The Dolomiti Superbike

Welcome to Sesto

The Dolomiti Superbike is a race that has appeal in a way that is distinct from any marathon I have raced before. Like many races I don’t know much about, most of the appeal is let loose by the name alone: it’s big, it’s tough, it’s Euro, and it’s in a beautiful part of the world. Arriving at the Dolomites in Northern Italy, near the Austrian boarder, the rocky mountaintops rising in all directions from the greenest of green hillsides look like pieces have fallen off the moon. With 3500 entrants, the race promised unforgettable views of this dramatic landscape alongside an extraordinary taste of the European mountain bike culture.

Rolling down to the long start chute in Villabassa, bordered on both sides by the unique architecture of the area, everything felt at once familiar and unfamiliar. Riders passed vests and arm warmers over the fence, ate pre-race gels, chatted to their mates and looked ahead at the clock that signaled the start. I asked the lady next to me what the Italian and German words were for ‘left’ and ‘right’. She also taught me how to say good luck at the beginning of the event, and how to reply. Like me, she was just hoping to finish and was looking forward to the experience as it had unfolded. Unlike me, but like my teammates Mike Blewitt, Naomi Hansen, Will Hayter and Stu Spies, she was riding the longer 119km event. I was absolutely confident I’d done the training for the shorter 57km event, and similarly confident I wouldn’t be able to finish double the distance (with more than double the climbing) in good shape.

The race brings many gifts.

Music from the Gladiator soundtrack came through the speakers as though we were about to march into the Colosseum. My stomach performed a couple of quick somersaults in the pike position. Five or ten minutes later I was riding a wide road up a hill, watching the bobbing shoulders of hundreds in front and aware of hundreds more behind. I thought about how this is what it must look to riders in Le Tour. This was the first of many great snapshots that summed up an amazing day on the bike.

The views along the climbs were well worth the sweat.
The feed zones were well stocked and well appreciated.

The next best snapshot moment was the 20km descent that followed the 15km climb from the start. I say moment, because that’s how long it seemed to take. I could smell people’s brakes on the way down the steepest few kilometres and made a decision to hardly use mine.  “Amazi,” (?) someone said at the bottom. I’d flown past a few riders getting there. I decided this new word meant “amazing” or “you descend like a maniac”, the latter being what I’ve heard in similar situations back home. I looked at him with a silly grin.

The vanishing riders hint at the gradient of the second big climb.

The race consisted mostly of fire roads and some long sealed sections, lots of forest, unparalleled views and about 2-3kms of singletrack. It wouldn’t attract a sell out crowd in Australia, but it’s a classic event over here attracting a stacked field of pros, and others who make a journey several hours long just to experience what the Dolomiti Superbike can throw up. I discovered later that I finished 10th in “Hobby [I don’t have a UCI race licence] women” and 29th overall in the 57km women’s field.  There was only 16 minutes separating the top 10 riders in my category and to race well with that kind of depth of field only added to the thrill of day.

Riders looked like ants as they switch-backed up the hill.
Team time at the finish line.

The finish line was surprisingly lonely without any friends milling around, or the language skills to get to know new ones. A bike clean, event expo, pasta party and around three to four hours later I caught up with the rest of the team (along with some smiling ring-ins), confirmed my suspicion that I wouldn’t have finished the longer distance in good shape, and marvelled at the motivation that comes from big mountains and strong riders all around. I wonder which one I’ll ride up next?…

 Thank you to Gaye Camm for riding like a champion and for taking photos of the other best bits. Love your work.