The Appenninica mtb stage race will be the new kid on the block, however it has all of the components to firmly establish itself within the European stage race calender. The brainchild of Milena Bettocchi and Beppe Salerno, they carry their wealth of data of operating biking holidays across the region of Emilia Romagna. Combining their ardour for this area and their love of mtbing, they needed to showcase the driving on this little visited ( except by Italian tourists) Apennine mountain range, nestled between Bologna and Florence, following elements of the Alta By way of dei Parchi mtb path. This race wasn’t to be simply be concerning the driving though, however concerning the views, the host cities, the food and the vibe of being a part of this event. With a prologue and 8 levels, it was going to be a strong problem too.
I used to be racing in the combined pairs with fellow workforce Gore rider Naomi Freireich, but plans don’t all the time work and this was a type of occasions. On check for the occasion was a Santa Cruz Blur shod with ninth Wave’s new Yarrow wheelset, wheels with a 29mm inner diameter for a similar weight, if not lighter than many equal alloy 25mm wheelsets. Tyre selection was the WTB 29×2.25 Ranger. Used to their handling on 23 and 25mm rims, the terrain was going to be a great check for their bolder form on the wider Yarrows. See the top for my thoughts.
The Santa Cruz Blur was perfectly suited to the technical driving of this event
There was no messing about with the Prologue, inside 100m of the beginning it was straight up, alongside the portico of San Luca resulting in the Sanctuary of San Luca, 300m above the town of Bologna. A spectacular roofed arcade (which extends for 40km by way of the town), not that you simply’ll notice it much as the best way up is steep and at only 9.7km general, the pink mist quickly rolled in. Some respite was provided alongside wooded singletrack and a monitor marked out across park land with views of the town under, before being thrust right into a steep descent back to the start. A rude awakening for the legs before a transfer southwards to Berceto, the situation for stage 1.
The whole race was on account of play out over 550km with 20,000m+ metres of climbing, stats to rival most other alpine stage races. Any organisers’ nightmare is dangerous weather, however this wasn’t a problem through the occasion (though some riders might not agree, given the heatwave being skilled throughout the whole of Europe!), but a couple of months earlier than. Exceptionally dangerous weather had prompted landslides and downed timber causing chaos alongside a few of the designated trails. Following the unique route would have meant hours of hike a motorcycle for riders, not a welcome prospect, so a re-route was created, decreasing the space to 410km but still retaining 16,000m of climbing. Given the heatwave pushed temperatures to over 45° some days, the re-route was in all probability a blessing.
So much of this over the week
The prologue’s leisurely 1230 begin allowed for a relaxed sign on in the morning, time to verify bikes and meet fellow riders. 16 nationalities have been represented at this first edition, with riders from so far as SA, the US and Australia. For a primary edition, the race had some robust companions, Garmin, Squirt Biking Merchandise, Natali sports clothing, Sportograf and the renowned cheese company, Parmigiano Reggiano. Who doesn’t like good cheese?! The primary attraction of the morning was the chopping of the cheese and the next, obligatory tasting.
The primary spectacle of the prologue stage.
Berceto is a small town, nestled 850m up within the hills and our lodging was in an previous monastery with the posh of beds and pillows in giant dorm rooms. This singular night time of ‘luxury’ was loved as the rest of the week can be on our sleeping mats. The routine for the week was straightforward to comply with, evening meal at 1830 and the briefing/outcomes starting at 2030. Breakfast was anyplace between 6h and 7h depending on the stage start time.
Stage 1 set the scene for the week of driving we have been in for. Loads of climbing rewarded with on level and scenic singletrack, via forest, across hilltops and ridgelines with panoramic views of rolling, forest clad mountains all around. Rooty, dust tracks to unfastened and rocky, it had it all. Hike a motorcycle was minimal, a small hump in an in any other case excellent day of driving.
Myself and race companion Naomi dwarfed by the landscape
From the start, my race companion wasn’t up to her ordinary robust self, lacking power and finding it overly robust within the heat. Her velocity was limited but her dogged willpower remained intact, though her expression was telling.
Stage 1 delivered on each facet
Stage 2 threw us into the queen stage at 101km with 3700m of climbing, reaching the very best point of the event at almost 1900m. Regardless of its climbing, the views and singletrack made up for that, driving ridge strains and endorphin boosting descents, past bewildered locals of their hillside villages as riders broke their quiet afternoon. For the center 20km of the stage, we stayed high, flowing along hill tops singletrack before dipping back into forest trails and more chic singletrack.
