The Appenninica MTB Stage Race launched in 2019 and is celebrating its 5th year now in 2023. This year rthe race lines up with 6 challenging stages in the Emilia Romagna region. After Scott Cornish raced abnd reported in 2020 and Gordon Wadsworth did the same in 2021 – it was time for Imogen Smith and Mike Blewitt to tackle the event known for the hospitality, the food, the challenge – and a beautiful setting.
Appenninica MTB Stag Stage 1: 57km, 1850m
No doubt about it, Europe knows how to put on a bike race.
There’s colour, there’s crowds, there’s a little bit of chaos, there’s emotion… and that’s just registration. My last race on the continent was in 2019, and my last race in Italy was Transalp ten years ago in 2013. Europe, it’s been too long.
Today we lined up for the 2023 Appenninica MTB in the shadow of the immense Bismantova, a faintly cube-shaped and very impressive rock formation surrounded by rolling hills and postcard-perfect Italian countryside. But we didn’t just line up – oh no – we had a party. I think it’s the first time I’ve seen a DJ with a full set of decks ripping tunes for 150 bike racers on a start line. The sun beaming down – maybe beating down a bit, the clock inched towards the 11am start of what, on paper at least, was apparently to be the second easiest stage of the event.
Starting Appenninica MTB
In typical Euro style, we set off for a ‘neutral’ (really quite fast) start straight down a road descent and into singletrack. It was a little chaotic, but the fact that this is an intimate event with just 150 racers (the cap) meant that things were totally manageable. That first section of singletrack set the tone for the day, with constantly changing gradients that resulted in a lot of crunching and an occasional hike a bike.
The 11am start, plus summer in Italy, meant that heat was a factor on course today, with my Garmin measuring a max temperature of 44 degrees. Today’s loop of Castelnovo Ne’ Monti went out hard, like most first stages do. Coupled with the heat, this saw a lot of seasoned racers, and especially me, revving at far-too-high heart rates for far-too-long. I was surprised to see that I hit my max heart rate of 189bpm today, and my average heart rate was over 170bpm, which is usually my threshold. The first half of today’s stage profile looked like the inside of a dragon’s mouth, with sawtooth climbs and descents sapping our legs for the second half of the stage, which continued the sawtooth pattern but added in a couple of long climbs to spice things up.
With super intense climbs and steep, rough descents of a kilometre or two each, the only place to really recover was on the gentler, longer road climbs – of which there were a grand total of one. After the second feed zone at 36 kilometres, we climbed up a super steep, super old, cobbled road climb to a ruined castle with views of the incredible surrounding hills and mountains. Emotional experience: TEN STARS.
From that point I faded, and faded, and faded some more, ceding third place to a free-spinning Nina Brenn at the start of the final climb, which took us around the bottom of the towering mass of Bismantova, up more and more climbs, before a sweet, sweet road descent to the finish line where I was handed a bottle of cold mineral water, a Karcher, and a bowl full of pasta.
Results from Stage One
Italy’s Ilina Kristina won the women’s event, while the Nederlands Hans Becking took out the men’s event. The both have a handy lead infront of very talented fields. The full results lists are online.
I finished 4th, fading a little at the end. Mike came in 6th in Masters men.
It’s so good to be back racing in Europe. Off now to the pasta party.