The final stage
Humans are great at forgetting pain. When we sign up for a stage race, we aren’t remembering the aching muscles, the stomach problems and nausea, the legs so swollen they barely fit into your jeans for the pasta party. We aren’t remembering that it’s not just the legs that hurt, but the arms, shoulders, back, feet, hands… and that’s if we haven’t crashed.
But what we do remember is the sweet, sweet sensation of crossing the finish line and that’s what keeps us coming back. Today, the final day of Appenninica MTB stage race, brought riders within reach of those sensations, with just a lazy 1500m of climbing in 36 kilometres to cover before the big celebration.
Today’s late 11am start kicked off with a callup for the leaders’ jerseys, the women’s field, and then each and every rider in the event. Today’s stage took in two laps of a 15km climb and descent lap, with a special side trip after the first lap to take in yet another climb, and what promised to be the most technical, most steep, and most gnarly descent of the event.
On the dirt at Appenninica MTB Stage Six
From the gun the race was hot. With GC leaders’ positions all but secure, top contenders were out for stage winning blood, and each and every racer with two or three minute gaps between them had something to lose or something to gain, and sometimes both. The course took us straight up a road climb then into some of the now infamous steep, rocky farm track we battled late in yesterday’s stage, before some more road climbing and a final five kilometre stint on gravel in the forest.
Then it was time to descend.
You know when you’re spotting dudes in goggles, full-face helmets and body protection riding hefty trail bikes that there’s some gnar to be had. Tipping into stage six’s descents, riders were met with gradients hitting -30% at times. Riding tired forearms, tired reflexes, and worn-out brakes, there were a few spills and punctures alongside the whoops and smiles.
It hurt to head out on another lap, but passing through town meant big cheers from spectators and plenty of good old fashioned Italian emozione to boot. Today’s stage was over in less than two hours for the front end of the field, leaving plenty of time to enjoy the late summer Italian sun in one of the most glorious regions of the country.
My race on stage 6 at Appenninica MTB
I’m not sure how many times I said “I don’t think I can do this”, “I’m not sure I have this in me”, and “I can’t”, but I managed to get my puffy legs into my kit, my gels into my back pockets, and my ass onto my saddle in time for the callup. My plan was simply not to lose the 25 minutes or so I had up on fifth place, and believe me, there were moments when this felt totally unachievable. After weeks of travel and racing, my body was starting to fall apart in a deep and unusual way, and this, accompanied with the usual stage race fatigue and stomach issues, had me on the limit.
I gave the start what I had, which turned out to be very little, but managed to find a rhythm and catch up to Sophie, sitting in sixth on GC. I knew that if I held that speed, my fourth position would be totally fine, and as Sophie can shred descents, it felt right to use her pace to keep me motivated up the climbs and to find some company on the descents. I got stuck in some traffic on the first and second descent, but let Sophie go for the final descent so I could enjoy completely clear trails all to myself. We came together behind one of the male racers right near the bottom, but I was done. I sat up and took one last look around at the Appenine mountains, the chocolate box Italian village, and soaked up the cheers of “Forza” and “vai vai vai!” one more time before crossing the finish line.
Kristina Ilina and Hans Becking won the stage, but it was Debora Piana who kept the overall lead, while Becking defended his.
Doing three big six-day stage races in three different countries in eight weeks has been a challenge, and the challenge has grown with every event. I’ve done Singletrack 6 in Canada, Breck Epic in Colorado, USA, and now Appenninica MTB in Italy. Each race has had its own character and it’s highs and lows. I’ve climbed a lot, shed a few tears, and eaten a hell of a lot of carbs. It’s been a wild ride and a summer I’ll never forget.
Thanks for coming along for the ride, and a huge congrats to all the Appenninica finishers out there.
Time to party.