Every day doses of excellent singletrack
It wasn’t until we observed the ghostly silent chairlift that we clocked that we have been descending a ski piste, an sudden function given the warmth and humidity within the region! A 1000m climb km completed off the stage and lots of rider’s legs. The concomitant drop into Fanano was steep, rocky, brake finger fatiguing. Robust, but wow! I don’t anybody was quite anticipating the level of partaking driving we had experienced to date. Everybody was reminiscing concerning the tight switchback forest descent to feed 2 on the end. This turned a theme for the week at dinner, tales concerning the day by day doses of singletrack. Accomodation was again in a sports complicated and meals was plentiful, spread across quite a few programs!
The stage took its toll on Naomi, she rode by means of gritted tooth, feeling worse because the stage went on. Staying together with her, we arrived at feed three with no probability of creating the minimize off time for the stage. We sat for some time at feed three, consuming calories to see if it might bolster Naomi’s legs for the ultimate climb, however well being comes first over the sake of a few kms simply to finish the stage and she or he referred to as it. It was a very good call, better than dig a deeper gap which would then be more durable to extract herself out of for occasions later within the season
Plenty of this
Rolling out beneath deep blue skies once more on stage three I was driving solo, slightly sombre at dropping my race associate. A 12km, 900m combined terrain climb led out the stage. Curiosity acquired the higher of me, sitting with the three front guys, intrigued the tempo they have been setting. In any case, I was racing as unclassified now. These guys have been quick. Clearly, however virtually half my age. In the purple, I lasted till km 10, peeling off to the 2nd group, curiosity having given me an excellent kicking. As soon as up prime, clear of the forest, it was singletrack nirvana, rolling on and on, across the hill tops, rugged rocky sections difficult dealing with expertise, with the occasional exposed section.
Robust driving at the moment, this was steeper than it seems! The Blur making steep, unfastened climbs extra accessible.
From the off, the Blur’s most instant trait was its descenting capacity, no rear wheel swagger by means of the rockiest of trails, however what stunned was just the way it maintained rear wheel traction going up steep, rocky climbs, the one limiting issue being pilot error. Sit, pedal arduous and the Blur simply surged upwards.
Really was greatest to hike this section
The preliminary part of the primary descent was super aggressive, so the advice was to hike down the first couple of hundred metres, with one of many organisation staff standing at that point. You possibly can see why, the best way down was deeply stepped, slender and steep, surfaced with nothing however unfastened stone with some steep drop offs. Each rider took the precarious strategy, besides the sweep motorcycle riders from the racing medical staff. These guys have expertise!
The Racing Medical Workforce had expertise
The subsequent 23km took us down, punctured with temporary, punchy climbs to the end at Porretta Therme. The ultimate 6km of descent was beautiful; steep, unfastened, rocky, exhilarating, more braking finger fatiguing driving, right into the town piazza, as soon as the steps up and down the bridge had been negotiated. I ended up round 6th general for the stage.
Another of the organisation workforce, Cinza, was everybody’s favorite person who day, handing out tickets at no cost gelato from the store throughout from the end! Unsure if this shall be an ordinary function for this stage at future editions, however it evoked big grins from every rider given the warmth! The spacious, sports activities hall lodging was a bit disjointed from the finish area, but only a short stroll, very best for loosening up stiff legs.
Stage 4 was stage 1 for the four day riders, their ‘prologue’ being a 24km TT. 2 minutes separated classes, however with a scant 30 seconds between each rider inside a category, it was a recreation of chase. Racing as unclassified, a Sophie Hemming had had the ‘great’ concept of getting into me for the solo4 occasion, which the organisers had already arranged with a hand written number board earlier than I had even turned up at the race workplace. Racing towards recent legs, with no age class separation and brief levels, this was going to be enjoyable.
It was a quick turnaround at the high level
The TT climb was fast, on open tracks, an excellent steep, unfastened path briefly breaking the legs’ rhythm, pushing the physique properly into the pink. A momentary look at the far penetrating view from the height was all we received earlier than plunging again down via the forest and some superb, tight singletrack, not and not using a sting within the tail though. A 2km tarmac ascent earlier than becoming a member of the bottom part of yesterday’s descent into the town piazza. Bullying the Blur upwards, I managed to make the steps us this time. With the remainder of the day free, it was lunch, gelato and the native 50m swimming pool. In that order.
