Every cyclist, whether mountain biker or racing cyclist, ends up in his amateur career sooner or later in a cycling marathon. “Eating kilometers” is a lot easier on a racing bike. There are numerous cycling marathons in the Alpine region, which also offer many metres of altitude difference. The longest are notorious and most cyclists want at least one of them finished once in their lives. Everybody knows the Ötztaler and also the Swiss counterpart “Alpenbrevet” with its different routes (the longest platinum route is even more extensive than the Ötztaler with 5 passes a 264 km and 6831 altitude; www.alpenbrevet.ch) have made a name for themselves. These cycling marathons are big events with thousands of participants. In the Ötztal cycle marathon, one gets a starting place – due to the high rush – even only with luck in the lottery. Many cyclists don’t like this crowd and especially “old hands” scrub such distances “for pleasure” outside the race events. But there is one last extreme Alpine cycling marathon, which is almost unknown, attracts only a few hundred starters and is even harder than the Ötztaler: the SuperGiroDolomiti.
The SuperGiroDolomiti was launched in 2014. It takes place on the same day as the Dolomite Tour and has parts of the route in common with it. Since its 27th edition, the organisers of the Dolomite Bike Tour have added the SuperGiroDolomiti. The classic round trip – as a circumnavigation of the Lienz Dolomites – is 112 km with an altitude difference of 1860 metres. The SuperGiroDolomiti has 232 km and an altitude difference of 5234 metres. These figures are not mumbled, they are also reproduced by the more accurate GPS devices. (www.dolomitensport.at)
What distinguishes the SuperGiroDolomiti is the incredible beauty of the landscape through which the participants pass. Start and finish is the picturesque Lienz. After a first ascent over the Gailbergsattel, the first pass is the Plöckenpass with a descent to Italy and the further ascent to the Lanzenpass. Although this pass was newly asphalted especially for the “Giro d´Italia” in 2012, there are hardly any signs to be seen of it due to renewed weathering. Afterwards the Nassfeld pass has to be mastered. After this “Italy excursion” the route leads back to Kötschach, where the classic Dolomite circuit will be followed in order to tackle the Kartitscher Sattel and then make the way back to Lienz.
At the end of the 2017 season, together with an acquaintance, I had decided to ride another cycling marathon in 2018 than the usual suspects. We researched the net and registered for the SuperGiroDolomiti. The track was completely unknown to me, so much the better! Dani had an MTB race a week later, so he decided to take the shorter Dolomite tour. Unfortunately my friend had to cancel the race due to a bike accident. There were about 300 starters and about 20 women. Anticipated: 278 and 15 women crossed the finish line. My goal was to finish and not become the last woman, because for this cycling marathon only more ambitious women riders usually sign up, the weaker participants choose the shorter route of the Dolomite Tour.
In the clear registration list of the cycling marathon I was then discovered by some Bavarian comrades-in-arms and contacted via social networks to meet live on site. The event is so small and fine that you can hardly miss it. In the tent of the event I met the acquaintances from Bavaria. From the Lower Bavarian corner were some cyclists, who had already ridden along several times and I let myself report from the distance. A nice female cyclist from Munich, who completed the shorter round trip this year, warned me about many sections of the route and I felt the panic creeping up in me. Especially the Lanzenpass was explicitly mentioned as difficult. “Lisa, hold on to the handlebars in the downhill,” I was advised impressively. The Lanzenpass – an old war road – was also mentioned at the driver’s meeting as a risk section, since it had come by rainfalls of the last days to mudslides and the route was cleaned, but by rain and thunderstorms dirt in the form of earth and stones on the asphalt could lie. In addition, the tar is often cracked with potholes and especially on the side of the descent there are enormous faults and bumps. But the Italian marshals would warn the drivers in time. Another acquaintance, Jörg from Nuremberg, who takes part every year and was able to break his record this year (he had been in the field with his first woman Nadja Prieling), told about his experiences with the Lanzenpass. This pass is extremely steep with long passages between 15 and 20%. Again and again metal water gutters and grids ran across the road, which become extremely slippery in the wet and due to the steepness would then like to spin a wheel. He had also seen a fall uphill when someone slipped his front wheel on a slippery channel. Getting back on the bike would also be a challenge with the narrowness of the track and the steepness. A queasy feeling crept up on me: what did I get involved with? The weather forecast didn’t promise anything good: Especially in the afternoon the risk for showers and thunderstorms was high, which would bring wet descents. After the Kaiserschmarrn party the evening before we went to bed with the numerous reports, advice and a queasy feeling.
