Billed as the mountain bike race on the highest active volcano in Europe, the Etna Marathon is a big draw with the mountain bike community every September. It is preceded by the Etna Marathon Tour, a five-day stage race competed by teams of two that finishes the day before the Etna Marathon.
I’ve been MTB-curious for some time as there is a massive scene in Sicily, with Mount Etna provided an endless supply of trails and single-track for exploring. There are three distances; Marathon, Granfondo and Excursion. I signed up to the middle distance then went about hiring a bike, with a friend suggesting I try Maurizio as Duemme in Trecastagni. There I hired his old steed, a fairly heavy aluminium bike from the 90s, but I thought it should do the job.
For the past few weeks I’ve been preoccupied with my Everesting Etna challenge, however I found time to squeeze in a few rides, going training with friends or solo. I soon realised that the course was very technical with several drops and staircases, which I was having difficulty negotiating. Not really suitable for an MTB newbie like myself!
On Monday I decided to go solo and complete the excursion distance without falling off. I managed to negotiate my way around the first technical section, but later on he descent I came a cropped on some single-track and ended up rugby tackling a tree. Luckily the impact wasn’t too bad, but I jarred my shoulder and could feel a trapped nerve the next day. After one more ride I decided to bail and sent an email with apologies to the organiser.
We headed along on race day arriving at the start village of Milo, previously nominated as “Villaggio Ideale d’Italia” and famous for its vineyards. We had a wander around the race village checking out the various stands, including headline sponsor Canyon who had their MTB range on display along with their new cross bike the Inflite CF SLX.
After 9am we watched the race start, with around 1000 riders setting off from Milo. After a coffee and pastry at the bar on the piazza, we headed back to the car to drive up Etna to get a good vantage point as the race entered the woods. There were ominous clouds overhead and we could feel the first spots of rain as we headed to the car.
Around 5km up we parked at the point where the race crosses the main road and heads back into the woods towards a technical section. We headed into the woods to watch, with the rain falling pretty heavily by this point. It looked absolutely brutal with riders having already negotiated a 20% paved road and various steep sections. We didn’t make it to the technical section as we were getting pretty wet and headed back to the car to watch further up. As we headed up there were already riders abandoning, a couple riding down on their rims.
After taking some video of the riders we headed back down the mountain to watch as the excursion and granfondo riders arrived at the finish. You could tell it had been a tough day in the saddle with people looking visibly relieved to get to the finish. A race for proper hard nuts or “noccioline dura” as I mis-translated into Italian.
At around 12.45 the first Marathon rider arrived back, Giuseppe di Salvo (A.S.D. Baaria), winner of last year’s race too. He had a baby’s dummy ready in his mouth as he crossed the line, obviously confident of his prospects for this edition of the race!
The whole event seemed to be very well run, thanks to local team Mongibello MTB who also run bike tours under the name Etna Bike Tours. I’ll see if I can defer my entry for next year and with a bit of more practice hopefully I can take part in the grandfondo course.