On point singeltrack descending
Because of the unavoidable alteration to the route, stage 5 heralded a switch to the start town of Santa Sofia within the morning of stage 6. Travelling south, the terrain modified, turning into extra rolling and drier.
The ‘rolling’ and drier hills of the more southern Apennines.
Stage 5 was round with 2 major climbs. The first, lengthy, scorching,, sluggish going via its more technical sections, meandering up to 1100m. Feed one was a welcome sight, sheltered from the sun in a small village up off the primary monitor with a enjoyable step journey returning riders to the route.
The 2nd climb was shorter and more sheltered, wider dust tracks maintaining the tempo comparatively fast, flowing along the hillside contours. From the 2nd peak, it was 19km of descending, fast flowing tracks and forest trails, interspersed with temporary climbs. The ultimate few kms alongside the riverside was the hardest, seeing locals cooling off in deep water spots within the river, just what was needed right now. Order of the afternoon was rehydrate, food and a river dip!
With the persevering with heat, a further 2 water stops have been added for stage 6. The climbing was delicate, alongside rolling trails, diving in and out of forested singletrack, for 32km to succeed in the 1240m excessive peak for the day and beautiful views we had now come to ‘expect’.
The best way again down was simply as jaw droppingly good, fast, unfastened, with no room for error on the corners, in any other case you’d be sporting gravel rash as a tattoo for the remainder of the race. Coming out of the timber onto Tuscany esque managed subject tracks, you virtually forgot you have been in a motorcycle race, reigning the velocity slightly to enjoy the tranquility of the panorama. Till we have been rudely thrust back into the moment up 2km of steep, cobbled monitor, averaging a front wheel popping 24%. Some walked, a couple of of us stubbornly rode it all, but just for some perverse, private satisfaction. The Blur made brief work of the ultimate a part of the climb, up the rocky singletrack. A rugged, fast descent completed off the stage, arriving in fashion into Bagno di Romagna along its adorned pedestrian space to the city piazza.
Meals that night was plentiful over a number of programs with as much cake as anybody needed to engulf. After you had achieved your submit race stretching in fact.
Stage 7, the grand finale, was a 2 lap affair. A combined terrain climb up, with all of the elements of the previous days, with the descent following a few of the local enduro course and a couple of goes at it. What a descent it was to complete off this fascinating event, pushing xc fullys and their riders to the limit, leaving every rider with lasting reminiscences right up till that end line. Each Milena and Beppe have been there on the finish to welcome each rider in, all of whom have been super stoked with what that they had skilled over the previous 7 days. Not the end myself and Naomi had deliberate, but the legs obtained me to 3rd within the solo4 occasion.
Dinner was a celebration of an superior occasion, everyone having gotten to know each other over the week, recounting tales from the trail. Riders, the employees, the medical workforce, the sponsors and the photographers all contributed to creating an interesting vibe to the occasion.
Putting collectively a new, unbiased stage race is a troublesome call, however the people behind the Appenninica have pulled this off with every success. They’ve opened up the Apennine vary as a massively credible mtb vacation spot, showcasing a number of the fascinating and interesting driving that this space has to offer. It’s Italy’s greatest stored secret no extra! This occasion wasn’t simply concerning the racing though, they’ve created an entire experience around discovering just a little visited space of Italy with every host town a special location, levels ending of their beautiful central piazzas.
The 2020 dates have been announced as July 19th to 25th. The prologue shall be absent, so that you’ll be diving straight into some unimaginable driving. All particulars on their website here.
Meals: It was plentiful, with the apparent pasta courses, loads of parmesan cheese and quite a lot of meat, cheese, vegetable dishes and cake depending on the host city. Unfold across numerous programs, so don’t get too glutenous with the first dish, as I’ll have completed, as there’s all the time more to return! For those who do have dietary requirements, reminiscent of coeliac illness, or being a vegetarian, it’s best to contact the organisers direct to ensure that they know and that they will accommodate you.
Lodging: You’ll need to offer your personal sleeping mat and sleeping bag. Accommodation is usually in giant sports activities halls, so loads of room or take the lodge choice. You’ll receive a 90L occasion bag firstly together with a further bag in your sleeping gear, so plenty of room for all of your package. Depart your bike bag at registration and will probably be transported to the finish.