The next morning I arrived at the start with the other participants of the SuperGiroDolomiti. The tour of the Dolomites started later in the morning. Despite the few starters there were even three starting blocks. There I met Jörg and we watched the field of participants which consisted mainly of men. He gave me a few tips about the course before it went quite flat after the starting signal. The scenario sounds more harmless than it was. A large part of the drivers drove off as if it was a matter of life and death. You had to be extremely careful not to collide with others. Even after the first few kilometres the danger was not averted. The field drove closed, filling the whole width of the road. There were no bigger gaps. For unknown reasons it came again and again to abrupt braking maneuvers whereby partial full braking was put down, then immediately again as stupidly to sprint off. Sometimes one could guess the reason for the braking: a few police and fire brigade cars at the roadside, but they showed zero activities. I felt like I was in a herd of cattle. In addition there were numerous drivers, who wanted to make up for still tried places in the dense crowd and to push themselves forward between the other drivers. A pointless undertaking, because the field was so narrow that the riders had a few centimetres of space next to each other and a straight distance, if any, between the front riders.
On the first climb the riders gradually pulled apart. I didn’t want to be the last woman, but I didn’t want to torture myself too much, saw the whole thing more as a “test for the Ötztaler” and enjoyed cycling through beautiful landscapes very much. I had actually planned to feed on the gels and bars I had taken with me, with most of the gels being filled into a small bottle in my jersey pocket. Every 30 minutes I wanted to take a gel. Unfortunately I lost the lid of the bottle after the first departure when I had taken a sip from it and I didn’t feel like turning around to look for the lid. So I did an experiment: I drank from the bottle a big sip, which corresponded to about 4 gels (by eye measurement) and threw the bottle in a suitable place at the roadside. The next 2 hours I took nothing to me around my digestion not to load and the remaining distance I consumed my remaining gels and bars and refuel at the food supply stations with bananas. In the aftermath I must say that it worked quite well and I had no complaints. There were hardly any crowds at the stations, which I found extremely pleasant. Gradually we approached lunchtime and Italy. When we entered the first village after the border I was close to tears. It was so unspeakably beautiful this “Bella Italia”. The people stood at the roadside and cheered. Also from the windows one called to us. It was so wonderful! And then it came closer: the Lanzenpass. We turned into a narrow and steep road. The road was hardly wider than a car. During the race the exit of the Lanzenpass was closed for cars, the driveway was open for residents. Two cars can pass each other there only in places with alternative bays. One car and one cyclist have just enough space next to each other. This of course makes it critical when a car passes a crowd of cyclists uphill. The cyclists then have to thread themselves one behind the other and drive along the roadside. But as the road was very bad, with many holes and cracks, as well as a lot of dirt and fine earth and also partly wet from the nightly rain, I was extremely annoyed by every car. In addition, the road was almost always over 15% steep, which made the whole thing even more difficult. But if you turned your eyes to the landscape, you were completely compensated. The whole valley is quite untouched and little touristic. The pass pulled itself and pulled itself and everyone, yes really every driver was visibly annoyed by the pressing in the last big pinion. Without exception! A groaning and panting were our constant companions. Sometimes I had the feeling that we didn’t come from the spot at all. I looked at the speedometer and saw “3 km/h” standing there and figured out how long it would take me for the last few kilometres on the ascent. But also this pass had its end and the horror began now only.
