Everything I have heard about the Appenninica MTB Stage Race over the past years has been positive. From the food, to the hospitality of the towns, the event crew, the event vibe and of course – the trails. Today’s stage from Fiumalbo to Fanano has probably been the best example so far for the trails. Sure, the other stages have had great singletrack, carved into the hills over centuries of use. But today was special.
On the dirt on Stage Four at Appenninica MTB
Today’s stage took off out of Fiumalbo, straight into about 10km of climbing through the village, some fields, and then onto the steep forest roads to the bare alpine grasslands at the ski station at the top. The group split within the first kilometre, partly with Tim Smeenge attacking right away, so the main contenders rode off up the hill. Debora Piana quickly distanced Kristina Ilina, ready to extend her lead.
I found myself in a group with similar riders to usual. After losing about 10 minutes with some misdirection (following Miguel Martinez) yesterday I had a few people breathing down my neck on GC in Masters, and they noticed. Gordon Wadsworth was great company but I was going backwards – probably because I drank most of a bottle of lambrusco at dinner. It’s a regional specialty so it seemed I should oblige… it was catching up with me.
We descended back into the forest, bouncing off the rocks down some ski roads, before traversing to an incredible singletrack descent. I was riding solo, going backwards, but had a gel to see if it would help. I’m glad I did, as I perked up just enough for an incredible descent that was coming. The trail skirted through the trees, then dropped into rutted chutes before you’d get a small break on a mini plateau. But it kept going, moving from steep benches to chutes, with rocks, roots and a lot of leaf litter. It was amazing.
The day carried on in a similar way, our climbing was mostly on road, with absolutely ripping descents. The second long descent was rocky and steep, coming into a warm, south facing valley. And our final descent towards Fanano took in a labyrinth of singletrack, with the same kind of diversity we had had all day. Some was barely held in place with cobbled together handrails above the ravine – you had rock next to one grip, with an old wooden handrail next to the other. The sound of the finish was close, but like so many finish lines, sometimes a few more small climbs were required.
Tim Smeenge ended up in a small group and won the stage, but Hans Becking remains the race leader.
“I’m very satisfied with my race and my day: it was nice to win and to extend the gap over Bart Classens, to secure the third place. I felt great from the beginning, and after the first climb I already had some cushion. I kept going with my pace until the second descent, when Becking got back and we rode together until the finish line”, said Smeenge on the finish line.
In the women’s race Debora Piana had her third victory in a row.
“I was in the front in no time, and this has allowed me to control the pace for the rest of the stage. I’m now in a great position: I think I can manage my gap on the second place without taking unnecessary risks in the last two stages”, commented Piana in Fanano.
My day at Appenninica MTB
I was in a bad way for the first 20km, until I resigned myself to just experiencing the day, and the beauty of the Appennine mountains. Given that the descents were fairly technical, it was a good choice. I waited briefly in feed zone two for Imogen and tailed her into the finish, watching her rip the trails and following her lines. It was a great day, and hopefully means I have a little more in the tank for the final days.
What really stood out today was the quality of the trails. They’re not here having been shaped by machines, and it’s likely they have barely had the input from a trail work day. But they’re old ways, old walking trails, and they have developed into demanding and yet rewarding trails. Sometimes with high levels of exposure, and always with a great level of fun and thrills.
Fanano is a small town and we are staying in a small hotel in the hills above the village – somewhere just about none of us doing ther Appenninica MTB race would visit otherwise. So hats off to the event team for taking 150 of us here, and to the region for having such amazing trails.