Cycling in the Dolomites is an experience comparable to beholding the handiwork of the divine. Harsh rock and cliff faces in this part of northeastern Italy are harmoniously married to lush emerald fields and evergreen forests. Anyone who has participated in the Maratona dles Dolomites (The Dolomite Marathon) knows how stunning the panorama can be, especially when biking through these glorious passes, roads closed, with other cyclists. Nine thousand other cyclists, according to the statistics from the official Maratona dles Dolomites website. In 2008, there was again the same number. Needless to say, this is one of the most popular of the great Italian Granfondo (an “endurance” or “long distance” cycling event, loosely translated). In fact, the organizers of the Maratona dles Dolomites need to cap the number of participants every year. The more people who sign up, the more difficult it is to organize, and the more dangerous the event becomes. If they were to get 10,000 or more on these narrow roads, the start would be more than chaos: it would be hell.
Setting the opening scene, many of the participants have never competed in a “race” of this caliber (90% of cyclists are there to safely finish the course), and the starting line is the most daunting part. Beginning at La Villa in Alta Badia, there are three general routes one can ride: the short 55 km, the medium 106 km and the long 138 km options. Some look at the 138km and think it’s easy, yet forget to consider the elevation gain is around 4190 m (yes, meters – for feet, multiply by three). In addition, the three courses are all interlinked in some way – especially the short, a loop all cyclists must do no matter what option they choose. Around 7:00 am, everyone starts. Everyone. The elbow-to-elbow riding from La Villa (flat) is invigorating, but when ascending Campolungo, that’s where technique comes into play. Speed is dictated by the allure of the surrounding cyclists, pinched between the Sunday stroller ahead and the weekend whizzer behind – while climbing uphill. It’s a rather precarious situation and every year I have participated, there has been an accident coming down from Passo Sella, in the exact same spot. No misunderstanding, it’s a great race and one I’ve done four times. Unfortunately it’s the number of people that make – and break – all the fun.
Enter Kuota. I have already written a blog post on Kuota’s commitment to cycling in their local community through the Granfondo Fabio Casartelli here. Kuota saw what was happening at the Maratona dles Dolomites and decided to join with others to do something about it. They are, in part, sponsoring another race in the Dolomites. The Gröden Bike Marathon takes place in the Val Gardena, crossing other famous peaks such as Fedaia and Pordoi. Their event has a two-fold advantage: one, the racers get to see a completely different side of these majestic mountains, and two, since this is the race’s first year, not many cyclists know about it, thus numbers will be low. Of course, like all Granfondo, there is an entry fee. However, if you show up with your Kuota bicycle, you don’t pay anything – the registration is free. It is a UDACE certified, pro/amateur race, complete with all the other extras expected at these memorable events: gifts and awards, pasta lunches and good people who are there just to have a fun time. If you’re interested in the event itself go to the Gröden Marathon site (you may need Google Translate since the site is in Italian and German). If you’re interested in the Kuota bike line check out their website here. Again, Kuota sees cycling – and the mountains – in a different light, from a different valley. Consequently, thanks to the Gröden Bike Marathon, cyclists can now appreciate this divine art from more than just one perspective.