The Pro MTB Dolomite Experience
Towering peaks, fire roads twisting through mountain pines that dump riders into all-mountain/free ride descents all culminating with a summit finish complete with 360degree view of Dolomite views means enough fun (and suffering) to go around. This is the Kronplatz MTB Marathon, the best kept secret on the Italian mountain bike circuit.
Rolling up to the starting line full of European racers ready to try to tear each others’ legs off means one thing: you’re going to be “on the rivet” from the gun. Not that it was really any surprise at all. The first long and unrelentingly steep fire road climb through the pine forest was as tough as it was beautiful. If you come to race here, ride as hard as you can, but keep it steady, because the course is a challenge, and you’ll want to save some energy to play around a bit on the descents.
After the climb finishes, have a quick glance at the stunning view of the Dolomite peaks and valleys before dropping into the most pleasant surprise I’ve had during any race in my 15 year career. Usually marathon courses have very rough or very open and fast descents. Not so at the Kronplatz MTB Marathon. Racers can flow down perfectly curated free ride trails in the heart of the Dolomites whipping around parabolic curves and tabletops on the cruise down the mountain. It combines all the beauty of epic marathons with curated World Cup XCO courses.
Gear for the Ride:
If you want to go as fast as you possibly can over the course, I’d definitely recommend a hardtail for the 2200m of climbing for the short 49km course and 3200m for the long 72km course with long, consistent pitches over 20-25%. Nothing is too technical and, due to the mountaintop finish, there’s considerably more climbing than descending, so those seeking every single advantage would do well to reach for a hardtail as you’ll feel the extra weight on the climbs without gaining much on the descents on a full suspension rig.
Having said that, if you want to maximize fun and are ok with giving away a little time, go with a full suspension. The free ride park is made for ripping it on a longer travel, full suspension- bike. A full suspension will keep you wanting to comfortably push the envelope a bit on the descents and allows you to get a bit more flow on the well built trails. If you go this route, get a bit of air and go high on the the burms… no other mountain bike marathon course I’ve ever ridden is packed with so much fun.
What to Ride
Regardless of what bike you choose, remember that the course is hard. There is a lot of climbing, so it’s hard to fake it here. Make sure to pace yourself and don’t be tempted to push yourself too hard to hold the wheels as the long steep climbs reward those who stay within themselves, particularly on the punishing final climb to the line at the top of Plan de Corones. The one exception to this is on the day’s second climb. It’s a long, gradual out and back in the valley toward Ücia Pederù. If you can get in with a good group for the fast, and non technical road back down the valley, you’ll save a ton of energy and roll much faster to the foot of the final climb.
After the turn around point at the top of the valley - the second climb of the day - you’ll find the second of many well supported feed zones complete with full bottles of energy drink and mineral salts. There’s no need to carry the extra weight of two bottles, toss yours in at the feed and grab a fresh bottle on the fly. Your legs will thank you on the final climb - or two - up Plan de Corones depending on whether you’re doing the short or long course. If you’re doing the long course, you’ll find another feed at the top of the penultimate climb on your first pass by the finish area. Grab another bottle, have a gel, and gather your thoughts for the rad descent on the curated bike park trails and let it rip if you’ve still got the mental clarity to do so.
Make no mistake, this is a marathon mountain bike race, and people will try to do their best. But, it’s still an event aimed at enjoyment and the satisfaction of pushing yourself to the limit. Racing here and experiencing the views, friendly, but still serious and competitive atmosphere in an international starting field full of top professional and amateur mountain bikers is not one that you’re soon to forget. It’s not quite a World Cup, but the prize list and UCI ranking draws a great field and a pretty hearty crowd on the tops of the climbs and on the more technical parts of the descents. If you go, remember to have fun even while forgetting that you aren’t a professional rider - except for a few glorious hours in the Dolomites when you can allow yourself to dream that you are.