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

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Maratona dles Dolomites MMVII - Sunday Morning

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Sunday morning, praise the dawning
It’s just a restless feeling by my side

Velvet Underground playing, the sun has yet to break. The sight of a Liquigas rider, straddling his bike, just outside of my hotel, talking into his mobile, reminds me that ‘I’m not in Kansas anymore’. I roll off to the start, where the music is piped out of loudspeakers set up the day before. Standing there, flicking the brakes, taking last minute nature breaks, chewing on a power bars, several thousand riders fill the road in front, behind, and beside me.

I wonder if the DJ realized how appropriate his choice of music was? For some this is just another Sunday on the bike, for others it’s what they’ve been working for since last October.

I glance over at the guys who I traveled here with. A few look pensive, lost in their thoughts. The others are joking with each other. Giddy with nerves, I’m hyperactive, trash-talking to one of the guys, who I’m fairly certain will finish well ahead of me, because he’s the natural climber of our group. Only the night before, he said that one of his goals was to reel me in on the Giau and say “Salve Prutser”. I tell him to take a good look at my number, because it was going to be the last time he’ll see it today. We laugh.

Early dawning, sunday morning
Its just the wasted years so close behind

As I wait for the official start, I think about what lies ahead. The previous two years I opted to ride a conservative Maratona. It seemed the wise choice. The first time I rode it I hadn’t done much training due to work, and apart from a map with a profile that looked like an EKG graph, I had no idea of the course. Last year I knew what to expect, but once again I took it easy, stopping at most of the feed stations, eating strudel, drinking iced tea, enjoying the views, only really putting an effort into it after the Sella Ronda. I must confess that I never saw the point in ‘racing’ the Maratona. Built the way I am, there didn’t seem much point.

This year was different. While I wasn’t going to ‘race’ it per se, I wanted to see what kind of time I was capable of. The stupid thing is that I decided to do it only because I’ve run into too many people who have also done the ride, and were surprised by my past times. I suppose I felt the need, or more specifically my ego felt the need, to provide a reply to their skeptical looks. The truth is, the only people who are actually racing are the 40 guys at the very front, the ones with the red numbers. The rest of us are merely riding a 138 km time-trial.

Watch out, the worlds behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all

After standing around for twenty minutes, we get the signal to go. There’s no gun, no bell, just the sound of hundreds, in fact thousands, of cleats clicking into their pedals, flowing from the front to the back. We’re off.

One of my friends rides past me. We call him the KM, short for Kop Man, or team leader, which is what he is, even though we’re far from a team. He made a name for himself back in the 80s and early 90s, when he raced, which he no longer does. Out of curiosity, and a certain competitive instinct, I latch on to his wheel, to observe him in action. He effortlessly weaves his way through the group, occasionally repeating the mantra of the first 10 kms – occhio, occhio, occhio, look out, look out, look out. The riders in front of him give way, and he moves ahead. I follow his line, but find myself gently tapping a few hips, to let them know there’s another rider coming.

We hit the base of the Campolongo, and the KM moves to the left side of the road, and speeds away on the initial steep grades of the road. Occhio, occhio, occhio. I had planned on a moderate start to the day, but my curiosity gets the better of me. I reel him in, and clutch on, as best as I can. He doesn’t look around, but he knows I’m there because I’m wheezing. The climb gets easier about halfway up, once we pass the Mobile Homes parked in a hairpin. I ride alongside, and we smile at each other. “We reeled in a lot of them back there” he says, and then he moves on.

The road dips, as we pass a golf course on the left, then continues it’s upward trajectory. I look at my heart rate, it’s way too high, so I ease off. Meanwhile the KM maintains his pace. I keep an eye on him as he rides 150-200 meters ahead. Once again the road flattens, and I manage to claw my way back to him. When I catch on, he tells me to try and recover a bit. We relax, and say “Salve” or “Sao” to the riders that we pass, and “Complimenti” to the few riders that pass us.

I look down at the road and notice that it’s clean. Normally the Campolongo is littered with gels, used and unused, gloves, arm warmers, glasses, and various other things that have fallen out of people’s pockets. Maybe this is due to the fact that this year there’s an anti-litter campaign going on, or maybe it’s because I’m riding near the front, instead of the back. Who knows?

