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01 April 2016

Bikes, crocuses and cyclamens

144 back in 1987; now there are more than 35,000 of them. The key leg of the Giro d’Italia will be gracing Corvara to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Maratona dles Dolomites. And Ciasa La Perla is also welcoming bikers for this special occasion.
"‘Hopefully that won’t happen if they hop on a bike’ is met by silence. The eldest among them has talked, bent over his ace of hearts, covering it from the rest. The trump card up his sleeve, turning the tables with a flourish of his hand."
A valley nestled in the mountains, with the odd tourist during summer. More of them during winter. But what happens otherwise? Life abounds, of course: foxes strolling across the squares, the hotels looming in the night. No trace of forest rangers. The year is 1987, June, to be precise. Nature awakens, primroses and cyclamens blossom from the lush green fields. Come closer and you’ll see four friends sitting in the village tavern, sipping a Spritz and playing cards, words tumbling forth.
‘I wouldn’t mind seeing more tourists during June, or September. Even May when the crocuses flower.’
‘Nobody cares about those blooming flowers of yours. Even the larches awaken, so what?’
‘The days lengthen and the colours are more vibrant.’
‘True true, but you know what I prefer? The vibrant red of a Spritz!’
‘Then let’s invite them’
‘And then what? Play a round of cards? Invite to drink with us?’
‘How about this: Val Badia, kingdom of mushrooms. Let’s promote the area as the mushroom Eldorado!’
‘The forest rangers are going to love us for that.’
‘Well, climbing, then!’
‘Shush you, everyone here is afraid of heights… and that’s when they have to change a light bulb, at that!’
‘Hopefully that won’t happen if they hop on a bike’ is met by silence. The eldest among them has talked, bent over his ace of hearts, covering it from the rest. The trump card up his sleeve, turning the tables with a flourish of his hand.
The other three look at him, speechless, ‘What do you mean, hop on a bike?’, they say at the same time.
‘We’ll organise a race. A bike race… you know what a bike is right? The thingamajig with pedals? We’ll organise a long bike race, with six or seven passes, the toughest: Fedaia, Duran, Staulanza, Valparola…’
‘They’ll crash!’
The youngest raises his glass, while the other one, who has had one Spritz too many, chuckles at the thought.
‘How do we even go about doing that?’
‘How hard can it be’, replies the man, placing his ace of hearts on the table. ‘I’ve won, and I’ll tell you what we’ll do next: we’ll trace the route, the climbs, descents, the elevation gains. People have to eat: we’ll organise food too.. We’ll make 50 copies and send them by mail. We each phone five of our friends. With the registration fee we’ll buy stopwatches, a megaphone, Speck and cheeses. The winner gets a cup, and everyone else gets a jersey, for free! It’s included in the registration fee.’
‘Right, and people will pay for this? What if they get hurt?’
‘Here you go: one ambulance here, the other there. And the firemen can prepare the barbeque for everyone. We’ll have the village band to welcome the bikers at the finish line.’
Done. The Maratona dles Dolomites is born. There are 144 participants. It takes the winner 10 hours to finish. The last one arrives in the dead of night. What he gets is a pat on the shoulder, a beer, the jersey, a handshake and see you next year! The bikers more than double the following year. The last biker to cross the line nearly freezes to death. The following years, bikers reach the 1,000 mark. And then comes the snow, the race is interrupted, and accidents. Bikers now number 3,000. TV stations start attending. Bikers grow to 6,000. There’s a famous biker here and there. Another 1,000 bikers. And American and Australian sponsors. Traffic-free roads. Fast-forward to today.
This year, the marathon registered more than 35,000 interested bikers. And, this year, in May, when the roe-deers come out for a stroll to the village, and Matthias is busy renovating the house and bike around with Merch, Manuel is interviewing waiters when the weather is bad, as he’s got other things to do when the sun shines, and even I, who normally go to the Sassongher, and Nicola, the chef, who’s at the beach, and Stefano who commutes between Paris and London – according to him – and mum and dad play golf: this year, in occasion of the 30th edition of the Maratona dles Dolomites we’ve treated ourselves to a gift, as the key stop of the Giro d’Italia, following the same route of the Maratona, will be gracing Corvara. And for the first time ever, Casa La Perla will be opening its doors on 20 May for some days. Even the Ladinia will open and will only close back in November.
We’ll be wearing pink. There will be a lot to do. I’m only saddened for the foxes who won’t be able to stroll along the square in the middle of the night. There will be noise. And right now, the sun is already shining. Primroses, crocuses, cyclamen dot the countryside, soon to be followed by bikers.
And that dream of those four friends, which came true years ago, is alive and well.
We’ll support this dream all together, and toast to this great Dolomite adventure. To be experienced on your bike.

michil costa