When Greg suggested doing the Etna Marathon this year with its "8 miles of great downhill", and then finding out the Giro d'Italia was passing through the day after the event, I eagerly booked my flight and filled in my online entry.
Since then Greg has drip fed me a few other minor details like the huge amount of climbing and the possible sudden climate changes.
Still the departure day came and off we went to Sicily. Armed with my extensive knowledge of the Italian language, the only word I knew was Ciao and I wasn't sure what that means, we landed in Catania and were relieved to get our bikes through in one piece, surprising, considering Greg's amazing bendy banana bike bag.
On the way to the hotel we noticed an amazing red light display in the direction of the top of Mount Etna and were very impressed that the Italians go to such lengths to create such a stunning effect on the volcano. It was only the next day we were told it was an eruption and the red was a lava flow which led to the airport being closed due to volcanic ash! I know lets go for a ride on the erupting volcano, not the best idea we have ever had.
Still we had a great ride round 2 laps of a 23km route with Sally Bigham, 2nd in the world of Marathon MTB and recent winner of the Cape Epic! Now I say we rode with Sally but maybe I'm exaggerating, she did do a bit more climbing than us but still, I'm sure she appreciated the company, at times!
The race was over 70km with 6750ft of climbing! I've got to say it seemed like a lot more! But even with all the up, the downs made it all worth while. Some superb singletrack and rocky, rooty descents giving a huge variety of terrain including some nasty sections of volcanic sand on corners and climbs just adding to the challenge.
Greg had an incredible result, justifying all that training he does, by finishing 2nd in his catagory and 19th overall! He took his place on the podium wearing a Mud, Sweat n Gears jersey, received his medal and awards from the podium girls! Apparently he didn't take much notice of them despite this photo suggesting otherwise!
Sally finished 1st in her class, 8th overall, largley, I believe, due to our
assistance in her training! I came in 51st overall and 7th in my group. I was pleased with this and know I couldn't have given much more, cramping on a couple of climbs. There was 180+ in the 70km race.
The next day was spent mostly resting, apart from Sally who did another 70km lap as a 'recovery' ride. We also took the chance to catch the Giro d'Italia which went through the town we stayed in and we saw the riders flying down a hill and round a 90 degree bend with the support vehicles struggling to keep up! The following ambulance screeched and tipped almost onto 2 wheels trying to keep up round the corners. (made me glad I didn't need an ambulance the day before, it seems all Italians drive like Rossi no matter what they are in!)
So we left for home, luckily the airport was open again, and left Sally to do another 70km lap for training purposes. The bikes made it home so all was good, despite customs trying to take Gregs' medal from him as it could have been used as a weapon! The worlds gone mad!
It was a great trip and the event was superbly run, friendly, very challenging but still one of the best I have done. Roll on next year, I'm already practising my Italian!