A MARATHON TEST PIECE
In Australia we are slowly losing true marathon courses, and instead we have lap-based courses that don’t really go anywhere or offer a true experience, save for a few exceptions. In Europe, the terrain and culture allows for a marathon mountain bike race that traverses landscapes. Routes aren’t confined to bike parks, and take in just about any type of surface you might imagine.
The route for the 2018 UCI Cross-Country Marathon (XCM) World Championships was called the hardest ever by some – not that anyone thought that was a bad thing. Starting in Auronzo di Cadore, in the Dolomites, the route took in steep climbs and loose singletrack descents before climbing towards the WWI fort of Monte Piano, traversing alpine meadows and trails, then tackling the road climb to Tre Cime Lavaredo, passing right below the fortified mountains that were the border between Italy and Austria prior to the first World War.
Riders then took on the famous 101 trail, descending on old singletrack down the valley, with some short climbs and twisty trails once back in the trees. There were slight changes for men and women, and men would race 102km with 4200m of climbing, while women were faced with 89km and 3600m of climbing.
The fields were stacked with XCO racers and marathon specialists, making for one of the largest XCM World Championship fields ever, with over 180 men and almost 80 women. Australia had 3 riders in each race, including 2018 XCM National Champion Anna Beck. Dan McConnell, Seb Jayne, Holly Harris and Imogen Smith were all backing up from Lenzerheide, just one week earlier.
In the men’s race the front group was lit, with Howard Grotts, Matthias Flueckiger, Henrique Avancini, Daniel Geismayr, Kristian Hynek, Samuele Porro and more all forcing the pace. In the women’s race, Annika Langvad rode away on the first climb – and never looked back.
The course took it’s toll, with Australian Ben May one of many who succumbed to the pace which didn’t treat him kindly as he battled a lingering infection. Jayne and McConnell rode up the field from their start positions near the back, as did American Ryan Standish (who calls Alice Springs home).
A small group came to the line in the men’s race, with Avancini sprinting to victory ahead of marathon specialist Daniel Geismayr of Austria, with Hector Leonardo Paez from Colombia collecting another Bronze.
“I knew I was in good shape but also aware I was an outsider,” said Avancini. “In order to best play my cards, I tried to break the pace of the marathon riders and I think I made it. I don’t have a favourite discipline: I feel a biker first of all, and during this season I’ve tried to show it. By all means, I didn’t expect to close the year with a world title”. Dan McConnell finished 23rd while Seb Jayne was 88th.
Langavd continued to lead, even after the long descent off Tre Cime. Austrian Christina Kollman-Forsetner lead the chase, with Kate Courtney, Ariane Luethi, Esther Suess, Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja, Maja Wloszczowska and more right behind. But they couldn’t catch the Dane, who won solo nearly 5 minutes ahead of Kollman-Forstener and Wloszczowska.
“It was really tough, for sure the most selective race I’ve ever took part in. I tried to be aggressive since the very first climb and I was surprised I was already with no rivals since the beginning,” said Langvad.
The Australians fared very well in the brutal race, with Holly Harris coming 29th, Imogen Smith 37th, and Anna Beck 41st.
Smith, who placed 20th in Laissac 2 years ago said “That race made Laissac look like a pool party,” and with race times 25% longer than in Laissac, and almost 50% longer than last year in Singen, it’s clear that the variety of marathon racing is part of the challenge – and the appeal. Next year the race heads to Graechen, Switzerland, where the course will run for approximately 90km and take in well over 4000m of climbing.