Six hours through the Italian dolomites covering 100 km of steep climbs, slippery and technical single trails and tough road climbs – so what did it take? Let’s see thanks to my Stages power meter and Dash!
The 2018 XC Marathon World Championships was touted by the race favourites as one of the most brutal ever to be raced, which is what you want to hear before starting your first world championships! Back in July, I came to Auronzo for a quick course check of the most important parts, it ended up being quite a bit longer and slower than I thought… Even in training the course was brutal. The climbs were steep and at altitude. The trails were rough and raw. The hardest part was how it was all composed.
The first half of the race trended upwards, which meant the relative short but steep climbs all came with very little recovery between them. You would do a 10-min climb followed by a 5-min descent into a 15-min climb and so on for close to 60 km. That ‘recovery’ time was made even tougher on the day by overnight rain, which turned already technical single-trail descents into much tougher sections.
Once at the highest point at over 2200 m, racers were faced with what I describe as a non-descendy descent. While the 40 km to the finish trended downwards, there were multiple short climbs that needed to be hit hard to maintain pace. Out of all the descending, I think there was only 50 seconds of road section where you could switch off and aero tuck. I think this composition was perfect for a mountain bike world championship. Mountain bikers would certainly be the ones battling it out for the top positions.
You would think that with everything to come the start would be tranquillo. Nope. Starting at 153 out of about 170 made the opening kilometres around the town of Auronzo important to gain some ‘easy’ positions. The start loop was overly tight and was generally sketchy with multiple crashes and close calls. Making passes was tough and any time there was an opening, or the path widened, it was a mad dash to move up. Over the first ten minutes I averaged 372 normalised watts with most of those coming from short intense efforts.
The start was just as hectic for some of the front runners which I noticed when Alexey Medvedev, the European Champion, and Hector Paez, eventual third place getter, came flying past during the first few hundred metres of the first major climb. At only 4 km long the first climb wouldn’t seem so important but averaging over 17% (with flat sections) made it a tough grind. I wasn’t too concerned by the steepness and had planned a power I wanted to hit that I knew I could sustain.
What I hadn’t anticipated was how little passing was available at the gravel section of the climb. For most of the climb there was only a single swept line, which meant to pass you would have to really gas it on the loose rubble to get past. For most of the climb, my pace was dictated by whoever was in front and I tried to make smart passes where I could. I made a fair few places up but even so, I ended the climb around 20 watts lower than I had planned. At the end of the day, I do wonder how much time I lost all up over the first climb, but also whether I would have finished the race as strong as I did if I had hit my planned higher power.
The upward trend begins
After the first climb and descent and two small climbs, the upward trend began, which for me was about 2:45 hours for 37 kilometres and 2000 metres of climbing. I was very conservative leading into this section as I knew from my training session that the latter stages would be tough if I blew up. Considering I had blown up in the last two marathons I had done, I thought it was best!
This section was pretty tough with good and bad moments, but I did finish the climb to Rifugio Auronzo and the highest point better than I had expected. It was still a major suffer fest climbing the 12% sealed road that was also quite wide and exposed, which made any speed feel slow.
Time to trend down!
The course was one of two faces and this side was definitely the smiling side! By this stage, I had spent over 4 hours in the saddle with most of that time spent climbing, which made the descent down a lot sweeter. It was rough with raw single trail cut into the side of the hill followed by rocky hiking paths and slick rooty trails. As I said, it was a non-descendy descent with very little real coasting sections. You consistently needed to push to keep the bike moving forward.
I found I had a lot more energy than I expected and managed the 69th fastest splits over the final two hours. Some of this was probably down to the technical sections but I was finding I could push hard on the short climbs, which probably suited me coming off the XCO World Championships.
Not to be outdone, the finale was almost as explosive as the start. I was in a small group of six leading into the second last climb and descent and knew I was technically better, so I pushed the pace to hopefully entice the stronger riders to come along. They did, and down the descent I was able to open the gap further while recovering and then cruised at the bottom for the two strongest to catch up, so I would have someone to work with on the flat run-in to the final climb.
This worked well as our little group of three swapped off for 10 minutes until we were caught by the chasers just before the final climb. I knew the climb was a doozy with 20% gradients for about 2 minutes and I felt good after sharing the workload with the two other riders. The chasers who had just caught up got to the front and pushed the pace on the climb. I doubted they could hold the pace they were at for 2 minutes after the chase they had put in, so I stuck to my pace and started to bring them back. Unfortunately for me, the overnight rain had made the climb unrideable and we were forced to walk as had the leaders. I bungled my dismount though and a small gap opened.
I was caught behind a rider on the short descent and as soon as the road opened I was off chasing. I got to the back wheel of the group on the final corner and made up a couple of places but couldn’t get the final riders. Pretty crazy how aggressive the final was after 6 hours of racing, considering we were fighting for positions in the 80s! I finished 88th, which I’m happy with after such an up and down season. Maybe I could have ridden the beginning harder and been higher or could have blown up and finished much lower. At the end of the day, I think I rode the best I could on the day, which is about as much as you can ask for. Though I’ll be asking a lot more of myself next year!
Bike – Norco Revolver FS 2 Custom
Suspension – Fox
Gearing – Shimano 11-46/34t
Components – Shimano/Pro/Mt Zoom
Wheels – Stans Podium SRD
Tyres – Maxxis Ikon 2.0
Power meter – Stages + Stages Dash computer
Made shiny by – Krush
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The up and down season continues – this time it was up! 😁 World XCM Champs went pretty smoothly for 100km through the Dolomites! After 6 hours of racing I ended in 88th after a sprint with 5 other guys. The best part was finishing strongly with the 69th fastest splits in the last 2 hours. 👍 I was maybe a bit too conservative at the start but blowing up wasn’t something I wanted to do on such a brutal course! 😬After finishing well over 1 hour behind on my last marathons in Europe that had a race time of under 4:30hrs for the leaders, it was cool to finish 52min behind in a 5hr+ race. Definitely the most brutal and beautiful day on a bike and a pretty good day to have a good day! Hopefully one day I’m not thinking about how far behind I am though 😬🙌 • 📸: @alpineadventurermassage @mike.blewitt • #norcobicycles #pocteam #rideshimano #ridefoxaustralia #maxxis #iamastagescyclist #stansnotubes #swiftwickaus #krushingit #stagescycling #powerforeveryrider #mtzoom #fesports #weknowpower #xcperspective