As I’m think about the clean roads, the KM reaches back and puts on his vest. We have made it to the top. I try to do the same, but with so many riders zipping about I’m feeling nervous, so I pull over and put my vest on. Better that way, less chance of a crash. Vest on, arm warmers up, and let the descending begins.

Sunday morning and I’m falling
I’ve got a feeling I don’t want to know

I can’t say I am flying down the descent, heading to Arabba, and I don’t think I'm taking any unnecessary risks, but I start to reel riders in one by one. Just as I begin to become confident, almost cocky, a rider comes past, on a straight bit of road. No problem. He swings left with the curve of the road, then hits the hairpin turn to the right. No problem. Then I see his rear wheel slip out from under him. In the mili-second that passes as I prepare to slam my brakes, and alter my line to avoid riding over him, or his bike, I see him make a last minute correction, and keep upright. I shout “well done”, then do what I have to do to get past him, even if he did manage to keep the rubber on the road.

Eventually the descent ends, and the road swings right, up the Pordoi, where I see the KM, 20 meters ahead. He’s stopped to take off his vest. I ride alongside, and manage to get my vest off (with a little assistance). The KM smiles and says “ride your tempo, and reel them in”, and he proceeds to do just that. I stay with him for a few km, but eventually decide to follow his advice, and follow my own tempo. He rides off. I start to pass riders, and get passed by a few as well. Somewhere along the way I see Connie Carpenter, for the second year in a row. I shout “Go Connie”, and she shouts “Enjoy your ride” back at me. Ten minutes later, I noticed a guy wearing an old school wool cycling shirt. As I come closer, I notice that he is wearing era specific wool shorts and shoes, topped off with a hairnet, and is riding a 50s-60s era bike, complete with bottle cages on the handlebars. Magnificent. I ride past, read his name on his number, and say “Complimenti Furio!”

I looked ahead, and the KM is still in sight, on the next switchback. It is going well, I’m making good time, but I look at my Heart Rate Monitor, and I know that I’m pushing myself way too hard, way too early. I think to myself: too late now, almost at the top.

By the time I reached the summit, the KM is long out of sight. The time trial is in full effect. Next up the Sella. That’s when I realize the error of my ways. My legs hurt. I have only completed 20 km and I am already worried that I burned myself out when I have yet to even begin. Oh well, no point in worrying about it, just ride my own tempo, and try and reel people in. Which is what I do, and which is what is done to me.

Early dawning, Sunday morning
Its all the streets you crossed, not so long ago

As I barrel down the descent of the Gardena, ignoring all of the advice I had given to others to take it easy when descending, I feel the old downhill skier instincts in me kick in. The one big difference is that you slide on snow, and you grate on gravel. Fortunately there was no sliding or grating to be had.

Finally I find myself entering Corvara, and hit the slopes of the Campolongo for a second time. By now the debris of 9,000 cyclists are scattered alongside of the road. Families and team support stand there, ready to pass a bottle, or take the extra clothes of a lucky few. Two women stand on the side of the road, shaking noise makers, cheering people on, but are obviously bored. A farmer, in a purple windbreaker and Tyrolean cap, leans on a gate, next to his cows, watching us climb by. I said “Salve”, he says “Sao”. The sensations in my legs are worrying me. I've only done 60 km, but my legs are heavy, and the Giau is still 30 km away.

I hit the top of the Campolongo, and with two empty bottles, and a long ways to go, I decide to make the first of two stops. With freshly filled bottles, and a mouthful of strudel, I hit the descent for the second time of the day. This time there are no near misses, only the sight of an old woman, who looks to be in her 80s, standing in front of her farm, watching us ride past. I shout “Bon Giornio!” I doubt she hears me, let alone understands me.

