After the flat out marathon course in Singen for the 2017 UCI Cross-Country Marathon (XCM) World Championship, the course for the 2018 event is a completely different beast. The 3Epic race which hosts the Championship is a hilly course with sustained climbs and descents, taking in fast gravel roads, steep climbs, forest trails, a long road climb to and exposed singletrack.
As is usual at the XCM World Championship race, the women race a shorter event than the men. Why? To make it the same sport. The idea is to have a similar finishing time. The men race 102km with 4200m of climbing, while women race 89km with 3400m of climbing. Much of the route is the same, with small sections removed for the women’s race.
Having looked at about 80% of the course over the past two days, there is no doubt that it will be a demanding course. The distance and elevation don’t lie. But looking at the course statistics and seeing only 8% singletrack, you would be forgiven for thinking it will just be a road race. But the gradients of the climbs, and the singletrack that comes when riders will be greatly fatigued means that this race is very different on the trail than on paper.
Riding the XCM World Championship course
Starting in Auronzo di Cadore, the start takes riders down the road, and onto the dam for the lake. From here it gets a little narrower. With over 180 men in the elite race and over 70 in the women’s, it’s not a small thing to consider. The gravel path around the far side of the lake is mostly 2-3m wide, but chances are it will have one or two fast lines, so moving up will be hectic.
A narrow bridge follows, again, with room for two handlebars, before swooping around the lake below town on the other side, then hitting the first steep climb. Women climb to Malon at a 15% average for a few kilometres, men climb to Monte Agudo – a little further and a little less steep for the average gradient.
This is the first of 3 smaller climbs which have steep and loose descents. Expect a bottle neck when the first climb moves off the sealed road to the loose off-road section at over 20% gradient. Whoever will be the first to dab will be the first of many.
After the three small climbs the course goes through Pralongo, and starts the long drag up the valley to Misurina below the Tre Cime. It’s a steady gradient, but it gets steeper in the last 5km before the feedzone above the lake. Here, the men do an extra loop to Col de Varda, before returning to the lake.
The women descend to the lake, skirting the shore on a shaded walking path.
At the end of the lake the course enters a loop which as far as we can tell, has only been open for the Italian National Team to ride. It will climb to the Forcella Alta Monte Piana.
Part of the return is rooty with plenty of natural trail to work, and it drops down across fields and on old doubletrack before climbing up a steep singletrack in the forest and then fields towards the road to Tre Cime Lavaredo, eventually topping out at the Rifugio Auronzo.
There’s a view straight down to Auronzo di Cadore, but now an epic descent starts. It’s not that steep, or that technical. However the terrain is loose and the exposure isn’t insignificant.
Near the top you pass Via Ferrata anchors, and plenty of the small humps in the trail leave you wondering what’s on the other side. The singletrack twists and turns down the valley, crossing a scree slope which might force some people off for the pinch climb, before cutting across the face of the mountain group and eventually entering the trees. You end up by the lake at Misurina, before descending next to the road and onto a climb to Col de Varda.
This is steep, a ski road that is mostly in the sun. And if it’s hot or sunny it will see some people in trouble if they got their hydration and nutrition wrong. But this is a World Championship – most people will be well-prepared.
There is a long descent from here, first on gravel roads, and then there is a drop onto forest trails on the right, taking riders through fields and forests. There is either loam or mud – lots of traction or not so much.
In time you cross the valley back onto the main gravel path to Auronzo, which is super fast with plenty of options to slide around. There’s a small trail and climb into Val Marzon, before another trail to descend back to the valley trail. It will be blisteringly fast here, depending what top gear riders have based on chainring sizes for the climbs.
Into Auronzo, riders cross a covered bridge, and ascend a 350m climb that is super steep, before descending again, crossing the river and climbing to the finish arena. Race winning times of a little under five hours are predicted.
Thoughts on the World Championship course
This is a really demanding course, taking riders up the main valley to the high point at the refuge, with views across many of the mountain groups in the Dolomites. The descent is the kind you travel for, and the route will take you through small hamlets and a variety of environments. It will certainly give any rider a good sense of scale of the Dolomites. It’s a complete marathon route, and there will be no chance victory here.
What will be really interesting is the mix of World Cup XCO talent on the start sheets in with the marathon specialists. Are some of the top riders here because their team wants them to be? Are they seeing what they can wring out of their bodies at the end of the season? Or was the allure of another World Championship event just a 5.5hr drive from Lenzerheide, one week after XCO World Champs too good to ignore? We’ll see – and expect to see our race predictions online tomorrow.