Marcialonga is a cross-country ski race which runs on the last Sunday in January in Trentino in Italy. It was first held in 1971 and has been a part of Worldloppet as long as Worldloppet has been around. Marcialonga runs in classic style and is 70 km long.
Val di Fiemme, Val di Fassa, Italy
On Thursday January 26 we headed south into Italy. The first part of the trip was fine, big roads and high speeds, then we went over a pass and into Austria, got our road vignette and paid our tolls for the Brenner pass. We went through Seefeld, and on through Innsbruck. Then the climb began up to Brenner. This is still a four lane highway, and pretty good going. Once we got over the pass we started down into Italy. We then took a left and headed over a couple of passes on small windy roads. We noticed a good bit of snow in the woods, and passed several ski places. As we got close to our destination, we could see a small ski race beginning. We drove a last precarious descent down a small, steep valley arriving in the Val de Fiemme. Our journey took about four hours. We arrived in Ziano, where we would stay, and enjoyed some fine pizza at the Hotel al Polo. Then we checked into our apartment and settled in.
Pizza at Hotel Polo
Our apartment was not far off the main road through town, just up a bit of a hill (two switch backs). Across the river we could see a very nice sawmill with lots of logs stacked up, and a little further beyond, we could see the ski trail going by, this is about 55 km into the race course. We walked down into town to look around, found a small restaurant for a light dinner and then stopped at Hotel Yolanda, right near ‘home’. Hotel Yolanda had a fine bar with a great wooden interior, every bit of the place is made of wood, some pieces with nice carving. There was a small group there besides us, and they were having a good, loud time. We had a few beers and headed back for bed.
The view from the apartment balcony
Race memorabilia in the hall
Friday morning, we casually arose and drove into Cavalese to the congress center for bib pickup and to check out the expo. We took a small tour of the town and checked out the finish area. They had dumped the snow on the roads already, just waiting to groom them. I took a look down the crazy hill that Marcialonga is famous for. This year they made a small change, shortening the overall length of the climb from 2.2 km to 1.6 km and including the Witches Wall. Overall grade changed from 6.6% to 8.8%. Impressive to watch the pros double pole that. We drove down to where the course turned around and to see the bottom of the climb. We went a long way down. The hill looked bigger from the bottom!
The course just before the finish in Cavalese
Snow wall to wall
Back at the apartment, I changed clothes, grabbed my skis, and walked through town and across the river to test out my skis. I found a few hills that had some sun and shade and found that my zeros had the best glide, and pretty decent kick even in the colder snow. I skied over to the Tesero ski stadium, where the old-time equipment and youth races were about to start. It looked pretty festive. I skied back and walked to the apartment. My brother Steve had finished his meetings, so we walked out and found the Bar Parco, a small place with just locals. We learned that a bar must serve you some snacks when you get a beer, so we had some chips and nuts. We headed up the hill to a nearby hotel for dinner, they weren’t sure they could feed us since we weren’t hotel guests, but the kitchen said they could handle us, so we had a fine dinner and a friendly waitress. We checked out another small bar down by the river, another small local place with a Christmas tree made from antlers.
Fancy wood stacking, Dolomites style
Saturday was another typical day, clear and cold in the morning, then sunny and warm during the day. We drove up the valley and watched the ski trail as it followed along. There is a large factory in Predazzo with huge letters on it. PASTA. That is where it comes from.
Start area in the background
The actual start line
Fancy banner right after the line
Coming into Moena main square
The course at 36km, sprint mark, fancy wood piles
The road climbed a little bit, and soon we reached Moena. We drove into town to see what is going on, and end up on a little road which is being covered with snow. Time to turn around, we head back out and check out the start area. It is on one side of the road in a fairly large field with a big parking area behind it. Across the road the return trail goes along the river, at about 35 km. I skied up the river and into town. It is a pretty nice trail here, then it goes up and into town proper.
I found Khris and Steve and we drove back into town, parked the car, and found Liz and Tom, the Canadian couple we met last week. We enjoyed lunch, then we toured the main square, where the course comes down a fairly steep road, through the square, over a pedestrian tunnel and then a sharp left and along the river. Exciting! We checked out a few little shops, sampled grappe, bought more cheese and smoked pork, like we needed more, and then headed back home for dinner. Steve made a local specialty, fettuccini carbonara, which was great, while I finished waxing my skis and getting things laid out for tomorrow. We took a short trip into town and checked out the Bunker Bar, which was finally open. It is in a kind of cellar with vaulted ceilings and can hold about 20 people. It looks like it really was a bunker. There was an eclectic mix of locals there. Very fun. Back to the apartment, time for bed.
I woke up early on Sunday, had some fine oatmeal and walked down the hill to catch the bus to the start. It was clear and cold, about 15 degrees. There were about 10 of us waiting. I talked to a couple of fellows from Germany. One of them had been on the way to Austria last year when they called off the Dolomitenlauf 20 hours before the start. A number of coach buses went by, filled to the gills. Finally, a small car stopped. He told us a bus was coming soon. It arrived, an empty city bus. We had plenty of room for us.
