On Saturday 6th July the latest round of the UCI Marathon series took place at the Dolimiti Superbike. The full route was over 113km and included 3,300m of climbing. Tim Dunford was there for the Mountain Trax – Vauxhall Motors Cycling team.
Report by Tim Dunford
Landing in Salzburg on the Wednesday afternoon I was beginning to feel the weather gods had it in for me. Having left behind sunny England I was greeted with torrential rain! I just want one dry marathon this year!! The drive to Olang in the Italian Dolomites was around 3 hours. Well it would have been if we had been able to see. Driving over the Brenner Pass in the middle of the night in torrential rain was very entertaining to say the least. I was travelling with Imogen Smith of the MarathonMTB team who had just flown in from Australia. Jet lag was clearly taking its toll as she constantly dozed off, only to wake with a sudden yelp every 30 minutes or so which really helped!
The next morning the sun was out and the mountains looked amazing. We opted for the full €8 buffet breakfast and made sure we got our money’s worth. Homemade bread and jam tasted pretty good. Bikes built we headed for the hills.
The Plan de Corones towers over Olang and, at 2,275m, is the highest rideable route locally so clearly this is where we headed! A mere 2 hours later after a few detours on a couple of trails that came to abrupt halt in woodland clearings we made the top. The views were amazing with a rather large bell marking the top, wouldn’t like to be close by when its rung.
Still a bit jet lagged Imo headed back down for a well earned rest, I headed down the black rated descent… With over 1,000m of vertical drop with bermed corners, gap jumps and huge north shore sections it was incredible. Note to all warranty departments, I didn’t huck the carbon hardtail off any gap jumps, honest. The rest of the day featured more of the same though mainly on natural trails, my arms couldn’t take another DH course on the hardtail.
The low point of the day was having climbed up a signed forest track for almost an hour only to find it shut due to logging further up. Words were muttered! I finally made it back with 7 hours and 4,000 metres of climbing on the clock, yet had only covered 90 km, it was hard going round there.
Conscious that we were racing on Saturday I took Friday easy, only 3 hours with 1,000metres of climbing, got to love the uphill recovery rides. We took it easy though, taking in the scenery and riding the board walked nature trails in the valley, it was a wonderful way to see the region. Afternoon was sign on time up the valley in Villabassa. European marathons always feature good swag and this was no different, a great little rucksack, some biscuits, and an apple with its own individual protective box being the highlights!
Saturday was race day, and another sunny one. We spun the 14km up the valley with Chris Peddar, Rachel Fenton and Mike Blewitt from the MarathonMTB team, a good little leg loosener before the going got serious. With over 6,000 taking part the town of Villabassa was crowded. Fortunately I was gridded in block A but looking behind was a bit daunting- there were riders as far as the eye could see all waiting to charge off the line, I hoped I wasn’t about to get mown down…
After a very fast road start we quickly turned up the first climb, a mere 7 km… I felt a bit rough but tried to maintain position, going round the switchbacks I could see Chris and Mike up ahead but we seemed to be riding at exactly the same speed. I did catch Chris before the top and braces myself for the first descent and a healthy dose of Euro-bombing. This generally involves a steep, loose fireroad where riders are going over 60km/h and then chopping around the inside of the rider in front on a blind corner, normally out of control. A lack of respect for personal safety is useful here. Strangely, the same riders who had flown merrily down the fireroad didn’t seem so keen on a little slippy chute. Barely a couple of hundred metres long, I made up around 10 places as riders panicked at the sight of roots, rocks and.. shock horror, a little mud!! One guy flew over the bars and another careered off the edge, revenge was sweet!
The climbing then started again and the legs started to come round. We did an extra loop here that the ladies race missed out. I was a bit disappointed with this section. We climbed around 1,000m on never ending forest fireroad only to reach the top and the plummet straight back down the fireroad, I don’t think there was even a good view at the top! Still I caught Mike on the way up and we flew down the other side together. I was feeling a bit more comfortable with the sensation of tyres sliding around gravel corners at silly speeds. At the bottom there was another short section of singletrack. I made sure I got in here first and by the end I’d pulled out a pretty significant gap. I still find it strange that riders who are clearly incredibly strong find a few corners and some roots so tricky…
There followed a short but pretty steep climb through the forest. Here our group splintered and I pulled away with a particularly wiry and bronzed Italian mountain goat. We worked together and soon got a gap. The race then hit a long cyclepath up the valley, around 15km of false flat. I think I did too much work here as I was beginning to suffer by the end, which was unfortunate as we then turned onto the final climb of the day!
This generally involves a steep, loose fireroad where riders are going over 60km/h and then chopping around the inside of the rider in front on a blind corner, normally out of control. A lack of respect for personal safety is useful here.
Out of food and running on empty did not bode well. Fortunately I was saved by simple sugar and caffeine! As the coke effect worked its magic I slammed it in the big ring and charged up the final climb. For me this was the best section of the day. A great hairpinned climb and then the view from the top over flowering meadows with the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the background was unbelievable. The final descent was a real mix. We started with an incredibly fast section on the road. Fortunately the road was closed to traffic but the hairpins were still catching tired riders out. One lady just in front of me had a very lucky escape after completely misjudging a corner and going over the side. Fortunately she was saved by the trees and just a little shaken. After helping her clamber back up to the road and making sure she was ok I was off again. After the Tarmac start we continued in fireroad, the caffeine had clearly doubled my bike handling skills and I flew down passing a couple of riders in my race. Finally we hit fast, flowing singletrack for the last section. As we’d caught the shorter distance riders there were plenty of shouts of Achtung required. All too soon the race was over, in a sadistic way I wouldn’t have minded another climb as I was feeling great! Still 33rd in the elite race was pretty good and it was an amazing day out, this race has to be done for the scenery alone.
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