Wanna Ride Appenninica 2023? Here’s My Guide
If you love old-school XC, head to Italy and take on this epic stage race
Back in December, I wrote a story about the Appenninica MTB stage race that was light on details but heavy on the vibe. Maybe you were curious. Maybe you were confused. Whatever the case, I’m going to get right into the details this time around. And let me begin by saying that Appenninica should be on your list, if you want an unbelievable adventure based around a tough, old-school XC mountain bike race.
It’s no small feat to just fly to Italy and hop in a race like this, though. Believe me, I had trepidations about signing up. As you can probably tell, I’m glad I did. So, to help you understand what this race is all about, let’s cover some of the basic details: Location, course, gear, and more.
Want to sign up for Appenninica? Help me out by using this unique registration link. I get a little kickback from the organizers when I refer riders.
The Location: Italy’s Continental Divide
When I tell people about this race, they’re often a little perplexed about where — even what — the Apennine mountains are. Even some Italians aren’t familiar with this range. But that, folks, is one of the things I love about this race. It showcases a spectacular wilderness that’s not nearly as tourist-trammeled as the Alps or the Dolomites.
We Americans are pretty familiar with North America’s Continental Divide; well, the Apennine’s are Italy’s continental divide. Except in this case, the mountains are a north-south divider, just a couple hours north of Rome, and on the southern edge of the Po Valley.
The 2023 Appenninica Course: Shorter but Doubtful If It’s Easier
For 2023, Appenninica was shortened from seven stages to six. I think this is the right call, partly because it’s really difficult for most riders to withstand that volume of effort and still be “racing” by week end. Also, I think this will help the race focus on the best trails with fewer connecting kilometers on roads.
Let’s take a quick spin through the 2023 stages, and I’ll share as much knowledge as I can, based on the 2022 route.
Appenninica Stage 1
This opening stage out of Castelnovo ne Monti looks pretty similar to what we raced in stage 1. It seems to have slightly less climbing, but I’m sure it will be a shock to the system as the first stage of the week. This terrain is a bit lower than the high-mountain stages, which means there are tons of steep, short climbs, that wear you down throughout the race. This stage should go through Matildica’s castle again, which is the start of the day’s gnarliest descent, about halfway through.
In three words: Fast, punchy, anti-flow
Appenninica Stage 2
This year, the race goes right into the Queen Stage, although the route is 21km shorter with 800m less climbing. Essentially, it finishes in Fiumalbo instead of Fanano, which is the next valley over. Don’t worry, you’ll still have plenty of astonishing high elevation riding, way above treeline. This one has plenty of rough descents — in fact, I suffered a nasty flat tire on the Queen Stage, so don’t push too hard, it’s only day two!
In three words: Vast, raw, beautiful
Appenninica Stage 3
I don’t have any experience with this route, but it looks incredible as it goes back into the high alpine and over to the Abetone ski station, which has hosted a European Cup downhill race. Oh, and also, at 79km, this stage is merely 10km shorter than the Queen Stage, so it should be no joke. Princess Stage maybe?
In three words: I don’t know
Appenninica Stage 4
This stage will take the race from Fiumalbo over to Fanano by way of Monte Cimone, which should also afford spectacular high mountain riding. Despite the entire race being a day shorter, it seems to include more epic terrain, like this stage. If the route is anything like the end of the 2022 Queen Stage, expect a ridiculously rocky and steep descent into Fanano for the finish.
In three words: Rough, steep, scenic
Appenninica Stage 5
This is the second point-to point stage in a row, taking the race from Fanano to Vidiciatico, and I believe it goes by way of the Corno alle Scale. I don’t recall this zone having the most exceptional trails, but by this point, you might want something a little less thought-provoking. Certainly it’ll go above treeline once more, but I think many of these trails end up being wider and smoother.
In three words: Fatigue sets in
Appenninica Stage 6
The race will wrap up with two laps around Vidiciatico, basically the same as it did in 2022. This route is punchy and fast. The climbs are tough, but they aren’t too sustained, so if you really need to burn those final matches, this day is made for it. Plus, the downhills are super-fun, mountain bike-specific tracks with a mix of rocks, jumps, and high-speed flow.
In three words: Sweet, pure, XC
The Gear: Sorry, There Is No Perfect Bike
This six-day route climbs 14,000 meters … It’s ridiculous. On a lot of those climbs, you’ll want an 18-pound hardtail with 2-inch race tires. On most of the descents, you’ll want an enduro bike. For me (and my buddy Matt), the Santa Cruz Blur was an awesome way to split the difference. There are a lot of XC bikes that do a similarly good job of balancing downhill capabilities with efficiency and weight (hello, Specialized Epic Evo). Find one that works for you.
As for specific gear choices. I strongly suggest a 32-tooth chainring or even a 30-tooth. I regretted my 34t paired with a 10-50t cassette. A 10-52t cassette might also fare well.
I put on a 120mm RockShox SID Ultimate for this race and loved it on every minute of descending. A Fox 34 Stepcast would also be a good choice. You want that extra 20mm of travel plus the steering confidence of a bigger chassis.
Thanks to a hot tip from Gordon Wadsworth, who raced Appenninica in 2021, I also put on four-pot SRAM G2 brakes. Yes, they’re a skosh heavier, but the descending in this race is tremendously steep and relentless, and having a solid brake that didn’t fade halfway down the mountain surely gained me more time than 50 or 60 grams of extra weight.
Other Tips and Suggestions
Here we go, some rapid-fire tips and suggestions from my experience at Appenninica. Remember, the details matter!
Training: An entire article would be hardly enough to cover all the ins and outs of training for this event. I used a TrainerRoad plan, which seemed to help. It was heavy on Sweet Spot efforts, which aren’t my favorite, but I seemed to have relatively good form when I showed up. Whatever direction you take, plan on a ton of climbing, some long days, repeated hard efforts, and technical descending.
Travel: Practically speaking, you could fly direct to Rome and rent a car, which we did. This avoids the dicey connecting flights in Europe. Or, you could fly to Bologna, which is closer to the race’s start and finish and gives you the option of a shuttle service arranged by the race organizers.
I’d strongly suggest getting there at least a couple days early to settle in and get used to the time zone. Plus, doing this gave us more time to check out the area on a more relaxed schedule. However, doing so might require a rental car because the race shuttles might not be running so early in the week.
Lodging: The organizers have a few options. While the dormitories are the cheapest, they might not be ideal for light sleepers (like myself). Matt and I went with a hotel package that was still reasonably priced and far more comfortable.
Nutrition: I raced the first couple of days with a hydration pack, but I was finding that my back was getting very fatigued, due to the steep, arduous terrain. So, I started using the bottle-drop option the organizers offer for a modest fee. I’d highly recommend this option, even if you do plan to wear a pack on some of the stages.
Like I mentioned earlier, you can sign up for Appenninica using this unique registration link. I get a little kickback from the organizers when I refer riders. Hopefully you’ll have as much fun as I did!
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Thanks for posting this! I'd love to pick your brain a bit more at some point. Are you heading back this year? I've already committed back in early December, otherwise I would've used your link. (PS. we spent some time trading pulls at Leadville in 2019(?) I think, between the bottom of Powerline and the Pipeline section).