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An unbelievable day at the amazing Maratona.

I almost feel guilty writing this, why me, how come I got THIS lucky. Today was the amazing Maratona dles Dolomites. I’d never ridden it before, had always been drawn to The Marmotte, mainly because it’s so much easier to get to, but when Sports Tours International offered me the opportunity to work with them at this year’s event I jumped at it. I’d been to the Dolomites once before, ridden a few of the climbs, but on this trip, together with my mate Paul I spent a week here ticking off everything from Monte Grappa, The Marmolada to the insane Zoncolan, (researching my next book). Once all the research was done, and with 10,000 metres climbing in my legs it was time for the Maratona. Like I said I’d ridden the Marmotte many times and though that was a big event, until I came here. The Maratona feels like a stage of a Grand Tour, roads lined with advertisements, banks of motorbike outriders, helicopters circling in the air and the guys up front, they take this very seriously indeed. This is far from just some sportive, winning this event hold proper kudos and the quality of the field reflects this. Anyway, onto my ride. I was very happy, I clocked 5.52, to be 51st in my age group and 263rd out of 9000. My legs had felt shite all the way round after all the riding and driving we had done during the week, but for once I didn’t give a damn about my time, not a damn. Why? Because what happened during the ride simply made it irrelevant.

For starters, the scenery is like nothing on earth. It’s as close to paradise as I could imagine and every second is a pleasure and a privilege to simply be there, on these slopes, in these surroundings, you have to pinch yourself at times to see if you are dreaming. It was a bit congested on the first climb, I was warned about this but by the time we got to the Passo Pordoi the giant 9000 rider peloton had thinned out and you had plenty of space to ride at your preferred pace. About half way up I came up behind a rider in full Quickstep kit with matching Specialized, but before I could think to my self, ‘Full kit w…’ I read his name on his number. Elia Viviani. THE Elia Viviani who only the previous day had won the Italian National Road Race. We were all here, at the highlight of our season, turning our selves inside out and he was on a gentle recovery ride. I asked for a selfie, he obliged, smiled, real nice guy, then I DROPPED HIM and rode off.

Onto the next climb, the Passo Sella, and two kilometres from the top there’s some chancer with HUGE legs with the name Palo Bettini on his back. It only turns out to be THE Paolo Bettini, Italian legend and double World Champion. I asked him for a selfie, he smiled and obliged, then I DROPPED HIM.

So two legends acosted, three mountians ticked off and up next was the Passo Gardena followed by the long descent into Corvara and the second time up the Passo Campolongo. Rolling up, picking off a few more riders, and then who is this in full Sky Kit? Oh, it’s Dario Cioni, he was just making a call at the side of the road, then he zipped off ahead. A kilometre later I caught up with him and he had another Sky rider on his wheel, but this rider had no name/number on his back. He also didn’t look like a PRO. Wasn’t lean enough, could it be? YES, it was the one and only master of spin himself, Dave Brailsford. However by the look on his face, I think my request of a selfie would not of gone down well so I just DROPPED HIM, and rode off. I took my feed from the wonderful pit crew at the Sports Tours Gazebo then set off for the big one, the one and only Passo Giau. The transition to the climb would normally have been a quite mundane, however I managed to liven it up by opening a gel with my teeth and in my haste swallowing not only the contents of the sachet but the top of the packet. F**K. There and then I thought I was chocking, that was it I would die on the Maratona. I quickly gulped down most my drink, rammed a bit of a bar in too, anything to try and move it. I could still feel it there. I can still feel it there now, although I assume it’s all in my mind (watch this space for updates). So I lost a bit of pace on my way to The Giau, but I was still breathing so figured I’d give it my best shot. Unlike the other climbs that had been perfectly manageable, The Giau is 10 kilometres of 10% gradient, it is survival, it is a grind, it is unpleasant. About one kilometre in there was a large rider in red in front and I crawled every so slowly up to his wheel. Then I saw his number and name. Then I rubbed my eyes, then I rode in front to look at his face, it was, it was him, it was only MIGUEL INDURAIN. Five time Tour winner, here in front of me, not security, no minders just him, just out for a bike ride. Now I was star struck. I asked for a selfie but was fumbling with my phone so much he had to put his hand on my back to keep me moving forward, (FOR REAL) I mean, what a guy. Anyway, got my selfie, shock his hand, told him he was a legend then... DROPPED HIM. I rode off, he fell back, did that just happen? About four kilometres from the top of this brutal climb I looked down and he was coming back at me, he had dug deep and was making his move, or I had blown. He caught me, I was with another rider at the time, we shared a few words and this time he rode off, but with me on his wheel. I sat on Indurain’s wheel for close to he last three kilometres of The Giau. I also took some pics, and tried to take a movie, which was awful, but then just sat there, just trying to get my head round what was happening. The pace was stiff but there was no way I was losing this wheel. He pointed out every blemish in the road, the perfect gentleman and of course 50m from the top I jumped him for the KOM, which got a laugh, then I rolled in to fill my bottle, eat half a banana to help move my gel wrapper along in a state of disbelief.

I will NEVER forget that, what a privilege, what a legend, no entourage, no minders, no security, just one of the greatest riders of all time out riding his bike. The last climb hurt, especially the final two kilometres into a punishing wind, but the ride was almost over. I sped down into Badia, pottered up the Mur di Gait trying to avoid cramp then went flat out for the finish to leave NOTHING on the road. JUST SIMPLY UNBELIEVABLE. I urge, I beg, I demand you ride the Maratona one time, it is just out of this world amazing.

Thanks again to Sports Tours International for their hospitality, and it goes without saying that if you want to ride, they are the people to come with. Check out their website.

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