So we got down to Italy without great drama, although presssure of work meant that I was snatching web access on the way, while in Brussels and while staying with Elke.
The Maratona is a very serious event for the area and for the country, with several hours of TV broadcast live from the event on RAI, the national broadcasting system.
The work carried on all week, although I did get a ride around the short course for training. It wasn’t too bad and I took just over 3.5 hours, which would put me on course for a reasonable finish time when I did the full course. The rest of the week was busy with work, but the view out of the window was great, of the dolomites! I did get a couple of short training sessions in.
Yvette was great, and very supportive of the ride. I had a good start number and wanted a reasonable position, so with a 6.30 start and ‘late arrivals’ going to the back, I went to the start at about 5.15 am. It was expected to be cold, but as the hotel was only a kilometre or two up the road from the start, she agreed to stand there and take my spare bottle and warm jacket. I was able to dress for standing around for an hour in the cold and was glad I did so!
The start was very well organised and I guess I was a couple of hundred from the front of the second section (the first section of numbers up to 1000 was separated). Almost everyone around me was Italian, so there was little banter. The only person that I saw that I recognised on the event was Josey, a rider from San Francisco that I met and chatted to in the registration line! And I only saw the back of her (she had her name on her back!)
We got away without any drama, just a few minutes after 6.30. I found Yvette and got rid of my jacket. Then I realised that I had left my rain jacket in it so had to go back to get it. I wasn’t expecting rain, but the jacket is light and windproof. It worked brilliantly on the long descents at keeping me warm.
The first couple of climbs were very busy, with late starters that wanted good times dashing each side. I had, sadly, left my HRM chest strap at home, but had decided that I know what I can sustain, so didn’t bother trying to find another. In every other respect, the mechanics and bike were exemplary. I had changed the brake blocks and cleaned and polished it on the Friday so that it was looking good!
Anyway the first two climbs were great and straightforward. I felt good.
When I did the test ride, I found the climb to Sella quite tough and when I got back I saw that it had a relatively high gradient, so I decided to take it very easy and that worked well. Quite a few people passed me on the way up, but I went past a good number on the way back down. (I’m not a good descender, but about mid-range – although I chicken out at around 40mph!)
I went over the Gardena pass at 9.45, bang on time. I had been hoping to maintain 16km per hour – not fast on the flat, but this area is anything but! I knew if I maintained that speed I would get round in time.
There was a long descent into Corvara in Badia, the main centre for the race and I had arranged to meet Yvette there to change clothing items if needed, but, sadly, the path from the hotel to the village was not as direct as it had looked when we walked along it a couple of evenings before, so she wasn’t there. I rode slowly through the village to try to see her and, of course, didn’t realised I’d missed her until I got out at the other end – some way up the hill. I didn’t want to wait, so carried on with the second climb of the road out of Corvara. Again that went well.
I was well on track, at 3 hours 24 minutes, against 3 hours 34 when I had done it on Monday. I suspect that this was the faster descending because of the closed roads.
The next section was a long descent and relatively(!) flat road to Cernadoi, where the road split between the medium and the long course. (I’d already done the short course, which ended in Corvara). The medium course had one more long, but not too steep climb (5.8% overall) and I was confident I could do that. I was surprised at the time that around 2/3 of those coming to the split when I did were taking the medium course. That should have told me something!
My legs were beginning to tire, but I decided that I hadn’t come all this way to ‘chicken out’ at the Passo de Giau. This is a tough climb, but by the time I got to the bottom, it was mid-day and the climb started in shade. The first section is a ‘leg warmer’ at around 15% and most of the climb is 11% – 12%, so it’s a tough one. But, I had an average speed of over 16kph, so was on target!
Sadly, the shade didn’t last and the temperature started to really rise. Just as last year on the Ventoux, I struggled to cope with slow speed, high gradients and high temperatures. The Garmin Edge 500 that I now have (and which seems to be dramatically more reliable than the 305 I used to have) tracks temperature. It shows that at the bottom of the climb (in the shade) it was just 30°C (86°F). I’m pretty sure that it actually got up to 37°C (98.6°F), but the recording peaks at ‘just’ 36°C (97°F).
Sadly, as with the Ventoux, I really couldn’t cope and only around a quarter of the way up, I had to get some shade to cool and get my heart rate down. The rest of the climb was a combination of walking, pedalling and cooling. About a third of the way up, the ‘rescue car’ asked if I wanted to give up, but I decided to press on. At around half way, the official ‘end of the race’ car went past, which meant the end of the closed road arrangement. I pressed on. However, after I got around 600m (2000′) up the climb, I realised that the unaccustomed walking was causing trouble (cycling shoes and steep hills are not an ideal combination!).
The fifth time that the rescue ‘taxi’ asked me, I decided that my legs were now going, so even if I got over the Giau, I wouldn’t get over the final climb, so I gave in and took the ride back to Corvara.
So, I completed the short course (twice) and came close to doing the same distance and climbing as the uphill parts of the medium course, so I could say ‘I did it’. But honestly, I feel as though I really didn’t do myself justice.
The plan for later this week is to try the second half of the course again, but at a time when the temperature will be nearer to the level that I’m used to in the ‘Surrey Hills’. Of course, doing it in parts is not the same, but I’d like to understand better the effects of the heat. If I can’t do it without the heat – then that also tells me that I’ve found my limit. For now, at least. And that would put paid to my real dream plan of trying the ‘Marmotte‘.