The descent from the Lanzenpass was as steep as the ascent and full of hairpin bends. Unfortunately the whole road was covered with fine chippings and sand so that we were forced to brake permanently. I was afraid that my rims overheated, because meanwhile it had become really hot in summer. I stopped in a bigger bend and felt my rims. The metal was very warm but not extremely hot. Good that I am a flyweight. Beside me stood a cyclist whose aluminum brake flank had burst from the carbon rim and he waited for a track car. Unfortunately there was no mobile network to make phone calls. I promised him at the next opportunity to inform the race control that he was waiting there and I drove on after a few minutes waiting, always nice and slow around the gravelly curves in the steep profile. After a less curvy part I went through woods and past meadows, further on narrow small roads. At regular intervals Italian track marshals stood with yellow flags and warned us to drive slowly, because big potholes, cracks, bumps and gravel lined the roadway. I had never seen such bumps in my life! One of them was even more than half a meter high! At the end of the descent, I was all set, because I was highly concentrated the whole time and stressed by the fear. But there were still 2 climbs waiting for me.
Meanwhile it was enormously hot and the sweat flowed and flowed during the ascent of the Nassfeld pass. The peloton was now far apart and there were only a few riders and longer sections alone. The following descent was the complete opposite of the last one from the Lanzenpass. With perfect asphalt on a wide road and rather long curves, one could jet downhill. At the bottom there was a longer stretch, which ran with a low gradient. I stalked a group of four men to let me pull a bit in the slipstream. But that didn’t work out, because the men refused to lead the group after a short time and the group became slower and slower in the fight. Too slow for my taste! I felt good and since nobody wanted to pull, I sat down at the top of the group in order not to lose valuable time. I was admittedly angry that you would expect a woman to set the pace at such an event, but I didn’t want to leave any time and the next two potential competitors were already in sight and I caught up with them soon. I thought at least to get slipstream here. To my further annoyance neither of them wanted to drive in front and so I kept doing my thing. When I wanted to force a leadership change, I had to realize that only one man was directly behind me and the others had not gone with me. But since we had already reached the next ascent, everyone had to set his pace again anyway. The source clouds over the mountains were already completely black and shortly afterwards the sky over me darkened and a heavy shower broke out. The rain was pouring down on me and the thick drops hurt on bare skin. For my rain jacket it was however much too warm. Soon I was wet until also the skin and my shoes completely full run. However, the driveway was not constantly rising from the profile, but there were again and again flat pieces and even small descents. By the rain my brake linings were fully sucked and the water located on the road dampened as a film on the rim metal the braking effect. I drove extremely carefully further. In addition there were some larger potholes. When I drove over a small crest there was immediately behind it a deep pothole, which one hardly saw. I had never experienced anything like this before: when my front wheel got into the hole, it almost tore the handlebar out of my hands, holding the handlebar at the gear/brake levers at the top. I could just grab the handlebars again. That was a lesson to me and I continued from now on with lower link handle on flat pieces. As soon as my jersey seemed to be dried again by the summer heat, the next heavy shower came. My glasses ran on and I could see nothing more and put the glasses into the back pocket. Now the rain whipped my eyes. So I drove on and on. I did not know the distance and could not estimate how far it was still up to the summit. Therefore I saved at my forces and hoped that the rain would stop up to the departure. And indeed, a few meters of altitude below the summit, it gradually dried up and stayed that way for the whole descent. The last long section back to the finish runs slightly falling but with a considerable headwind. When I turned onto this last part after the descent, three more men were driving with me. One of them – from Landshut with the jersey of the Bikewuiderer – obviously knew the route exactly and he challenged us to form a group, with which we should make a rotating leadership change. That’s what we did. It turned out to be the only right one in the strong headwind. We caught up with another woman and five of us drove on. When we turned into the home straight after Lienz, I put down a sprint to not be the last woman to reach the finish line. As it turned out, this sprint was unnecessary because first of all the woman in our final group had crossed the starting line after me and thus landed a few seconds ahead of me in the overall standings and secondly because I would not have been the last woman in the Supergiro. So I needed 10 hours and 8 minutes for the whole distance. In the aftermath I have to say that I got along well with my nutrition. Unfortunately my Pacing was not optimal. Of course, this was also due to the heavy rain at the last pass, where I was clearly below my potential. But again I could not do enough. My standing time was 34 minutes, which was of course a Nogo for me. Since I had not completely exhausted myself, I made on the following day with Dani and Jörg with the return journey from Lienz still another small stop and a journey the Glocknerstraße from the north up – because we were already.