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Words by Jered Gruber, Images by Gruber Images

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In 2016, Jered and Ashley Gruber and their friend Igor created the Yolomites5000. In 2018, now in its third year, the event continues with unforgettable climbs, roads and scenery. With event partner, Schwalbe tires, we take you back to when this crazy adventure came to life accompanied by imagery from Yolomites5000 3.0.  

It all started as any bad/good idea does: with curiosity and the hope of blindly grabbing something special from the ether. We were riding bikes with Igor in the place we wish we could call home: the Dolomites. We were on some road about the size of two riders side by side. That is to say – we rode like we owned the road, which is how it always is on those roads – some blessed soul paved perfection and decided never to use it. The gradient was nearing the point where a Sherpa would be helpful. We’d been riding for a little over an hour, gone about 20k and climbed almost 1000m on three different climbs of varying levels of paved – from the nearly annual laying of fresh pavement to buffed out single track to a rock garden.

I looked over at Igor, turning his legs over at about 40 rpm (somewhere between stopped and knee death), but utterly convinced that he’ll never need or use a 32. He got a compact this year, so he downsized his cassette to an 11×25 – otherwise: ‘I might as well walk.’

I scoff at his 20th century thinking, but the man is impressive. I’d quit bikes if I got stuck with a 25 on these roads. I shudder at my conclusion: I would rather walk, and walking is the worst possible solution to any problem.

I look at my computer: 20k, 1000m. Wheels turn in my head the way they only do when you’re having shit-tons of fun, laughing lots, and exerting yourself pretty hard – not too hard – because then there’s just survival and negative self-talk. So I’m talking about a level about three steps back from that – where the world is crystal clear and bright and vibrant and the mind wanders with intention, and leads to expansive ideas that whizz by and never seem to make it out of the whirring stream of the voices in my head. I’m a good fisherman though, scooping them up here and there, then I blow bubbles all day long at my riding friends – one random thought after another.

And then it hit me. We should do a big ride on these roads. These small, crazy steep, only sometimes paved roads. The ride would have 1,2,3,4, FIVE thousand meters of climbing (16,500ft), because 1000 isn’t enough, who travels for 2000m, 3000 is only normal hard, and 4000 doesn’t sound good, so it had to be 5000.

“Igor, just wondering do you think it’s possible to do a ride with 5000m of climbing in 100k?”

His cadence slows to 37 as he thinks and runs the math of a hundred different golf cart path roads, dirt roads, and trails in his mind. Whirring gears some heavy breathing and then an answer: “Yes.”

“Wouldn’t that be insane? We should do a ride: the shortest distance possible with the most climbing on the absolute best roads you can find in the Dolomites – and no cars. We should call it something ridiculous like the #yolomites5000. I think the hashtag is important to underline the fact that we are dumb, and that this is a dumb idea.”

Normally, this is where ideas die. They plop out of that little plastic wand as a beautiful iridescent bubble full of possibilities, but then they drift to the ground, splat, soon forgotten. If you’re with the right people though, those bubbles don’t pop. They float higher and higher and gather in a cloud of possibility. Igor doesn’t let bubbles pop.

Igor took this bubble home and started working on some ideas. Igor and his Tavella family have a penchant for being bubble nurturers – they helped create the Maratona dles Dolomites back in 1987. If you look at those old pictures – their hotel, the Ustaria Posta, is always in the background. There were 166 riders that year. There were nearly 9000 in 2016. The Maratona grew a nasty sting in its tail in recent years – the Mür dl Giat. I’ll give you one guess where the idea for that hill came from: Mr. Igor Tavella.

My job was done. Igor had the idea and was sprinting with it. Potential routes started churning out – like a kid taking a deep breath, blowing hard, and sending out a wondrous stream of the little things. We even started talking about dates. Then I made it official with an Instagram post. I assumed no one would be interested – it’s not like we’re right down the street from anything. Emails started coming in, questions about staying at the Ustaria Posta, a finalized date, a finalized route, and then my dad wrote: “I want to come too.” My dad!