Race Recap – Two Volcano Sprint 2020

A race with more than just two mountains: Raphael’s race report from the Two Volcano Sprint 2020

I had missed the Β Two Volcano Sprint in Italy the previous year. Maybe because until then I had only ridden through the off-road world and not over smooth asphalt. But in the end, my registration this year didn’t move me that far away from the previous races: smooth asphalt shouldn’t be a topic in the race from central to southern Italy anyway.

Italy is my absolute favourite country. I spent the best hours of my holidays there, enjoyed the best pasta, sat on piazzas with the nicest people and drank espresso in loud bars until my heart was racing. In retrospect, I can’t say whether it was because of falling in love with Italy or because of the caffeine shock.

In short: I always have a typical German Dolce Vita yearning and culinary anticipation when it comes to Italy. Last year, my racing time at theΒ Italy Divide, an off-road self-supported bike-packing race from Naples to the northern tip of Lake Garda, had already stretched longer than I had thought, with countless stops at espresso bars and evening pizza-pasta enjoyment.

The Two Volcano Sprint should be self-supported again. Just on the road.Β 

In northern Italy I had already experienced the Alps and had climbed the corresponding vertical metres, in Tuscany I had climbed the hilly landscapes, but from southern Italy I only knew about the enormous temperatures during summer holidays and the dark roasted espresso, which was available for well under one Euro.Β 

“Where are the 23,000 metres of altitude difference on the 1,100 km long route between the two volcanoes Vesuvius and Etna to be found here,” I asked myself when I studied the route. As it soon turned out, not only my geographical knowledge was put to the test.

Sunday, 18.10.2020, 5.30 am- Avanti, avanti ! Racestart in Naples

According to the time of day I looked at 60 tired faces when I arrived at the starting point. I had already covered 400 metres in altitude when I arrived at the start. The steep climbs from Ercolano gave me a first glimpse of what was to come during the race.Β 

The first ascent to the Vesuvio I had already tried out the day before. Now the climb felt much harder. It was dark and my bike weighed several kilos more than on the test ride. By the time I had just passed halfway up the mountain, the first riders were already hissing past me. SofianeΒ  was the first, closely followed by Ulrich and Omar. “My goodness, we still have over 1,000 kilometres to go. What’s the hurry?” I thought to myself and tried to keep up with the red flashing light of the rider in front of me. Once we reached the top, there was a short turnaround and then we went back again – now southwards for the next 1,000 kilometres.

“My goodness, we still have over 1,000 kilometres to go. What’s the hurry?”

The next climb was in a dense forest. At the bottom I stopped briefly and sipped from my bottle. I looked ahead and felt for a moment like in Christopher Nolan’s film Inception, where whole streets bend upwards and line up parallel to one another. Steep, steep, steep.

After 40 ridden switchbacks I finally stood on top, took a deep breath in and out and rode down the mountain again.Β 

The next 100 kilometres along the coast were less like in Inception, progress was fast and I was able to enjoy the scenery – to the left the sea shone with a beautiful sunset while picturesque mountains stood out to the east.

When I entered the small village of San Nicolla Arcella, it was already dark. Here was the last chance to fill up with water and food. From here we rode west into the mountains, where, according to experience, food is always scarce and difficult to reach.

As i felt rested and fit i decided to ride through the first night of the race. First I made good progress over the hilly stumbling roads of northern Calabria. Then it became more difficult – I had to brake sharply on the downhill sections again and again – big potholes and nasty gravel sections, which demanded my concentration and condition, alternated.Β 

I couldn’t stop thinking about that one night in June when I rode the Β Apidura Parallels Challenge. At that time I had to bridge just 4 hours of darkness. Now it was 13 hours! At 4 o’clock I lay down on the dirty floor of an old, abandoned house for a power nap. It was cold and the moonlight shone through the splintered remains of a window. After 20 minutes I got on my bike and continued my ride. The next hours were a real struggle with my tiredness, the darkness and the cold.

