Over 4500 people, one of the fastest courses, most of the top professional racers, I think this race is kind of a big deal, might be pretty quick. Sounds fun! Sebastian Jayne from The XC Perspective shares his experience of racing one of Italy’s classic marathons – the Dolomiti Superbike.
I’ve raced some pretty ‘big’ races like the cross-country World Cups that are live streamed internationally with many thousands of people also lining the course. At those races, the starting grid is filled with around 100 riders, and if you’re outside the top 20 your day is already off to a rough start. Lining up last Saturday, the elite starting grid at the Dolomiti Superbike had around 70 riders with elite men and women mixed together. A pretty decent size that should make your start quite important, even if it is a ‘marathon’. Perspective is a funny thing though. Like when you’re in the top 70 on a starting grid but it doesn’t seem so bad considering there is a further 4430 people behind you!
The Dolomiti Superbike is one of the legendary marathons in Europe and draws a massive following. Its long history includes the 2008 World Championships that ended in an infamous battle and sprint. No doubt every edition since the first in 1995 has seen some amazing personal moments for most racers. The course switches between a clockwise and anti-clockwise course, with the 2018 edition choosing the latter and faster option. How fast? Well, the leaders averaged over 26km/h for the 120km and 3300m of climbing. Yeah, really fast.
The Superbike would be my second major marathon in three weeks after a tumultuous period of injury and rebuilding, which you can read about here. My first race of the block was the Kitzalp Marathon in Kirchberg, which was a big contrast to the Superbike. It had many big climbs and being the Austrian Marathon Championships, it lacked the overall international depth, though certainly didn’t lack class. The Superbike beefed up the depth in a big way with most of the world’s top XCM racers present. I was reminded of this when I was, what I considered at the time to be, ‘down the back’ and looked around at all the rainbow and coloured sleeves that denoted either past world or national champions.
Of course, this depth meant the pace was on from the gun or at least felt that way with how I was feeling. I had planned to go as hard as I needed over the first climb to make a fast group for the following 50 minutes of flat and fast riding along the valley floor. A good plan but bad legs meant I was unable to go with the accelerations of the group I was in so was left isolated up and over the first climb.
The course winds its way through the Italian Dolomites just outside of Niederdorf in the Tirol region. It’s furthest point south is actually only a few kilometres from the World Championship course that will be held in September. It is on the same massif though on the ‘flatter’ side so a tad easier! Being on the flatter side means there are a lot more valley runs interspersed by sharp but still long climbs, which results in the high average speeds. This also makes riding in a group on the flatter sections important so as to save energy for the longer climbs that come in the last half of the course.
After the first climb, I managed to find a small group that worked well and stayed together for one hour. Even working together, we still lost over 2 minutes to the leaders on the first 35-minute flat section, which goes to show the importance that the start can play in a marathon race. While playing tactics was all well and good, the first major climb up to Monte Croda Rossa found me out.
I was feeling tired from the start after a big and dangerous ‘crash’ block of training to get ready for the second half of the season but had enough freshness to fluff my way along for 2 hours. There would be no fluffing on the Croda Rossa though, with an average gradient of 12.7% for 3.8km it turned into more of a suffer fest than I would have preferred! I knew I would come out of the crash block either flying or needing extra rest but either way the Superbike would be a good test event. Or so I thought, until about 4 hours in when I rode half way up the last major climb and got to the 150m section at 30%!
I decided to run my usual Shimano 36t chainring with my 11-46 rear cassette, which put me in the perfect gear even in my plodding state for the other 118.85km of the course. I averaged 44rpm over that section in comical fashion. Looking back, I could see flashes of red but didn’t think much of it as I was more concerned looking up and seeing riders far above in the trees meaning more steep climbing was to come! Thankfully, it was back to a more reasonable 8% and I could focus on ticking the pedals over for the last part of the climb.
Long story short, the guy in red was Cadel Evans, which I noticed on a switchback when I looked over to see his grimaced face chasing me down! The same grimaced face that’s on a poster in my home gym from some mountain in France. It did explain why there were motorbike camera people passing me all the time to get ahead and get a shot of the Tour de France champ. I thought if I could hold him off until the top of the climb I could ride along for the last section of the course with him which would obviously be cool. The climb was the only one I hadn’t looked at in course practice, which resulted in me asking anyone I could how far there was to go. Thankfully, after some German, misunderstood Italian and finally English I found out I was near the top.
Over the top of the climb I started stuffing down the last of my food in hopes my home-made muesli bar would get me to the end. I’m not sure where he made contact as I was too busy super tucking and eating on the fast asphalt descent, but the next thing I knew Cadel was past and smashing into the final climb! I stayed with him for a few metres and then just laughed as my legs disintegrated. So that was my ride with Cadel! It was pretty cool to see him smashing a mountain bike even for a short moment.
The last part of the race wasn’t actually terrible, and I managed to finish strong, probably thanks to my muesli bar, and loved the final singletrack descent to the finish. Coming home in 39th was good for an off day but even an off day on the bike is still really good especially when it’s in the Dolomites. Overall, the Dolomiti Superbike was certainly legendary. It was very much a gravel race and I would have preferred more singletrack, though the size of the field shows how the accessibility of a smoother course (I would say easier but no matter how fast or fit you are that course isn’t easy) can draw people in, especially when it’s in a setting such as the Dolomites.
The race was won by Samuele Porro from a fast finish of 5, with Alban Lakata in 2nd. Christina Kollman won the womens.