Once the road reaches Arraba, it’s time to take a left, and ride the rolling roads to the Giau. This is one of the few parts of the ride where a group comes in handy. I find myself with about 5-6 riders. Initially I decide to sit in, and “eat the off of their plates, before I eat off of my own”, as Hennie Kuiper once said, or maybe it was Knetemann. We reel in a few riders. Eventually, the universal signal for paceline is given, a twirling finger. I do what I have t do, we all do. Then one of the riders screws up the flow of the group. He has to be German: he’s wearing full tights; long sleeves; has a small backpack on; and his name was Manfred. Every time it’s his turn to ride on the front he accelerates. We let him go. Ciao Prutser.

Somewhere around Livinallongo our group swells to 20 plus riders. I settle back into the group, and do my best to prepare for the Giau. I drink some water, and eat. The road dips, and we reach the point of no return – left for the Falzarego, right for the Giau. Everyone in the group takes the right.

Watch out, the worlds behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all

Once again the road takes an upward direction, this time for a comparatively short and sharp 2.3 km up the Colle Santa Lucia. The group strings out. I watch a few roll off, while I try my best to maintain the tempo. That’s where I start to feel some cramp. My sartorius muscles to be exact. It’s not so bad that I feet like I have to pull over, just a dull throb. Needless to say, it’s not reassuring.

At the top of Santa Lucia I pull over, once again, to off my vest and take off my arm warmers. I hear “Salve Prutser”, and there he is, the climber from our group, riding past me with an ear-to-ear grin. I quickly catch up with him. I must have looked blown, because he speaks English to me for the first time in two years. We chat for a bit, and he tells me of the progress of the others, and admonishes me for going too fast at the start. He says “I’m feeling stronger and stronger”, as we hit the initial slopes of the Giau. I try riding with him for the first 500 meters before I realize what I have to do: ride my own tempo and try and reel riders in. He rides away, and I ride on.

For the next hour there is only one thing to do: survive. Most of what happens as I grind my way up the horrible mountain is a vague memory. I see a guy wearing a Team Adidas shirt pass me. I sing “My Adidas” and he turns around and smiles. We make some idle chit chat, it turns out he knows a friend of mine, who he last saw on the Sella. He’s clearly having a good day, and I’m holding him back, so he rides off, up the Giau.

I see someone up the road in a red and white jersey, and decide to try and reel him in. He's a switchback ahead of me for almost the entire mountain. While he’s oblivious to my chase, he maintains his gap, passing a rider for every rider I pass, getting passed by a rider for every rider I pass. Despite this little game, I have to take it easy, otherwise the discomfort in my legs is going to turn into full on cramps. Finally, with about 1km to go I edge my way up to him, with the summit in sight I get out of the saddle and give everything I have to pass him, ‘sprinting’ over the line. My ‘sprint’ is most likely nothing more than going from 10.5kph to 12.5kph. It doesn’t matter. I achieve what I have to achieve, I survive the Giau, once again.

Immediately I pull over, and fill my bottles, drink some warm coke, and eat another piece of strudel. I get back on my bike, and start rolling down the initial descent. I see a man, lying on the grass, watching us, as he puffs on his cigarette. The lucky bastard.

Watch out, the worlds behind you
There’s always someone around you who will call
It’s nothing at all

From there, it’s a frighteningly fast descent down the Giau, with near perfect roads, thanks to the fact that the Giro has been here less than 5 weeks ago. Flying down the descent, I look at my clock. Time is running short if I want to reach my ‘goal’. It’s going to have be a fast ride up the Falzarego. As I reach the base of the mountain, scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in WWI, my shell-shocked legs remind me that fast was not what they are by now. Tired, stiff, stale, empty, that’s how you could better describe them.

After the constant near 10% grind of the Giau, the Falzergo should seem like child’s play. With the Giau in your legs, it’s anything but. Nothing to do, just ride my own tempo, and try and reel people in, which is what I do, and is done to me. I catch up to a couple of Italian riders, and follow their pace. I hear someone shout “Salve Girogio!” behind me, and look over my shoulder and see a man who must be in his late 50s effortlessly ride past, giving a wink to one of the guys I’m riding behind.

Every time I try to get out of the saddle my legs seize up, but I do my best to push through. Time passes, riders reeled in. In the distance I spot a guy with blue and white cheque shorts and shirt. I had gone up the Pordoi with him at one point, 3 hours before. As I reeled him in, I try to say “Salve GianniMario”, but can only mumble it. He says something back, but I’m too blown to understand. I think it was something about the Pordoi. By now I’m only looking 10-20 meters ahead, focused mainly on my top tube, sticky with sweat.