The warm up tent before the start
Thirty minutes up the hill, I could see people warming up on the trail, and then we were dropped off at the start area. I spent some time in the warming tent, then went out, had a warm tea, and headed for the clothing trucks. I watched the elite men go out, then ditched my warmups and clothing bag and headed for the start corral. I took a short stop to check the snow depth.
Elite women about to start
The start on TV
The gate was jammed up pretty hard, everyone trying to get through their doors and into the corrals. My start time came and went, and finally I was in my start corral. They slowly let us out onto the tracks, and then we started when we wanted to, about ten or 15 minutes behind schedule at that point. Italy.
So we climbed up the valley the first 20km. It was pretty crowded, mostly just two or three tracks wide. We slowly got up a few steeper sections, then into the town of Moena, through some narrow streets with the manmade snow getting mashed already. I passed a lot of skiers as we cruised through the valley, then the helicopter came around, we could see the elite skiers heading back down on the other side of the river.
We skied under some bridges, and then into Canazei, more narrow streets and then we made the turn around the town hall, and it was time to head down the valley. Lots of double poling through the woods, we could see the people headed up the hill as the trails passed close together. There were quite a few people along the course cheering us on, and then we skied through a tent with an aid station in it. We hit the Infinita hill, which meant a slow herringbone up to the top due to skier traffic, then blasting down the hill, and onto a fairly steep road into town. It was an icy challenge, then through the Moena main square, lots of people, and then out along the river, past the piles of wood and down the valley.
We arrived in Predazzo, a long flat ski through town, then an aid station, yet more narrow streets and out into the valley again. The valley opened up, so now we are out of the shade and it is bright and sunny, but not too hot yet. Lots of double poling, Khris and Steve and Liz are along the course, not far from our apartment. I keep skiing, through the Tesero ski stadium and then on down the valley. We get into some woods, there is still snow on the trees, it looks nice. I get to the bottom of the valley, the trail goes over a fine wooden bridge, then through Molina, we wind all over, I fuel up at the aid station, coffee, Enervit drink and a gel.
Skiing through Ziano (that's me on the right!)
Down to a tunnel, 90 degree turn, nasty rough ice, I fall, but manage to get up before anyone runs me over. Back up the valley, trying to keep the double pole technique good, getting pretty tired. Another bridge, then another 90 degree turn and tunnel. I only get into the padding a little with my shoulder.
Only a mile to go. I go past the Toko wax station, they are slathering klister on skis for the climb. I get around the first switchback, the road stretches straight and steep. I have pretty good kick with the zeros, I manage to double pole a little, the sun is getting hot on my back. The second switchback comes up, it gets steep there, then it goes up straight, through a bit of trees. The third switchback is steeper yet, and then we are into town, straight and steep, it just keeps going.
We go along the river, and then I can see the turn ahead. I am hoping it is the turn that means we are almost there. I turn right and up the street, I can double pole a little here, then a short steep up, left turn and it is flat. 200 meters to go, I crank it up and try to look like a skier for the finish. Made it, 70 km.
At the finish
Khris found me after the line, I struggled to get my skis off without cramping up the abs. I checked in my skis, found my clothing bag and changed, had some snacks, tea, coke, prunes, etc. Went back out and watched the finishers until Tom came in. Past the finish area were food stands, beer stands, and the stage where the band was playing. Enjoyed some snacks, beers, and Aperol spritzes. We worked our way over to the Congress building so I could get my Worldloppet stamp. They had a pasta feed going on upstairs for skiers, but we headed back to the apartment. We could see racers still going past on the course across the river, some of them fighting for the right to be the final finisher once the sun went down. I came in at 4:31:17, 1,222 out of 5,509, 330 out of 1492 in my age group.
At the finish with Steve, Tom and Liz
Finally found a skier man with US colors
Monday we got up, packed things into the car, and headed up the valley. We took the scenic route, up and over the Giau pass with something like 30 switchback turns. They had signs with the numbers. At the top it was quite a view, sunny, ski lifts headed for the very top, kite skiers working their way across the fields. We headed down almost as many crazy roads and turns, and down into Cortina. We saw a lot of nice looking ski trails along the way. After lunch, we headed up to Toblach and then up the valley and over the Brenner pass, through Innsbruch, passed by Seefeld and into Munich.
Looking up the valley from Molina
Video of climb through Moena. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saWEaxrDKwo
Video of the pros. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OIKg8L4mlPE
A video from inside the race, looks pretty real to me: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2DOZLd8IVDA. Magnus Hogfeldt made a lot of commentary, finished in 4 hours. You can see the bib sponsor, Trentingrana cheese. He mentions that the race started late, good for him because he was late getting in, and he stopped after Predazzo to take a pee.