Bike: A hardtail shall be fast, but you’ll be choosing arduous fought strains on descents. A full suspension, in case you have the choice, is extremely more enjoyable and environment friendly, including on the more technical climbs. The terrain can be robust on tyres, don’t deliver those super mild xc ones and make sure they’re packing enough sealant.
My journey was the Santa Cruz Blur, an xc rig that has been properly reviewed, but one which I had never swung a leg over. Getting some proper path time on the Blur it stunned with just how capable it was, past its xc designation. From these first few, technical trails, it was obvious that the Blur is a lot greater than simply xc, trail DNA operating deep by way of its carbon fibres. Compared to the now widespread, pivotless xc designs, the VPP system appears complicated by comparison, but therein lies its efficiency and effectiveness, with a decent connectivity between the front and rear triangles. Hauling down technical trails, there was no lag within the rear triangle following the front with sudden modifications of course over the race’s unfastened terrain. As soon as used to its dealing with, you need to challenge just where the Blur’s limits are. The VPP design does add some minimal weight, however provides a progressive suspension platform that appears to bely its 100m travel, feeling like more. It evoked confidence in tackling technical terrain at larger speeds than I might in any other case teeter down. Descending wasn’t its only prowess. Climbing too was unexpectedly, exponentially enhanced. Driving up steep, and/or rocky technical trails, you’d attain that time the place you’d usually anticipate the rear wheel to break out and be off and walking, however the Blur refused to let go when sitting and pedaling. It turned a recreation, challenging the Blur up the steepest and rockiest sections, seeing simply how far I might experience, errors on my half the limiting issue.
WIth stage races and marathons more and more utilizing more technical trails, the Blur may be Santa Cruz’s ‘xc’ race platform, however it may well more than hold its own when pushed into extra ‘trail’ driving duties. It’s a bike which blurs that boundary yet which stays super fast and poised for competing at a pure xc degree.
If there had to be some critique, it will be the fork. Not that Fox’s devoted 100mm xc fork is lacking however relatively with race courses have develop into more technically demanding since its inception, pushing the stiffness of the fork past its unique design temporary. In comparison with the tight again finish of the Blur, slightly swagger could possibly be felt on the fork when pushing the bike onerous, particularly with the super stiff 9th Wave Yarrow wheels (see under). Fox have listened to rider feedback and for 2020 they have upgraded the fork crown, making it stiffer, on par with their 34 platform for a minimal 30g weight improve.
For its efficacy, the minor commerce off with the VPP platform is a single water bottle mount. My answer was the minimalist Osprey Katari 1,5L hydro pack. A pack which is barely noticeable on the again and compact enough to go away the rear jersey pockets accessible. The Osprey bladder was crammed with purely water with a concentrated answer of Tailwind in the bottle, sufficient for two hours and I carried customized made concentrated sachets of Tailwind for refills.
Wheels: 9th Wave provided a set of their in home designed and developed Yarrow alloy wheels. With a 29mm inner diameter wheelset, initial reservations have been weight and whether or not such a large, seemingly extra path oriented wheel might minimize it for xc/marathon use. Those reservations unravelled from the point of the weigh in. At 1618g built onto their inhouse 6 bolt, increase hubs weight is on par or lighter than many equivalent 25mm wheelsets for what is a a lot stiffer wheel. Advisable for 2.25 tyres upwards, the 29×2.25 WTB Rangers crammed out to offer a larger contact patch, which got here into its personal on the quick, unfastened descents of the Appenninica. The wheels come provided as normal with tubeless rim tape and valve fitted, a pleasant touch, eradicating one step of the tubeless arrange process for the buyer.
WIth the broader unfold of the tyre, I ran barely lower pressures, 23 upfront 25 rear, without worry of the tyre wallowing on the rim, providing intense grip. For the extra technical trails, the Yarrows provided an apparent stiffness achieve over 23mm and 25mm alloy wheels without any penalty in rolling weight for the climbs. Built with DT Revolution spokes, wheels stayed true over the week, regardless of some somewhat sudden modifications of course on technical descents.
Because of; RITM Media and Sportograf for the images. To Gore Wear for the biking attire . To Luck Cycling for the custom made Rex footwear which truly fit my super extensive ft. To Squirt Cycling Products for his or her chain lube and tyre sealant.
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