are sometimes smooth and silky, and other times tired and tight.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Maratona: Part VII (Falzarego & Valparola)

I have a photograph, of myself, taken somewhere between Passo Falzarego, and Passo Valparola, the last major climbs of the Maratona dles Dolomites. By the time the photograph was taken I had been on my bike well over 120 kilometers. The searing pain of ascending the Passo Giau 10 kilometers earlier has subsided to a dull ache.

After the slog up the Falzarego, and a break to refill my water bottles, I was lulled into the comforting thought that the hard part was behind me, my battle with gravity over, and that it was all downhill from there on. What I did not realize was that there was one more climb ahead, the Valparola. The two kilometers up that last pass were the most painful of the day, and believe me, there was plenty of pain that day.

While I can only vaguely remember the photograph being taken, I do clearly remember that there was the artillery along the side of the road. The odd thing is that I don’t recall the top of the previous climbs in the Maratona nearly as well; I even missed the Coppi monument on the Pordoi. Maybe it’s the simple fact that the Falzarego and the Valparola were the last climbs of the day, maybe it’s because it was once the site of some of the bloodiest fighting to take place at altitude.

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If Paris-Roubaix earned it’s sobriquet of the "Hell of the North” because the course passed over thousand year old cobbled roads, through what had been the front lines in World War I, then perhaps the Passo Falzarego is the “Hell of the South”. While the Western Front was bogged down in trench warfare, the Dolomites was similarly bogged down, but instead of trenches in fields, the fighting was from caves and trenches cut into the mountains and along the Dolomite summits.

From May 1915 to October 1917 the Italian Alpini fought a stalemate against the Austro-Hungarian Army in the Mountains of Cortina d'Ampezzo. The Falzarego was the Italians second line, and the headquarters of the Alpini’s Artillery, remembered today by the Museum of the Cinque Torri. On the 5th July, 1915, almost 90 years to the day that my photograph was taken, Italian batteries on the Falzarego pounded the Austrians based at the Valparola’s late 19th century Fort Tre Sassi, rendering it useless.

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Forte Tre Sassi
photograph by Stefano Zardini

So, if you find yourself riding the Maratona, and feeling sorry for yourself because you have to push yourself up one last climb, amounting to no more than a measly 2 kilometers - take a look around where you’re riding. It helps to put things into perspective.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"one last penultimate climb"

Seriously? The final of the penultimate climbs? How about the first of the antipenultimate climbs? How did that one go? ;)

[/funny-ha-ha attempt]

More good history to put our relatively easy lives into focus.