Xterra Italy : Happy Faces Smash Races
I had another unpleasant experience on the trains after Xterra France. exhausted from the race I dragged my bike and luggage through 3 different countries hopping on and off trains for 8hrs, speaking bad French, bad German and in the end bad English, only to find the car rental place in Austria to be closed. This “living the dream” was a lot harder than I thought it would be. Don’t get me wrong I never expected it to be easy, but there were lot of things I never thought of when I prepared myself for this trip.
I was dealing with unbelievable highs followed by extreme lows and to find a balance between those two mind sets whilst travelling in between races, I experienced to be quite tricky. I decided to find some sanity by joining Subaru-MarathonMTB boss Mike Blewitt and team mate Imogen Smith in Livigno, Italy, where the two were preparing for their TransAlp stage race. Mike with almost a decade of experience racing in Europe would be able to give me sound advise, and reassure me that what I was going through was normal.
I couldn’t have made a better decision, the beauty of Livigno itself was enough to erase any negativity from the mind. And although a recovery week for me, I could not stay off the bike. After a few days of training with great mates, I was all refreshed again and felt sad to leave the mountains behind.
Scanno was definitely not a disappointment though and I felt like I had fallen from one paradise into another.
In Italy I was joined by Kiwi up and coming champ Ollie Shaw who’s travel stories brought me to tears from laughter many times on our way back from the train station in Rome where I picked him up from. This was going to be one amusing week. I felt like the official Xterra shuttle service when I had to return to Rome the following day to pick up Renata from the airport. Typical Italian chaos and I was worried I would never find her. Those fears almost came true when I was waiting for her inside the terminal while she was waiting outside. 2hrs later…
Renata is always a joy to be around, her enthusiasm is contagious and I was very happy to see her. Renata just like Ollie and me had experienced a couple of bad races and was looking for some relaxation in Scanno to free the mind and regain the fight which makes her one of the best off road triathletes in the world. She couldn’t not have chosen a better place to do this.
In the little village of Scanno we were joined by Helena and her loyal father, it was great to spend some time with them, they are both true champions, Nico Lebrun was also there during the week. He had been part of the course design, and had been adopted by the locals as one of their own, Nico was accompanied by polish Bartosz and the two together made for a highly entertaining duo.
Fresh ITU Cross Triathlon World Champ Conrad Stolz and his right hand Liesel stayed at the lake. Which meant we would find Liesel riding up and down the huge hill Scanno is built on many times, to provide the Caveman with supplies. Liesel managed to warm many hearts of the locals with her bubbly personality and was appointed as pro athlete coordinator by the Xterra organisers by the end of the week. It showed us who the boss is in the Stolz household!
The dynamics of us all blend in this beautiful remote part of Abruzzo made for a very comical week involving a lot of laughter. In true Italian style none of the official program seemed to be followed, despite this everything just fell in place and stories were made.
When I practiced the bike course I was in heaven, there were plenty of rocks, gravel, dust sand, all what I was used to riding in Australia, this I knew how to race.
Unfortunately Renata’s warm up dance was mistaken for a rain dance by the weather gods and the course was turned into mud two days out from race day.
Another wet one!
I am sure that if Niko would have found a way to make the swim have an elevation gain he would have, this course was brutally tough, but there was so much diversity in it, the beautiful scenery, the parts through the historic village of Scanno, the steep ups and lethal downs, the cheering locals, at no time did the mind or body get a rest, it was a true Xterra experience and I loved every minute of this race.
My confidence had been knocked a bit so I decided not to ride as hard as I normally do on the bike, a puncture early on took the pressure completely off me and I just enjoyed the course, the highlight being flying down the steps through the village whilst cheered on by locals and cow bells, so much fun.
When I run out transition I think I was smiling, my legs hadn’t felt this good for a long time, because of this I went out way too hard and with 500m elevation gain over 10.4 km I found the hurt box later on. Nevertheless I run through the finish line happy in 6th place, this was a very cool race.
From a distance I saw Ollie with a big smile, “I came 4th” he yelled still in disbelief, what a star! It made me even happier. Not long after Renata run towards me all smiles, she came 2nd, only just beaten by Helena, and was so happy she found her strengths again. Here we were, all on a high, all happy about our own performances and each others. What a week it had been. This was racing with mates. This was living the dream.
A big thank you to Nico Lebrun for helping design a course which was inspiring and inline with the true Xterra Spirit, to the organisers, all the locals, Hotel Roma, and all the athletes competing for making a very unique racing experience. This one has to be on the Calendar for 2014.
Next stop for me will be the Montafon MTB marathon in Austria which I will use to add some volume to my program. This has been raced by Subaru-MarathonMTB Team mates Graeme Arnott, Mike Blewitt and Will Hayter in 2009, 2010 and 2011 respectively. I would love to race it hard and find out where I could come but sometimes you have to sacrifice races for others, and Xterra is what I am here for!