Capoliveri Legend Cup
By Steve Smales
By Steve Smales
“Finito… Io finito” That’s what I said to the guy with green jersey and Cannondale Lefty that I’d been glued on the wheel of for the last hour. Staring at his hub going round, not looking up for the last eternity, I got to the ‘ultimo KM’ and the lights had gone out. I was off my bike and running like a drunkard due to hypoglycaemia.
I’d been studying Italian on Duolingo for a while. I got it wrong. He knew what I meant.
Yesterday’s journey to my first crack at a UCI Marathon Series started about fifteen years ago, after seeing Miguel Martinez solo to a marathon win on Eurosport, having ditched his punctured back tyre and ‘rimming it’ from about 5km out. I’d been an armchair fan of Cape Epic and loved the footage of the dust covered athletes racing MTB’s in dramatic landscapes. I’m in my fifties. I still want to be that man. Tragic I know.
I’d entered Capoliveri Legend Cup ‘CLC’ about six months ago. In addition to being a round of the UCI Marathon Series, CLC was the Italian National Championships. My impaired judgement entry probably happened at about half ten, after a couple of glasses of red wine. Then, realising my predicament, I booked a nice romantic holiday in Tuscany to proceed the race. As it happened, an unfortunate domestic situation meant I was faced with the difficult decision of either travelling to race alone, or not racing at all.
So with a degree of trepidation, the bike in the BikeBoxAlan and a rucksack, off I went on a ninety quid Jet2 job return to Rome… a hire car… and a ferry got me to the beautiful island of Elba. One set of clothes, three pairs of pants, two sets of riding kit, some instant porridge and a phone. Travelling light. But lots of hope and fear… in equal measures.
I arrived on Elba at Castle Grandologo B&B in time to see the sun set over the island and with time for a cold beer with my lovely hosts.
Race day was Saturday. I had Friday free to recce some of the course, but had no idea where to focus on. Luckily my partner for January’s Costa Blanca stage race, Liz made a late decision to travel up from her home in Sicily to race. So at least in a field of two thousand riders, with only one UK entrant, I’d at least know one person who might ring home if I ended up in trouble.
Liz racing was a real stroke of good luck, as I was invited to a course recce with half a dozen super useful Italian guys going from the square at nine thirty after coffee. “We’re going for an easy ride… take a look at the technical sections”. Something was wrong with Google Translate, as twenty minutes later I was in 32×51, with sweat pouring off my nose end as we climbed up a thirty percent concrete slab road that goes up from the village to the first mountain top of the route. Absolutely no doubt about it, despite being only 2km in, final race position would be strongly influenced by place over the top of this. Bit like Ingleborough for those who’ve raced The Three Peaks. Not great as a first timer with start number 1448 in the fifth grid of three hundred. Not good when I found myself at within ten beats of my maximum heart race just to get up it on “an easy ride”.
As those who’ve read my blogs on this MTB racing thing will know, I’m not a thoroughbred in this discipline. Yes, I’ve flirted with fat tyres a bit over the years, but fundamentally I’m a slow twitch timetriallist with even slower reactions, not much upper body and a bit of a scaredy-cat to boot.
The technical bits were technical… single track, steep, very loose, one line in many cares, with stone steps in places… . I was at the limit of my abilities – but I did just fine – followed wheels, committed and enjoyed my first real experience of dry, dusty Southern European MTB Miguel Martinez impersonation. After three hours of pure fun I felt reasonably confident that I wasn’t technically out of my depth. Wash the bike, lay kit out, pizza and chips for dinner and just get on with it… what could go wrong!
Race day dawned fine with 25C forecast. I rode to the start where the 2000 riders had assembled. There were 1100 in my 80km marathon race. 900 in the 50km MTB Granfondo that takes a short cut about 30km in. After watching the elite men & women, complete with a reigning world champion start, I took my start twenty minutes later, stupidly arriving last minute and finding myself at the rear of the last three hundred to start. After burying myself up that hill, I went through the first mountain top after spending a good ten minutes at near maximum in 77th place in my age group of 634 riders.