As I reach the top of the Falzarego, there’s an ‘intersection’ with riders from the medium course joining up with riders from the “Maratona” course. I pass the rest stop, and ascend the the short sharp climb up the Valporola. It’s a little over 1km, and the final climb of the day. It shouldn’t be that hard, but when I get out of the saddle to try and force the pace, every muscle in my legs seize up, like an engine with sand in it. This last bit is going to hurt. I notice some official photographers on the right side of the road, and my vanity gets the better of me. I swerve from the left, across the road, to give them a better angle. I’m not sure if they take the opportunity presented to them.

Finally, as I spot Forte Tre Sassi, the road starts to dip downhill, and the descent down to San Cassiano and La Villa begins. The combination of surprisingly open roads, a few riders ahead who know what they were doing, and a target that was marginally within reach leads me to take the descent at full throttle. In fact I bomb down that descent. Before I even realize it, I hit the bottom, and I’m on the road to San Cassiano. As I pass the hotel I had stayed in the previous two years, I recall the roads. Once again I find myself with a group, when it’s really needed. Once again I find myself working against character, and try to sit in and suck wheel.

As we hit the edge of San Cassiano the road swerves left and dips down, taking you away from the traditional center. I remember what the KM said a few days before - If you’ve got enough momentum, you can almost hit 80kph here - which is what I try to do. As the road swings back up, someone in front of me brakes, causing me to brake. I ride past him and express my feelings. “Salve” is not one of the words I use.

Up and down, the road rolls to La Villa. As I hit the final descent, twisting into a short sharp hill, I get out of the saddle, once again, and try and gun it. No go. I’m with a group of about 20. We take the left, riding past my hotel, on the way to Corvara. The group is working, more or less. It’s not helped by the fact that for the first time that day, there’s traffic on the road.

Sunday morning

Four kilometers to go, and I’ve just passed the starting place I had stood at a little over 6 hours before. There’s a false flat, which hurts, but I’m doing my best to reel riders in, as a few reel me in.

I grow impatient. There’s no point in sitting on the other riders wheels anymore. They’re either too slow, or they’re coasting to the finish. I leave them behind. The traffic is getting in the way. Most of it is Tour Motorcycles, probably on a Dolomites tour. I think of Krabbe - The emptiness of their lives shocks me. I shout at them to get out of the way. I ride past the ‘flame rouge’, only one kilometer to go.

Sunday morning

I reach Corvara, for the third and final time today. I take a right. 500 meters to go. I pass a few riders, and I see something that looks like the finish. I’m confused. Did they change it this year?

300 meters to go and I see that the finish is indeed where it should be. I take a left. As pointless as it is, I get out of the saddle and sprint to the finish. I’m not paying attention to the riders around me, I’m just trying to cross the line.

My legs burn as I cross the line, and immediately turn into Jello as I climb off the bike, to walk through the traffic jam of bikes and riders trying to get off the road.

I look left, over the gate, and spot the KM and the Climber, who seem to have only just arrived as well. I shout to them – “Salve Prutsers!”

Sunday morning


Gregory Garrison said...

Excellent read! I enjoyed the intricacies of the event but loved the simple truth of the ride...

"Nothing to do, just ride my own tempo, and try and reel people in, which is what I do, and is done to me."

Magnifico Botto.

rog said...

Wonderfully told, mate. Hope I get the chance to do this one day...

Unknown said...

Awesome report Botto. I love reading these.

Unknown said...

great writing dude. a very concise version of krabbe's 'the rider'. i prefer this one, it's shorter.

Arron said...

fabulous. this ride is one i will do in my lifetime. later.

Unknown said...

I am preparing for this year's Maraton Dolomiti 2009. This article was very helpful for me and my team.

Shaver said...

good luck and enjoy!

Doc Adrian said...

Thanks for a wonderful read.Am preparing for the 2012 Maratona and your article was helpful. I'll remember the mantra "ride your own tempo".