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20-01-2021 | Frank Jansen

The virtual Maratona dles Dolomites

I've had a crazy plan for a while now. Riding the entire course of the Maratona dles Dolomites on my Tacx Neo, using the app BigRingVR. It seemed like a fun challenge for the winter, both mentally and physically. Last Sunday I was housebound due to the fact that my wife (who is a docter) was on call. The weather wasn't great so it seemed like the ideal time.

Photo: BigRingVR

What is the Maratona?

Maybe you have heard of Maratona dles Dolomites. This is one of the most famous gran fondos in the world. 7 cols, 140 km and 4000 meters of climbing. All this in the heart of the Dolomites in Italy. 


After a big breakfast with the family, I fill 5 water bottles, collect the necessary food and got on the bike. I had prepared a number of points of departure for myself beforehand:

  • After the Sella round I would only take the go/no go. In case of bad legs or simply no morale anymore, there would be no shame in stopping then.
  • Body weight and bike weight are set fairly, no weight doping.
  • Slope mode only, so no ERG mode. The slope mode simulates the gradients exactly so I have to change gears along the way. This is the most realistic way.
  • No astronaut food, just aqua e pane (but sports drinks)
  • Non-stop as much as possible except for any pee breaks (which were not there, by the way)
  • Trainer difficulty at 100%.

The Sella Round

It doesn't start out particularly hopeful, as on the Campolongo I'm stuggling and it's only the first climb. I am getting the desired power on the pedals, but it doesn't come naturally. The Pordoi, however, is much better, and on Sella it is even slightly better. Although it remains 'fake' of course, I can still enjoy the images of this insanely beautiful environment. The Gardena is easy from this side and in the long descent I can recover well. A big advantage of indoor riding is that in the descent you can eat and drink perfectly, while you can check the news on your phone or send an app. 


I decide I'm going to postpone the go/no until after the 2nd passage of the Campolongo. And all of a sudden, the feeling is improving. I'm pedalling exactly the same power numbers as before but it takes me much less effort now. If it continues like this, I'll be brave enough to do the whole course. After the descent follows the long stretch through the valley. Here you obviously miss the big advantage of a group. But the kilometers are ticking away fast.

On the St. Lucia I can feel my legs a bit, so I'm a bit scared for the Giau. But strangely enough that climb goes quite well, in 57 minutes I reach the top. I had to use my 34x32 for a long time, but I also used the 34x28 a lot. Now I can smell the finish.

The Falzarego is not a difficult climb, halfway up there's even a flat section. The last kilometer to the Valporola hurts, but the prize is almost won. After a long descent another easy 5 km uphill and I'm there. 6h23 non-stop on the bike. Good for 140 virtual kilometers with a little bit more than virtual 4000 meters of climbing.

Photo: BigRingVR

What's thougher?

In 2007, I rode the "real" Maratona. Back then I finished in 6:07 all-in. Now I was a little slower, but the difference wasn't that large. What did I find tougher? And what is tougher?

  • The fact is that indoors you don't suffer from the altitude. Since you get 5 times above 2000 meters, that's a factor not to be underestimated.
  • In addition, indoors you are much faster in the technical descents, because you are happily going through the curves at 60km/h.
  • However, in the less technical descents, such as the Valporola, you are probably faster as a good descender "in real life".
  • A disadvantage of cycling indoors is that you don't have groups on the flat sections. My estimation is that this can save up to 15 minutes.
  • One advantage is that you don't have to stop, you can keep your legs still in the descents and eat/drink.
  • Indoor there is no influence of the weather. The temperature inside is perfectly controllable thanks to my 2 fans with 3 settings. Taking off or putting on clothes is unnecessary.

At the end of the day I found the real Maratona to be physically much harder. Partly because of the adrenaline, the experience, the life leading up to it and the fact that in a gran fondo you really go for it. Indoors I rode it with the goal of finishing, without much pretension. The mental aspect is of course a whole different story: I found it much harder indoors than outdoors, but not as hard as I had thought beforehand. Where I always have a 'difficult hour' during flat outdoor rides of 5 hours or longer, I didn't have that now.

That's probably because you really live from climb to climb. The Maratona course is perfect in that sense, as it has no less than 7 climbs (8 if you count St Lucia).

Am I going to do this more often now?

Well no. This isn't something you should do often either. But a fun winter challenge, it certainly was.

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