Stage Two of the Appenninica MTB Stage Race dawned with some cloud cover, but a very upbeat and friendly vibe in race HQ. No doubt after the heat of stage one, everyone was happy for less intense sun as we took on the Queen stage, riding 90km and ascending 3200m from Castelnovo ne’ Monti to Fiumalbo.
With the usual beats pumping from Radio Bruno’s decks at the start line, we took off in a chorus of SPDs being engaged, straight through the roundabout and up hill – a suitable theme for the day. While the front group weren’t messing about, they clearly were riding in a manner that would let the course sort out the ranking, without too many attacks in the early kilometres. By the finish in Fiumalbo Tiago Ferreira outsprinted race leader Hans Becking – but Becking will go to sleep with the leader’s jersey waiting for Stage 3.
While Kristina Ilina had the lead from stage one, on the long, rocky climb from the first feedzone, Debora Piana started to edge away. It was such a steep climb, with sustained pitches, that Piana edged away, creating a gap. And that gap remained, and grew, inpart to to Ilina taking a wrong turn with some other riders at approximately the 70km mark.
My day at Appenninica MTB
I was happy with my day yesterday although I know I probably pushed too hard. So today, I elected to start a little further up the start chute, closer to my current overall ranking, to save some energy which passing requires. I settled in riding with Gordon Wadsworth, who was still feeling a long way from 100%, plus women’s leader Kristina Ilina and 2nd place Piana. Gordon and I hung back, not wanting to impact their race. Scything through small villages on tiny roads, we descended a gravel road and quickly tipped into a steep, rocky chute descent. I lead it and felt like I was all over the place, but I was happy to be a little slower than I felt I should be when it got steeper.
We rode as a somewhat split group of 4 to the first feedzone, where the leading women danced off up the steep climb (which seems to be a theme after feedzone here?) and Gordon and I continued our chat about tyres, frames, gravel bikes, singlespeed worlds, Kristina’s Classified MTB setup and who we liked and who we didn’t in the world of mountain bikes. It was great, although I was certainly aware that Gordon could happily string full sentences together, while mine were somewhat truncated.
Piana had broken away but the pace was firm for the three of us regardless.
The climb was a beast, and we had a couple of masters riders catch from behind and push on. Over the top we went into a fast broken up forest road descent. I was gapped a little and saw the two of them tip into the singletrack descent. It was amazing. At first mellow and lined with pinetrees and then steeper, tigher and certainly more sustained. There was no chance I would see those two, but I was just stoked to be riding some of the best trails that I have ridden – maybe this year?
A long grind of a climb was up next, into the forest and up, up, up. The route traversed the hills and was covered with plenty of people out collecting mushrooms. The sun was out, the tree cover was gratefully received, and the views were amazing. But they were about to get better.
We came out to a grassy slope and the full beauty of the incredible view – alongside some incredible wind. I could see Gilberto Simoni stopped at the crest – he’s riding the event as staff on an eMTB. He must have found it the best place for the view. He was right.
The route stuck to the ridgetop, ducking into the forest for singletrack and then taking you out to the full force of the crosswind. From here a long descent begun, punctuated by an incredible singletrack traverse and a road climb to the finish.
Today was a massive day, I had a riding time of 5:36 and was 5th in Masters. Imogen came in 4th in women, and is 4th overall.
Tomorrow we tackle 79km with 2250m of climbing. Thankfully we have had a fantastic dinner put on by the town of Fiumalbo!