Maratona dles Dolomites, 7 July 2019

Despite not being a very active cyclist in the past I always wanted to get more into it. Last year I moved to Denmark and realized people commute to work on bicycles. I bought one immediately and started cycling around exploring and commuting casually. I had the opportunity to visit the island of Bornholm in July as my daughter was on a project there. Upon arrival I rented a mountain bike and realized a car was the most stupid thing to bring to the island. It is great to cycle Bornholm, the most rocky part of Denmark if Greenland and the Faroe islands are not taken into account. My daughter and I took off early on July 15, with a plan to cover some of the most beautiful spots on the island. The ride was so amazing that we forgot the soccer world cup final! We only made it to the second half.

This year I made a promise to get out cycling more and found a good racer and home trainer second hand. So I felt I was ready to take bigger steps but didn’t really push myself. The company I work for has many great cyclists, both in Iceland, UK and Denmark. The Danish team had participated in a cycling event in Italy the past few years and due to changes they were missing an additional team member. I somewhat deliberately took the bait and voila I was on the cycling team. The only drawback was that it was a 138km long ride with a 4,2km climb, something rarely seen in Denmark. Thankfully I had good sources back in Iceland that guided me to places I could use for help. I cherry picked their advice and hooked up with Tim at Catenary Coaching. Now at least I had a plan. I only had myself as an obstacle and tried to follow the plan as much as I could. Twelve days of family vacation had to be built into a 2 month plan that looked like Everest!

The trip to the Dolomites was spectacular. I was just as excited as I was terrified of the steep mountains. Our local Danish trainer set up a plan for us to practice the shortest route (56km) on Friday, rest well on Saturday and be ready for the Sunday race. I was also in regular contact with Tim for advice. At the Friday practice I started getting doubts. Climbing those mountains and not knowing when they end was hard on my mental state. I realized though that when I was out of the trees and in the bare mountain landscape, somewhat resembling Iceland, seeing the pass ahead I was able to push harder. I realized suddenly that the unknown was my enemy. The good part was that the first 65km of the 138 were in places I had already ridden, meaning I only needed 11km of unknown territory to make the cut off line.  Now I just needed to learn about the rest, so I spent time studying the course, learning about the climbs I didn’t do yet and reading experiences from other riders. Certainly Passo di Giau was the ultimate pinnacle with a 9,9km length of ascent, 922m elevation gain, an average gradient of 9.3% and 15% max gradient. To my surprise I made the cut off line in time. I stood there for a few seconds thinking about just doing the 106km or continuing for the full distance. The decision came to me very clear, I was there and why not go for the 138km instead of waiting for next year or sometime later? So 138km it was. What happened after that is something I will never forget. Passo di Giau was even worse than I had prepared for and when I had 2km left of Valparola it started to rain with strong winds. At the top I passed a group of riders that just like myself, looked terrified at the next 26km downhill run. I didn’t stop, I just kept going and with my fingers already numb I had problems pulling my brakes, and I really needed them. Wind, rain, hail, slippery road conditions and low visibility didn’t feel good. I found a cyclist in a bright colored jacket to follow as I really needed to learn where to apply my brakes in those conditions. After a while I decided to pass him and cycled along totally alone like in a void. My pulse rate was at least 20 beats higher than on any other downhill.

Making it to the finish line was an awesome feeling. As an Icelandic national with Danish roots I was registered for the race under a Danish flag so I needed something to represent Iceland as well. As a keen sailor I had tucked away the Icelandic flag in my back pocket at the cost of some nutrition. I managed to put the flag up about 5km before the finish line and proudly crossed it under both flags.

Halldór Jörgensson

Tim PhillipsSportive