Ben Thomas manages and races for Mountain Trax – Vauxhall Motors Cycling Team, and is chasing qualification for the 2015 XCM World Championships.
This weekend the second European UCI Marathon World Cup of 2015 took part in Spilimbergo, Italy. Part of the Tilement Bike Marathon the UCI race would cover 2600 metres of climbing over 104 kilometres. I travelled out to the event with Scott UK team rider Mel Alexander who was racing her first UCI Marathon. After flying out to Venice airport Friday we had plenty of time Saturday to practise about 40km of the track including the first real climb. It’s fair to say that after the practise ride we were both more than a little excited about racing.
The start finish area was situated in the centre of Spilimbergo. On arrival Sunday the event had taken over with the start finish line in the town square, teams were setup down the narrow side streets, there was a big marquee for the podium and post race food. Unlike in the UK where the locals would just moan about the inconvenience here in Italy the locals loved it. Numerous times I was stopped so someone could admire my lightweight Scott Scale 900 team bike or ask me a question, of course I understood none of it as I don’t speak any Italian but it was all good fun! All the bars and restaurants were packed even before the race began at 9am, by the time the race finished you could barely move. Bet the old cobblestone streets don’t see this much action that often.
After a slight mix up I wasn’t gridded by Mr UCI so I was at the back of the elite pen. 9am, bang the gun goes off and we fly down the cobbles until everyone hits the brakes to negotiate the road furniture. Elbows out then, time to move forward. Once out of town the first 45km’s was pretty pan flat heading along the gravel bed of the Tagliamento River out towards the mountains of the Carnic Prealps. That might sound boring but when the lead group is averaging 30k’s an hour for almost 1.5 hours on twisty rutted farm tracks it’s pretty fun. I’d made my way into the lead group but didn’t move forward enough so kept missing the splits which happened each time we got to some singletrack. The lead group was a who’s who of marathon racing with numerous former World Champions and most of the top teams in attendance.
Once we were on the first climb of the day rising 250 metres the big front group split up but the pace remained high. Off the top of the hill the trails were a real blast all flowing together nicely with some off camber sections to catch you out. Once safely down this we covered a few undulations before the race got serious with the 1000 metre Monte Ciaurlec climb. The legs were feeling good, a big thanks to Mel Spath who was handing up bottles, the USN Spike gave me the perfect boost for the climb which lasted almost an hour. We hadn’t previewed this climb so I was relying on the Garmin to tell me the altitude. Once through the cloud cover though you could see the top. The following descent was a real tough one, pretty technically demanding. The first half was super step and pretty slippery, the Schwalbe Rocket Ron/ Racing Ralph combo was just about coping. The second half of the descent was on cobbled narrow paths, I think it was probably the mountain bike equivalent to Paris Roubaix! A few people on their full suspension bikes got back past me here. The arm pump was incredible.
Once finally off the mountain I had work to do, I wanted that top 20 World Champs qualification. Only one more climb, the following descent we’d pre-ridden and the 15km flat blast back to the finish. I was now riding full gas. Down the descent I was taking some risks much to the joy of the spectators. The trails here were some of the best I’ve ridden, smiles for miles!
I could feel the legs by now but I knew the last flat 15km would only take about 30 minutes and there were places to be made up, I could see riders ahead. A quick Vooma gel and it was game on. Once I caught riders I didn’t even slow to catch my breath, straight passed so they couldn’t hold my wheel. I made up some good places here but eventually 2 riders managed to catch onto me, then claiming it was not possible for them to do any work! Entering Spilimbergo I was determined not to let these 2 beat me so put in a big acceleration on the uphill zigzag singletrack through the church gardens. Onto the cobbles, into the town square, over the finish line and straight to the timing tent to find out my result.
Normally I’d be disappointed finishing 24th but this was the most competitive Marathon World Cup I’ve been to. Almost like a World Champs start list. 1 place behind 2012 World Champion Ilias Periklis, I’ll take it. I’d earned a gelato!
The men’s race was won by the Spanish rider Ivan Alvarez Gutierrez from Selle San Marco Trek, overtaking his Italian teammate Damiano Ferraro who was slowed down by a flat tyre just 5 km from the end of the race. Third went to Austrian Alban Lakata of Team Topeak Ergon, who outsprinted Portuguese rider Tiago Ferreira and the German Markus Kaufmann. Italian racers Longo, Porro and Tabacchi completed the top 10 together with Austrian’s Soukup and Pernsteiner.
In the women’s race Elena Gaddoni and Katazina Sosna took the early lead but in the second half Austrian Christina Kollmann of Fill-Scott dominated winning in front of the Austrian national champion Sabine Sommer and the Italian Daniela Veronesi .