Ashley Palmer-Watts, executive chef of the two-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at the Mandarin Oriental London Hyde Park, tells Janet Harmer about competing in the Maratona cycling event in Italy
You have just taken part in the Maratona cycling event in Alta Badia in the Italian Dolomites. Tell us more about the event
It’s one of the world’s most popular cycling events – more than 31,600 applied for the 9,000 places, and participants from more than 72 countries took part this year.
Taking place on Sunday 7 July, there were options to complete one of three routes: the long route was 138km with a 4,230m difference in altitude; the medium route was 106km with a 3,130m difference in altitude; and the Sella Ronda route was 55km with a 1,780m difference in altitude. I did the medium route.
Each course started and ended in Alta Badia, commencing in La Villa and completing in Corvara, passing through some of Alta Badia’s famed mountain passes – Campolongo, Sella, Pordoi, Gardena, Giau, Falzarego and Valparola.
How tough was it?
It certainly was a big day out on the bike – I rode for seven hours in the most beautiful scenery, but it was a huge challenge.
Did any other chefs take part?
I travelled out with two of my team, Ewould Dudok de Wit and Ben Mullins, who both did impressively, each completing the long course. Other names on the day included Fausto Pinarello, who takes part every year, Paolo Bettini, who also rode this year, as well as F1 driver Robert Kubica.
Tell us about the dinner you cooked prior to the event. What was on the menu, and who did you cook for?
To kick off the Maratona weekend, we took a taste of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal to Alta Badia on 5 July, cooking alongside local Michelin-starred chef Nicola Laera at La Stüa de Michil at Hotel La Perla. We presented a menu featuring signature dishes from both restaurants, which from our side included Earl Grey tea-cured salmon, meat fruit and sambocade. Nicola served some great plates, including a sensational spaghetti by pasta-maker Martelli with garlic, oil and red chilli with king crab.
As a busy chef, when do you fit in cycling?
I had the privilege of working with trainer Oli Beckingsale from BWCycling, an ex-Olympic cyclist who now offers great training options. I travelled to his fitness centre in Bristol to establish where I was at physically, then we made a training plan. During each week, I could fit this in as my diary changed.
Why is it important as a chef to have a hobby like cycling?
Cycling gives you the perfect opportunity to get some head space and really concentrate on one thing at a time. It also makes you feel great after putting some effort in.
Are there any other major cycling events on the horizon?
I’ve not entered another yet, but it has given me a taste for great events. I’ve got a holiday coming up, but I’ve already signed up to continue my training with Oli and BWCycling on my return. Oli gave me a greater understanding of the power and heart rate zones, and although I don’t live in the mountains, we can tailor the plan to build strength and interval training to sustain rides such as the Maratona.