The Maratona d’les Dolomites in the north of Italy is known as the Gran-Daddy of all Gran Fondo’s.
With 9-mountains passes and over 12,000’ of climbing in just 85-miles, this event absolutely lives up to everything that makes a ‘Gran’ Fondo grand!
As a testament to the events challenge and allure, nearly 10,000’ people attend the Maratona each year from 40-countries around the world.
It is truly an internationally recognized event.
For Mike Pfau, the Maratona is a captivating and epic challenge that necessitates dedicated and focused preparation.
At this years’ Maratona, Mike had one of his absolute best performances to date, from a list of big rides that includes the Triple By-Pass in Colorado, The Markleyville Death Ride in California, and the L’Etap du Tour in California.
Following his Italian adventure, we caught up with Mike to talk about what made this years’ Maratona special and why he makes the trip across the Atlantic for this great event every year. Enjoy!
Mike Pfau had a great ride at this years' Maratona d'les Dolomites. Despite the huge amount of climbing, he did it all with a smile! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
Primary Sport/Discipline: Road Cycling
Average Hours of Training Per Week: 8-10hrs
Upcoming Goals: The Mammoth Gran Fondo
Question #1: Congratulations on completing the Maratona d’les Dolomites, Mike! As the Gran-Daddy of all Gran Fondos, what makes this a ‘must do’ event?
Michael Pfau:The challenging climbs, the international flavor, and the stunning vistas of the Dolomites (Italian Alps) all put this ride into a class all by itself!
Over the week leading into the event, cyclists absolutely take over the sister-cities that host the event, (Corvara and La Villa), and everyone in these Alpine ski towns are supportive, understanding and welcoming.
The Maratona is a big thing in Italy, getting country-wide television coverage on race day, and repeated replays every day during the week following the ride.
The vistas on the ride are better than anything I've seen on climbs around the U.S., and the opportunity to talk cycling with riders from around the world is exceptional!
Coaches Perspective/Coach Brian: I had not known about the Maratona d’les Dolomites prior to working with Mike and his training partner Rob Raede when they tapped BWC to help them prepare for the 2017 edition of the event.
In researching the Maratona to build Mike’s training plan and ensure that each of his workouts was as focused and potent as possible, I was stunned by how stout the ride is.
With nine mountain passes and over 13,000’ of climbing in just 85-miles, this ride packs a huge punch!
What’s more, the ride is attended by nearly 10,000 riders from all over the world making the narrow roads of the Maratona a madhouse of cyclists.
I am excited to report that this year, Mike had his best performance yet and felt very confident on the climbs, which makes me very happy. Great job, Mike!
Just one of the stunning views that riders get to see in the Italian Alps courtesy of Mike's smart phone. And Mike assures us, all the views are this good! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau.
Question #2: You spend much of your weekday workouts on the trainer, saving your big rides for weekends and holidays. So how did you conquer the 9-passes and nearly 13,000’ of climbing that characterize the Maratona?
MP:Intervals and hill repeats… and then more intervals and hill repeats!
My weekday trainer workouts are pretty intense interval-focused workouts.
I like throwing hill repeats into at least one weekend ride, and then using the other to add mileage and endurance.
The balance of those two aspects of training seems to prepare me well.
Did I mention intervals and hill repeats?
Coach Brian: There is an old saying that repetition is the mother of all skill. But when it comes to training, many times a more appropriate saying is, “variety is the spice of life”.
To help Mike prepare for the Maratona we worked to strike a balance between variety and repetition.
Luckily, Mike is fully committed to his training and making the most of his time on the bike so when that balance edges toward repetition, he is still totally dedicated to the process.
In regards to hill-repeats, one thing we really tried to simulate in training was the steepness of the Italian climbs. This was important as we needed to determine what gearing and equipment selection would be best for the Maratona.
By doing this homework I was ecstatic to hear the report that Mike had lifted his cadence substantially in this edition of the Maratona. That cadence increase happens to coincide with his best event performance yet, which makes me so proud!
The start of the Maratona d'les Dolomites is full of fanfare that includes a booming cannon send-off and TV coverage! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
Question #3: The Maratona is an epic event, with 10,000 participants and television coverage. With all that fanfare, what are your favorite and most memorable portions of the event?
MP:There are three. First, the start is incomparable. With music, helicopters, and cannons to announce the start of the ride.
Second, all along a good part of the roadway going up the first pass, the Campolongo, there are innumerable spectators offering encouragement. There is a Maratona-edition of "Dutch Corner," where the Dutch contingent of fans stay in motor-homes and cheer for the riders decked-out in orange from head to toe!
Other countries have their own cheering contingents with national flags and colors as well. But the Dutch definitely take things to another level.
Third, the descents are very technical and challenging. And because of the need to manage the twisty-turns while trying not to miss any of the incredible views while you are descending, they make for an exciting portion of the event.
Finally, there is the “wall of the cat”, a short 2-minute climb that comes about 4-kilometers from the finish; it pitches up to 19% and really kicks like a mule!
The spectators there are awesome, and the cheering is critical because at that time your legs are totally spent!
Coach Brian: The Maratona is nothing short of an adventure, from the fanfare at the start to the fans that line the brutal course, and that is all punctuated by the finishing climb, “the wall of the cat”.
It’s an event that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated and a worthy ‘goal event’ for anyone that loves Gran Fondo’s!
Another one of the stunning views from the Dolomites. With scenery like this, its easy to see why 10,000 people line-up for the Maratona every year! Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
Question #4: What is/are your favorite workout(s) in your training program? Also, please share a ‘knowledge-bomb’ you have learned while training with BWC.
MP:My favorite workouts are the hill repeats…after they're done!
I really have come to respect and enjoy them, because the training impact feels like it is immediate.
The emphasis on maintaining a high-cadence throughout the entire training regimen really paid off. On my way up the 6thpass, I passed a number of riders who were just grinding at a low-cadence and were, from my perspective, in trouble.
I had leg strength to spare because I had not slogged-up the earlier passes with a low-cadence that seemed to buckle so many of the riders around me.
Finally, adhering to the "eat early, and drink often" adage Coach Brian prescribed on rides has really paid dividends for me, especially on a challenging multi-hour, multi-pass climbing event like the Maratona. Thank you BWC!
Coach Brian: It is refreshing to know that Mike has come to enjoy all those hill-repeats workouts!
During his preparation we spent a lot of time emphasizing cadence development as well as developing a proper hydration and nutrition strategy that could see Mike performing powerfully well into his 7hr event.
Each of these details came together during the Maratona, giving Mike substantial confidence to tackle such a daunting event that demands everything an Athlete has, just to complete it.
And having earned that self-confidence and strength through many hours and miles of work, Mike was able to savor a great ride in Italy!
Mike made his Italian trip a family affair with his lovely wife and daughter to cheer him on as he tackled the notorious Maratona d'les Dolomites!Photo Credit: Mike Pfau
We hope you have enjoyed reading about Mike Pfau’s Maratona d'les Dolomites success as much as we have enjoyed sharing it!
Preparing for a monumental undertaking like the Maratona takes a detailed and thorough plan coupled with plenty of commitment.
And even at the ripe young age of 63-years old, you can perform beyond expectations and do something EPIC with the help of a solid training plan!
Thank you Mike, for showing us what is possible and doing it with a big smile on your face!
Until Next Time, Be Safe, Train Hard, & Have Fun!
-Brian & Joy McCulloch
Big Wheel Coaching