident. I imagine this is what a WWII dog fight was like....you're passing people left and right, people are passing you...this on downhill straights and switchbacks. It's wild. Arriving in Canazei I skip the rest stop. It's now the climb of Passo Sella, 2,244 m. Now I'm starting to feel it. I make it over Sella, descend, and then it's up the Passo Gardena. Over the Gardena and then it's a rocketship descent, and yet another accident, into Corvara.
This is where your head plays game with you. You go down the finishing stretch. BUT, oh NO. Only those that opt for the 55 km course finish now. The 106 and 138 km riders stay to the right with the full knowledge that you have to climb Passo Campolongo AGAIN. In Corvara, Ms. E. is waiting for me and I quickly give here my cycling jacket which is completely soaked. I start climbing Campolongo again. At the top I stop at the rest stop this time to quickly fill my water bottles. I descend again but this time instead of turning right we turn left and head towards the village of Andraz. For all the spectacular sights of the Maratona this is my favorite stretch of road as we head towards the very nasty Falzarego climb. You ride along the edge of a road that looks down into an incredible valley. I'm getting tired now and I try to grab a wheel here and there. We turn left onto the Falzarego (here I can opt to go on the 138 km route having easily made the time limit but sanity prevails and I stay on the 106km course). This climb just kills me. It's long and goes to 2,200 m. I'm looking at my watch, trying to calculate if I can make the 6 hour goal. It's going to be close. Bad thoughts come into my head, "Shit, why am I killing myself." But, I hang in there. It's one of those climbs that when you look up you just say to yourself, "My god, I'm going up there?". I make to the top, welcomed by an abandoned WW I fortress where the soldiers must have spent miserable times. It was cold. I decided I really had to take advantage of the descent so it was really, really fast going back into (I've read that Sean Yates, known to be a great descender, reached 70 mph on this road) . I'm not sure I can make the time of 6 hours (so I can get into a better starting grid next year) as it's uphill towards from LaVilla to Corvara and the finish. I'm tired. But, I keep going. I make it to the finish and I think I've made it in just under 6 hours.
I go to the hotel, shower and change and come back for the Barilla Pasta Party. Ms. E is awed by the crowd. Everyone is feeling that special sense of accomplishment you get when you do these crazy things.
I received this email from the Maratona:category: 106km Uomini/Herren/Male 58-65
place overall: 1246
place category: 84 (out of 270).
I made it!! Last year my time was 6:47 so I made quite an improvement. Who says you can't get better with age?
Photos: me at 5:15 a.m. leaving hotel; the start line; Passo Campolongo; Passo Sella.