“You’ll be cycling with “the flying mother” says my friend Lindsey, who’s organised a special cycling trip in the Dolomites for me. “ I hope she’s not too expectant…” she jokes. I immediately Google “the flying mother”, not quite sure what I’ve got myself into. I’m relatively new to road cycling - having taken up mountain biking a few years back as rainy day activity when I couldn’t go rock climbing. I definitely prefer going downhill!
Maria Canins – aka “the flying mother” is one of the most famous inhabitants of Alta Badia, made up of 6 Dolomite villages - literally the upper part of the Badia valley - From 1969 to 1982 Maria had been a very successful cross-country skier. Fifteen times she was Italian champion in this sport. It wasn’t until she was 32 years old, she became famous in another sport – cycling, and the “flying mother” had a child when she started her cycling career, winning the Tour de France In 1985 and 1986 as well as the Giro d’Italia in 1988.
I was slightly nervous, but I suppose I couldn’t have had a better guide for my trip to the South Tyrolean region of Italy, an UNESCO natural heritage site and a biking mecca with several cycling events, such as the Maratona les Dolomites and the Sellaronda Bike Day, taking place annually, as well as several mountain biking events.
Although I’ve been trying to get out more and more on my road bike in Chamonix, I was worried Maria would be frustrated at my lack of mountain legs, but as we headed off from Corvara to the Passo Campolongo, I could see she had plenty of patience. Although the Pinarello bike I’d hired was a thing of real beauty, with electric gears and super lightweight, it was a little large for me ( I need a 44 inch frame, like the flying mothers’ daughter) and the saddle was a skinny male one, and pretty excruciating if your not used to it! Maria herself had a fairly padded one- comfort is of upmost importance to her- and she decided to take us back to the bikeshop when she saw how stretched out I was.
Once sorted, we headed back out towards the Passo Gardena, climbing over 5000ft and covering 25miles. And Maria wasn’t at all intimidating – riding at my pace throughout as I slowly persisted up switchback after switchback, glad to be rewarded with lunch at Chalet Gerald, with its stunning views across the Grup de Dela mountain range.
We had a chat about biking, and I asked her how often she rides; she is more of a mountain biker now herself and prefers to get away from the roads, where you are often met by motorcyclist burning down the switchbacks. She doesn’t’ use the lifts but goes off and explores about 5 times a week. She recommends for myself to try cycling 200miles a week, but it’s no good just resting on the flats – for climbs I need to be at 80rpms and on faster sections, then 95rpm and because I’m new to hill climbing, I need more gears than on the more professional bikes, so I can shift down to ‘granny gear’.
On the return I could see how Maria eared her name, as she glided effortlessly down the switchbacks , people calling out her name and welcoming her as she flew past them , whilst I firmly grip my brakes, giving my forearms a good workout.
The following day, due to saddle soreness, we headed out on a shorter ride, from Corvara to San Cassiano, climbing just over 2000ft and back in time to miss a thunder storm, and watch the “ Enrosadira”- (which in the language of the original inhabitants, Ladin, means “turning pink”) - a natural phenomenon that happens at sunset when the Dolomites towering spires and rock faces turn sparkling coral.
This is a guest blog from outdoor enthusiast, Katy Dartford. Katy is a freelance journalist and mountain sport enthusiast who, since December 2012, has lived in Chamonix, France.
Her website is www.katydartford.com