In what could well be one of the most picturesque regions in the world for a Marathon MTB race, the Val Gardena showed all it’s beauty and difficulty today in the 4th Sella Ronda Hero. Although this is only the fourth time the race has been run, the organisers have created a highly popular, well supported race. With over 3000 racers from 33 countries attending, it has a strong draw. As part of the UCI Marathon World Series, the strength in the Elite field ran deep.
Although storms were predicted for the afternoon, the race start was under clear skies. Clear, cold skies. The course goes straight uphill, even the starting grids are on about an 8% slope! So a warm up was paramount. This is where racing Elite makes a difference. You don’t need to be in your starting block 30-40 minutes before the start of the race – so you have a bit more time for warm ups. Being a ‘ranked’ Masters rider, I was in the chute about 7:15 for a 7:50am race start. That’s a lot of standing around.
When it was time to go, and the helicopter was up, the Quadcopter with GoPro’s was buzzing, and all the top riders had been corralled into position – it was on. Sort of. The pace just steadily rose up the climb through town, and gaps appeared on the steep sealed road towards the proper climb to Dantercepies. The first climb topped out after less than 6km, but 750m altitude gain. It was steep!
The descent off the top lacked thought. While I totally understand the need for a weatherproof surface, the trails line was on the ridge, and it snaked down with off camber corners, and a loose fine gravel surface. So it was Euro line down the grass, by just about everyone. When you have suffered to gain altitude, losing it like that is always disappointing. The rest of the descent to Corvara was fast, with a few more technical sections and loose corners. I was making a habit of losing time on descents. And as a helicopter followed closely overhead, I was certain it was for footage for a bloopers show on RAI Sport.
More climbing through the ski slopes up to Pralongia, and some great single track as we descended to the road pass, Passo Campolongo. This section was a little more undulating, by alpine standards, and was really interesting riding crossing through fields on farm trails, singeltrack cut into the sides of hills, steep descents, rolling ridge line trails – it was a nice change from the straight up and straight down of the start. But the climb… the less said the better. The ‘panorama trail’ towards the Passo Pordoi was a joy, and had a few remnants of snow to keep things wet and interesting.
The descent from Pordoi was a lot of fun. Very minimal amounts of gravel, and a lot of single track through the forest. This is rare in European marathons, but the Sella Ronda Hero has a high percentage of ‘trail’ in the 84km. With 43km of single track in the race, no one should be left complaining that there wasn’t enough ‘true’ mountain biking.
From Canazei, time moved slowly. Having spent too little time on the bike of late I was tired – and nervous about the approaching storm as the course headed to Passo Duran. Of course, this should be the final downhill, save for about 250m of altitude gain partway down. But there is always fresh energy on the last descent, and I enjoyed the long run back to Val Gardena.
Crossing the line in a little over 6 hours, I was happy to be finished. As was everyone who finished after me, and no doubt those who crossed before as well. It is a huge challenge, and finishing is a success in its own right.
Sally Bigham won the women’s race by 13 minutes from Elena Gaddoni. Leonardo Paez repeated his win of 2012, taking out the men’s event about 8 minutes clear of 2nd place Soren Nissen, and 2012 Marathon World Champion Ilias Periklis.
Full results and rankings are available via Datasport.
Riders kept rolling in all afternoon, through rain showers, sun showers and then a thunderstorm. The Sella Ronda Hero organising committee have done a brilliant job on this event, and created a tremendously tough race for amateurs and professionals to test themselves. And, they have placed it in one of the most enchanting mountain ranges possible. Although the elite fields were deep, there weren’t many of the racers who are listed for Marathon Worlds in Kirchberg present. This doesn’t take anything away from the winners, but it makes it a bit harder to use the race as a predictive result for the 2013 XCM World Championships.