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19-06-2024 | Sven Ilaens

The Grossglockner and the DRR, a perfect marriage

It's Friday afternoon and I'm packing for a weekend in Austria. Lienz is the destination, as the Dolomitenradrundfahrt will be held there this weekend. Unfortunately, due to the closure of the Plöckenpass, the longer version of this event (SuperGiroDolomiti) will not take place this year. That's a shame, because it also includes the Zoncolan, which is still on my bucket list. But that shouldn't spoil the fun, especially since I decide to cross a worthy replacement off my list the day before the gran fondo.

Dolomitenradrundfahrt 2024 banner

Grossglockner as an appetizer

After checking into the hotel on Friday night, I get ready to bike the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse on Saturday after a good breakfast. One of the most beautiful and highest passes in Europe, it is definitely a climb to tick off the bucket list. Don't underestimate it; from Lienz, this ride comes out to 110 km with 2650 meters of elevation. It's a fantastic day and an experience to remember.

Arriving in Lienz again, I drop by registration building to pick up my start documents for tomorrow. This is done in a flash—scan the QR code, and it's complete. The organization is clearly up-to-date. In the evening, I explore the charming Lienz and then get a good night's sleep to shake off the Grossglockner fatigue.

View from the Edelweissspitze
Photo: the beautiful Grossglocker.

Late start

I'm lucky because, completely against tradition, the start of this gran fondo is not until noon on Sunday. This means I can sleep in, and after a hearty breakfast at the hotel, I leisurely get ready for the race. It's 11:40 when I head to the start. The start boxes are already packed, with Johnny Hoogerland in the first row. An excellent cyclist with a high pain threshold, he's mostly known in my memory as "the man of the barbed wire." At 11:57, the start is given in Lienz to avoid a closed level crossing, as the announcer explains. Everything has been thought of, that much is clear.

Up and down

The route ahead is easy to describe: 110 kilometers with two tough climbs. They are named Gailberg and the Kartitscher Sattel. The latter is quite long, but with an average of 3%, it seems easy to manage. However, it constantly goes up and down, making this climb a long interval workout.

The first few kilometers of the gran fondo are very fast, with speeds of 55 km/h on a slightly descending line in a very large peloton. The shelter from the wind keeps the whole group together, which causes problems. To my left, about six riders go down hard. Fortunately, I'm on the right side of the road and can escape.

Cyclists riding in the gran fondo

Traffic-free roads

Over the full twenty kilometers downhill to the first climb, we have to apply the emergency brake firmly about five more times. Fortunately, no new crashes occur. The organization has cleared the roads completely. I am relieved when we turn up the first climb and calm returns. Everyone falls into place, and climbing doesn't lie. The climb is steady and five kilometers long, causing the peloton to fragment. Groups form everywhere, each finding their own pace. Once over the top, we dive into a fast descent that leads us to Kartitscher Sattel with a right turn.

I know the climb from a previous audaux ride and am aware that the 3% average is actually an optimistic representation. Pacing is difficult here in a group, as the series of short climbs makes it challenging to maintain a steady rhythm. At the top, I stop briefly at the feed station for water and reconnect with my group on the descent. This is advantageous because the next 30 km descend through the valley back to Lienz. Riding in a group is recommended here for maintaining speed. I finish 189th out of 1008 participants.

Dolomitenradrundfahrt 2024

Fine afterparty

After another pleasant pasta party, I can reminisce, tired but satisfied, during the drive back to Italy. Even though thunderstorms were predicted over the weekend, it stayed completely dry and the sun even came out. The deluge that ultimately delayed my return trip by an hour is a minor inconvenience I'm happy to take!

The full results can be found here.

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