This race report has been provided by Melbourne based racer Chris Hellman, who is currently in Europe racing some of the toughest Mountain Bike Marathons.
If you were to imagine the most spectacular race setting imaginable, it would pretty much look exactly like the Sella Group of mountains in the Dolomites – huge exposed granite peaks jutting out from the lush green mountainside on all sides. There is a reason this part of the world is so popular with cyclists… Then if you were to create one of the toughest marathon races in the world and place it in the setting described above, you would have a prety good idea what the Sella Ronda Hero is all about – hours of pain through stunning surrounds. As marathon racers, we often get drawn in by numbers – altitude, distance, climbing etc. There is no denying that the numbers for the Sella Ronda Hero are imposing – 82 kilometres with 4,200 metres of climbing or the “easier” option of 52 kilometres and 2,700 metres of climbing. If you’re going to travel half way around the world to race your bike, you might as well go the full distance!
The race itself is typical of many European MTB marathons – complete with massive race organisation (with a merchandise range including the obligatory jerseys, knicks and arm warmers but extending to beach towels, flags, T-shirts caps and hoodies), huge numbers of extremely fit looking Euro racers who climb like mountain goats but can’t descend to save their lives, pro mountain bike teams, plenty of exotic bikes you have never heard of before, the post race pasta party, fully stocked feed stations, thousands of spectators all over the most random parts of the course and most importantly where 26 inch hardtails dont feel out of place!
Following a couple of spectacularly good weather days leading up to the event, race day dawned with dark clouds on the horizon. Sure enough, with about 15mins to start time, the sky unleashed a savage thunderstorm complete with pelting rain, thunder and lightening. Although I have learnt this lesson before, I again made the rookie mistake of assuming that rain in summer isnt going to be cold and that thunderstorms pass relatively quickly – not so in Europe. Of course the Euros all happened to have waterproof jackets hidden in their jersey pockets which they quickly pulled out, I wasn’t so lucky. The start was complete with a band providing motivating music, a very excited announcer and a helicopter to capture all the action.
The start went through the town before heading straight onto the first climb of the day, the Dantercepies – 750m in 5 kilometres. The rain was hard, the temperature was cold and it wasn’t long before the first hike a bike section due to the muddy grass. Descending off the top started to get really cold and I had visions of capitulating at the base of the descent in the town of Corvara especially after stacking down a muddy grass hill. Into the town of Corvara and the rain had mercifully stopped, the next climb warmed up a little and life was getting better.
From here, the race pretty much started getting hard, really hard. Although the surroundings were stunning, there was no escaping the relentless climbing. The third climb, the Sourasass was 1000 metres over 10 kilometres. After already completing two climbs this one was the killer. Long stretches of hike a bike over ridiculously steep gradients had the entire field pushing for long stretches up roads that were difficult to even walk up. The pay off for the climbing in races is usually sweet descents, however the Italians seemed to not be content with stunning everyone into submission on the climbs, but the descents also! Over the top and off the bike again to get down the muddy, rutted single trail which saw a few riders falling over off descents through freshly cut fields. Enough to make anyone want to stop!
Thus the race continued in this fashion, in my case for over 7 hours. As expected, the race was brutal, but if you looked up, you were rewarded. The race ended with a pretty nice descent back into town and into the chaos that was the race village. The pain of racing usually takes a few weeks to subside, however the overwhelming feeling on the finish line, besides the screaming legs, was the memory of the spectacular Dolomite mountains surrounding the course on all sides. As expected, the race was brutal, not only on the racers, but their machines too. But similarly, as expected, the reward was well worth the effort. A stunning race in a beautiful part of the world. I’d go back for sure!
Full results can be viewed on Datasport