Why the Italian Alps are the best for cycling

There’s an ill-tempered volcano in Guatemala called Fuego. It’s massive — 3,763m massive, in fact. I climbed it last year wearing Chelsea boots (they were all I had). Regular expletives erupted. After that, I promised to take a break from any Toblerone-style topography for the foreseeable.

Yet fast forward a few weeks and I’m pedalling up the first of several silly-angle inclines at the Maratona Sportive — an annual long-distance organised cycling event — in Alta Badia, in the Italian Alps. It’s a classy, ‘non-competitive’ race along car-free roads that artfully scribble their way over and around the Dolomites.

Some 9,000 Lycra-clad keenos from 72 countries take part, cycling 86 miles (138km) across eight dramatic mountain passes with an elevation up to 4,230m. This year it takes place on July 3.

It starts well. I’m keeping up with other more dedicated Mamil masochists. I zip up, over, down and round. ‘Lovely day for it!’ I trill to a German pair, who look back with suspicion.

Perhaps it’s my bike that propels me so. Pinarello, the brand that the British Team Ineos (formerly Team Sky) ride, offers rentals and here I’m lucky enough to be straddling one of its championship-winning Dogma F10s. With electric gears and fighter-jet geometry, they are things of designer beauty. How far I’ve come since my poorly shod schlep in the Americas, I think.

And then, of course, it all goes to pot again. That all too familiar feeling of limbs filling with lactic lead; the sunshine in my mind turning to a tempest tantrum. It’s all so fast, from hero to zero (miles per hour) in the time it takes you to say, ‘Why the hell didn’t I do more training?’ I take my emergency gels but nothing works so I crawl into the next orange-slice dispensary for a rest.

The voice of an older, wiser rider I met at the start line comes into my head: ‘Slow down, look up, enjoy it.’ I translate this as: ‘Proceed in a leisurely manner and pretend you’re Julie Andrews on two wheels.’

Indeed, if these hills were alive with the sound of music, they’d emit a sonorous score befitting of classic cinema. Well, that’s what plays in my head as I take in the Unesco-protected panorama of this popular ski resort, anyhow.

The further back I fall, the friendlier the crowd becomes. One particularly affable rider in my grupetto produces – then offers me – an apple, like manna from heaven.

The final leg of my abridged ride (there are three length options) is a pretty payoff for the hard work. A ribbon of road thrown down a mountain, laying out a breezy chassé to the finish line in the immaculate little town of Corvara.

The Maratona is a showcase for what can be done summer-long: cycling holidays here in the Alta Badia region are as joyful as their snowy counterparts. And those who share my chagrin for inclines will be pleased to learn of Pinarello’s new fleet of e-bikes, whose mini motors are ready to give you a nudge in the right direction. If only I’d known.

I’ve seen the Alps from many angles but am 
now convinced the Italians have it best. 
For example, at both sunrise and sunset the sheer, coral-made cliffs reflect the light in such 
a way as to produce a pink-palette phenomenon known locally as enrosadira.

Then there’s the food. I’m greeted at the end of my cycle with several bowls of fresh, mushroom ravioli, which somewhat sets the weekend’s gastro tone. What’s surprising, then, is that so few Brits opt to come here: year-round we comprise only 2% of tourists. I’m bent on supporting that figure next year by giving all 86 miles of the full course a go.

Flights from London to Innsbruck from £176 return, from EasyJet.

Rooms at Hotel Miramonti, Corvara, from £162pn, from Hotel Miramonti.

For more information, go to Altabadia and to register for 2023, visit Maratona.

BW Cycling offers fitness tests and personalised training programmes from three-time Olympic cyclist Oli Beckingsale.

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