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Good morning, Dolomites Marathon. It's 4:30 a.m., and usually at this time, one would turn over and go back to sleep, but not on the first Sunday of July. It's better to prepare because the adventure begins in two hours. I look out the window of the Sassongher hotel, at the foot of the giant Dolomite that stands over Corvara in Badia, trying to guess the weather that will accompany us during our cycling challenge.
We go down for breakfast, and some are already fully dressed, while others still have sleepy faces and are in their pajamas. The buffet is as rich as those at weddings, and the temptation is to spend the morning there. But then the clock strikes 5, and it's time to get ready. We put on an extra layer to combat the morning chill, while the rain shouldn't make an appearance.

5:30 a.m. The migration of the ants begins as each one from their own hotel starts heading towards the starting point in La Villa, just steps away from the legendary Gran Risa, the ski slope where the world's best giant slalom skiers battle it out every December in the Alpine Ski World Cup stage. Now, instead of pristine white, it is covered in vibrant green, and as we approach the start, we are engulfed by the music and the celebration that already surrounds the long line of participants.
6 a.m. We warm up and exchange a few words with our neighbors, then take a peek at the grill where many sports champions are gathered. The smile of biathlete Lisa Vittozzi, the jokes of Olympic and world champion Paolo Bettini, the concentration of cross-country skier Federico Pellegrino. Then the Shark arrives, Vincenzo Nibali, someone who has written indelible pages of cycling on these mountains, and the crowd erupts in applause for him.
6:15 a.m. On the starting grid, I meet skier Laura Pirovano, whom I often write about during the winter. "It feels like we're at the Ski World Cup!" I say to her. "Not at all, it's much better, there's really everything here," she replies with a smile before making her debut at the Marathon.
6:29 a.m. After the blessing, the event's deus ex machina, Michil Costa, gives his farewell: "Being humans among humans, becoming human again. In this inhumane world, finally open your eyes and tear them away from the daze of screens, and pedal together towards that place within us made of beautiful humanity. Today, always."

The adrenaline rises, and the countdown begins. Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Let's go! The bike celebration begins, and we pedal through the magical scenery that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
16 MDD36 Manuel Glira
The first climb on the menu for all the eight thousand participants is the Campolongo. From there, the Sellaronda begins (a 55 km route with 1780 meters of elevation gain), and if you choose the medium route, you'll also tackle the Falzarego-Valparola combo (106 km and 3130 meters of elevation gain). The daredevils who go all-in and choose to do the full Marathon (138 km and 4230 meters of elevation gain) will face the formidable Giau before the Falzarego. The first effort of the day is behind us, the panorama in front of us is enchanting, and we dive down towards Arabba.
Passo Pordoi, just the name itself, and thoughts fly to the great legends of cycling: above all, the name of Fausto Coppi, and at the top, there is a monument that remembers him. A tribute to the Campionissimo is deserved, especially after being captivated by the splendid hairpin turns of one of the most fascinating Dolomite climbs, with the whistling of marmots interspersing the buzz of bicycles.
We descend again, and when we start climbing again from the quiet Pordoi, we pass through the noisy Sella, with the jingling bells of pheasants and their shouts encouraging us meter by meter. Even after passing them, it is still possible to hear them behind you when you're almost at the top. It's impressive to think that up here, the unforgettable Pirate Marco Pantani raced (alongside Giuseppe Guerini) in 1998 when he sprinted towards the Maglia Rosa.
The sun warms our hearts as we head towards Passo Gardena, with a quick stop at the refreshment stand halfway up the climb, with many smiling volunteers ready to satisfy the hunger and thirst of all those who decide to refuel. The descent towards Corvara restores new energy: some cross the finish line and end their challenge, while others continue on the medium and long routes.
Before taking on Campolongo for the second time, my "groupies" are waiting for me: my wife Katia and my daughter Olimpia, who just turned 4 last month. Some encouragement, photos in the style of visiting relatives at the Giro d'Italia, and then it's time to continue on the saddle. Off with the arm warmers, the temperature is perfect now.

On the fifth challenge of the day, I meet the influencer Elisa Scarlatta, with whom I share the entire final part of the medium route after crossing paths several times on the previous climbs. One of the beautiful things about the Maratona is precisely this: you never pedal alone, and there is always someone ready to share a few meters with you. And the other peculiarity is that you find yourself sharing the spectacle of the Maratona with people who love cycling like you do and come from every corner of the world.

While I think about the beauty of this multicultural festival, there is the last crossroads of the day: the medium or long route? Those who choose the first one head towards Passo Falzarego for about eleven kilometers and then another one and a half towards Valparola. Those who, instead, opt for the long route are faced with the formidable Giau. This time, I choose the first one, also because this year I have talked and followed cycling more than I have practiced it, but I will still tell you what happens to those who choose the second option, having challenged it five times at the Marathon.

The Giau never gives up an inch and captivates you not only with the beauty of its panorama but also with the muffled emotions you feel while facing it. Everything slows down, not just the pedaling rhythm, and by your side, you find fellow travelers struggling against fatigue and cramps, but as soon as they see you, they try to give you a smile between one grimace of fatigue and another. After conquering this giant and descending the other side of Falzarego, it's beautiful to gather at the last refreshment station before the final descent towards Alta Badia.
Are the hardships over? Not at all! There's the craziest, but also the most fun and noisy part. In La Villa, in fact, a right turn and a sign with a famished cat says it all: Mür dl Giat. It resembles one of the walls of the classic Northern spring races, with gradients reaching 18%, but pushing you upwards are the cheers of the many enthusiasts gathered along the road. If you close your eyes, for a moment, it feels like you're at the Giro d'Italia.
The cat is tamed, the finish line is close now. The last kilometer, the flame rouge: the legs burn, the heart ignites with emotion. We're almost there, the finish line is there, and a warm reception awaits us, followed by the colorful and tasty pasta party, where each participant proudly shows off their finisher's medal.
Fatigue gives way to the joy of sharing the satisfaction of making it with everyone. Between one dish and another, along with some well-deserved beer, we joke with friends, old and new. I find Christof Innerhofer, whom I have the privilege of following around the world during the winter and who gives everything to the mountains. Together, we remember his Olympic gems in Sochi 2014 and talk about how great it is to meet without the burden of work rhythms for once. Behind us, Sassongher watches us and already seems to be waiting for us in the new year.

Giulan Maratona dles Dolomites, see you again on July 7, 2024!
AlexMoling 71
Words: Alberto Dolfin | Photocredits: Maratona dles Dolomites
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