Cycle Racing in the Dolomites

12 August 2016

It’s all about bikes here in the Alta Badia. What with the Giro d’Italia passing through last month, the Maratona on the horizon next month and a weekend of cycle events just passed, the valleys and passes are full of visitors and locals stretching their legs. Despite some slightly turbulent weather over the last few days, both the Hero mountain bike race and the Sella Ronda bike day went ahead without issue and the local towns and villages have enjoyed the attention from riders all over the world. Both of the events have an impressive reputation due the impeccable organisation involved and spectacular backdrop.

The Hero Südtirol Dolomites

The Hero Südtirol Dolomites, which went ahead on Saturday, June 18, claims the impressive title of Europe’s hardest mountain bike race. With two optional routes riders can choose between 60km with 3,200m of ascent or 86km with 4,500m. The itineraries wind their way through some of the Dolomites most well-known towns and passes, circumnavigating the Sella massif. Riders are expected to burn around 4,000 calories whilst riding at altitude so many train for weeks, if not months before, to be in condition for the race… and with good reason! For the pro competition the winners of each category are entitled to €3,000. Peak prizes (like the Tour de France’s king of the mountain) are handed out as well to the first man and women to the top of the designated passes. Those competing in the ‘hobby’ competition can also be in the running to win bikes and other merchandise from sponsors.

This year’s event saw some pretty cold and wet conditions and many riders finished the day caked in mud –arguably the sign of a good mountain bike day. Our own George Murray gave it a crack and despite getting pretty chilly in the rainy weather he returned unscathed and in good spirits.

The Sellaronda Bike Day

The Sellaronda Bike Day is an all the more relaxed affair but nevertheless has become one of the Dolomites best known sporting events. On the day the roads that link the four passes of the Sella, Campolongo, Gardena, Sella and Pordoi, are closed to traffic meaning cyclists can ride without worry! There’s no limit to the amount of participants and riders can go on for as long as they like. It is also free to join in and anyone can do at anytime from anywhere on the course. For one rotation of the Sellaronda elevation gain is around 1,800m over 70km. The day is always taken in good humour with all ages participating. In years gone past not only conventional road bikes have been ridden but also e-bikes (electronic assisted bikes), unicycles and even a penny farthing has been spotted! The local bike rental shops are very busy over the lead up to the event and it is recommended to pre-book your bike if you want to hire one out!

Colletts presented its own motley team of riders this year from chalet teams Verena, Angelo and Haus Valentin! Some with the gear and some not, they set off from Corvara and made it back in time for tea. You don’t need the lycra and a light weight bike –though it helps –all you really need is the determination (and maybe a waterproof).

The Maratona dles Dolomites

The Maratona on the other hand really is a lycra day. This serious bike event has been running since 1987 and has seen ever increasing success and popularity. In its very first year there were but 166 participants who set out on a 175km course that started and finished in Pedraces. Only one of those riders was a lady, arriving but an hour behind the winner. Now almost thirty years later the race is capped at approximately 9,000 riders and athletes from all over the world apply to compete.

Originally participant numbers weren’t capped but in 2005 organisers had to introduce a draw system and only those with their name chosen could compete. This was initially controversial but eventually accepted by everyone. Applicant numbers usually double that of the cap so it’s easy to see why the draw system and cap had to be introduced. Professional athletes are invited to the event and are not part of the draw system. Charity entries can also be bought at Gold (€250), Platinum (€500) and Crystal levels (€1500). The Marantona supports the following charities:

  • Südtiroler Sporthilfe –supporting young talents who cannot afford to finance their competitions.
  • Association of Groups of Belluno –a non-profit organisation who support disabilities in Uganda.
  • Alex Zanardi BIMBINGAMBA association –which make artificial limbs who have undergone amputations and don’t have access to proper healthcare.

Today there are three routes of varying difficulty. The main Maratona course is 138km with 4,230m of altitude gain. The middle course is 106km with 3,130m altitude taken in and the Sellaronda course is 55km with 1,780m. Participants can choose which length course they like and will receive the Maratona jersey and medallion on completion of the day.

Each year has a theme since the year 2000 beginning with ‘Living is an Art’. In the years since themes have included magic, angels, colours, harmony, forgiveness and ecological motivations. Making the competition as environmentally friendly has always been a focus for the organisers. In 2009 the theme was energy and a shuttle service was set up to reduce pollution in the Alta Badia and surprisingly in that same year one of the first competitors to cross the line was disqualified for throwing waste away during the race. By 2010 the event boasted a 70% carbon neutral certification. Many changes have been made each year including closing the route to cars, using electric powered vehicles, eliminating individual plastic wrapping of the official jerseys and introducing the eco-pocket on the side of the jersey to reduce the amount of rubbish thrown out by riders. Even the post-race proceedings have become eco-centric with completely recyclable cups and plates at the finish line refreshment station. Numbered slips are also given out to all the riders at the finish line once they hand their bottles back for recycling. Over the years cleaning staff have seen a 50% reduction in waste on the roads and the event’s carbon neutrality index in 2012 was 80%. The Maratona leads by example as one of the world’s most beautiful and eco-friendly bike races. May it go on for many years to come.

The Dolomites is put firmly on the map by supporting so many brilliant sporting events in both the summer and winter. With the terrain on offer through this UNESCO world heritage site it’s not surprising that people travel far and wide year after year to attend such events. Whether you’re a professional rider or just enjoy riding your bike on the daily commute there’s something here for everyone. Book a holiday to the Dolomites with Colletts now.

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