Riding without anyone with me went OK. It’s entirely viable; I don’t regret it at all, but the absence of having Heather on the course meant that I was reliant on the standard feeds and I knew I was loosing fluids fast – really fast. In the heat and the intensity – maybe a litre an hour. My 800ml bottle was half empty and I knew that I was an hour from the first feed. In a moment of clarity, I thought “there’s no point in having half a bottle in my bottle…”. I gulped it down and left a mouthful in case of a snake bite.
In all honesty, directly post race I was really unsure about how I rode; in some respects I was reasonably intelligent, as I recovered where I could. I sat on wheels, I took gels before I felt I needed them. I certainly rode well up to half distance. By 60km, I’d worked my way up to 51st from the surviving 423 of my peers; but I also had that nagging doubt that maybe I should have gone easier in the early stages. I could sense my body was switching from carbohydrates as fuel to that inch of middle aged flab I simply cannot shift for love or money, and I suffered a clear dehydration headache for the last 25km.
At 15km to go, I was literally like a drunkard, as coordination was impaired, i was in a filthy mood and I was dropping into survival mode. Somehow, I made it up the Legend Wall through sheer pride, but literally stopped over it’s crest. I hung on and gulped down full fat coke at the last feed with 10km to go and threw it all back up at 9km to go. My only comfort was picking off the occasional Granfondo riders who’d rejoined my race route and riding past the broken souls who’d run out of gas or broken their bikes.
At 3km to go, the route dropped onto a billiard table smooth tarmac road… I could see Capoliveri, I could hear the announcer, I smiled.
And then at the ‘ultimo KM’ flag, the course turned right up the Madonna di something or other. Another 25% climb over broken cobbles that had been washed out in the gutters.
“Io finito” I said. The Madonna herself must have helped me today.
I finished the race in 5:35:32 in 425th place from 1099 starters overall. I was 49th from 634 starters (425 finishers) in the masters.
The Day After
As I sit here on LS252 flying home; how do I feel about the CLC? Now the thumping headache of dehydration has gone and I’m feeling myself again – I’m utterly pleased I rode. The slow death of a difficult, hot race yesterday, maybe caused me to overlook that I started from the back of the back and rode my way consistently up through the field, in spite a far from ideal hydration situation. Above all, I exceeded all my expectations around technical descending and was able to recover when held up by more cautious riders. If I am to ride well at the Worlds next year, I absolutely must go there half a stone lighter as the repeated intense climbs truly wrecked me. As for the race itself, I would recommend it without hesitation. As for Elba, it is literally like paradise both on and off the bike. The mountain biking trails are surely some of the best in the world. The Italians call it ‘The Pearl of Tuscany’. It most certainly is and the slightly convoluted logistics of travelling there are undoubtedly worth it. The place almost has a mixed feel of a principality and Italian charm. The organisation around the CLC was astoundingly good and the measures around mitigating the risk of Covid were a real credit to those behind it.
You only have my word for it, but it’s such a shame I was the only person there from the UK. Recommended.
The stiffest XC shoes might not be the most suitable for a five hour race as their soles become painful.
Rigid bike boxes are the ultimate in protection, and your expensive carbon frame will be well protected. There’s definitely no chance of damage in this Bike Box Alan, but this needs to be balanced with practicality. They are hard to lift into a hire car without catching the bumper and they can take up the entire boot space in a small hatchback… which can become a problem once the bike is built. They are heavy in comparison to the soft sided bags, but this is balanced against the extra protection. I did also find that they leave little scope for additional items once a full suspension MTB is carried, even a sub 10kg race bike; but then, I took the smaller of the boxes that BBA supply. However, as already said, the box even in this size was cumbersome at times, although it did afford ultimate protection.
I need to have a reliable means of inflating tyres that I can transport. I need to explore a Leyzyne. In saying that, I’ll be racing more of these – stay tuned!