As the sun rose, a rider suddenly overtook me. Max. What? I was in front of Max? Obviously, because he had gone to sleep for a short time. I had known Max since the Silk Road Mountain Race and he had become a good friend over the last months. But the big jumps of joy about the reunion did not happen. Our legs were too tired, our bodies too frozen. After we had ridden a few kilometres together and exchanged a few words about the experiences of the last night, Max disappeared on the next ascent.Β 

The second day of racing was long and tough. I had planned to ride through the first night. Afterwards I wanted to see how it feels and then decide if I could ride through the second night to finish before dark on the third day or if I would need another day. In the evening of the second day it became clear that the latter would come. Too slowly I dragged myself over the up to 25 km long ascents. At kilometre 600 there should be a shelter and I decided to sleep there for a few hours.Β 

As it is so often in life things turn out differently than expected – the longed-for accommodation was already fully booked, so Max and I rolled into the next town and moved into a room there.

Tuesday, 20.10.2020, 3.00 am – Dai ! Pushing further

I was half asleep when the alarm clock rang. Max got up, put on his cycling gear and left the hotel. I had to wait with my start. The first night I had used the first of the three batteries for my helmet lamp. Apparently the low temperature in the mountains has a much stronger influence on the battery life than I had expected. 50 % less battery life time I had not planned . So finally, I didn’t have enough batteries to ride 1.5 hrs. more through the dark. I waited another three hours and left at 6 o’clock with the rising sun.

Slept and rested I felt top fit. My personal goal of covering the almost 1,100 km in 80 hours was within reach. It does make a difference whether you sleep at night or not.Β 

I tried to ride as efficiently as possible and took only a few breaks. Towards the evening I reached the ferry and transferred to Sicily. I still had a battery with about 75% charge. Shit, even that would not be enough for the night. I decided to ride the first climb to Messina and then to lay down for 3 hours on the northern coast of the island. Here the climate was still mild. In the mountains it looked quite different. There I wanted to avoid standing out in the cold without light and not being able to ride or sleep. Unfortunately, my 80-hour goal was out of reach.

On the coast I found an abandoned fishing boat. After hiding the bike behind the boathouse I made myself comfortable on the floor. I had no sleeping stuff with me. It was chilly. But protected by the high parapet of the boat it was at least calm. For a short nap super and somehow wildly romantic.

Wednesday, 21.10.2020, 4.00 am – Sprint final – Cycling in Sicily

I was awake before the alarm clock rang, packed my stuff and rode on. Hopefully the light would last until sunrise. From the coast the route went towards the mainland again – into the mountains! In front of me there was a huge ramp (+ 1.130 hm) and two smaller climbs (+ 800 hm) before the last climb on Etna (+ 1.400 hm) that was very close to the finish.Β 

When I reached the summit of the first mountain and went around the bend without a clue, he suddenly stood in front of me: Etna. A few years ago I had already travelled through Sicily. Back then by car. But even then I was totally fascinated by the sight of this huge, still active volcano. I remembered how I drove through Sicily at night 4 years ago and saw the red-hot lava flowing down from the crater from a distance of about 80 km. This time I saw big, grey, smoky clouds rising from the crater and could hardly wait for the upcoming descent. “I was lucky that I had slept only for a short time”, I thought to myself. “Otherwise I would have seen this natural spectacle only at night”. Or not at all.

I pulled out my mobile, chose my favourite songs and dropped into the downhill. Finally some asphalt that rolled really well. The sun, slightly above the mountains, was not yet strong. But it was enough to balance the cool wind. After 20 km the probably best downhill of the race was over. The one or other tear had run down my cheeks.

10 a.m. : In my euphoria I thought I could still break the 80 hour mark. There were only two small climbs left and the Etna. I had already used up my supplies. I rode through a small village and ordered a last espresso-croissant combination. At 11.30 a.m. I was standing at the foot of Etna. Not much was left of the euphoria. I had lost the fight for the 80 hours. Anyway, then finish as fast as possible. I can rest in a few hours at the finish. With a well-deserved portion of pasta and an large ice cream.

1:30 pm. On the last few metres of the climb I saw a couple jumping around wildly and cheering their at me. I had to smile. As I came closer I recognised Ulrich and his wife. Ulrich had just finished the route in an unbelievable 53 hours without any major breaks. Instead of allowing himself a well-deserved sleep he insisted on cheering the other riders on the last few metres. Chapeau, great guy! I stopped briefly, congratulated him on his amazing success and rolled the last 20 kilometres to the finish line in Nicolosi.

At 14.39 o’clock I rode after 81 h 9 min into the central square. Many riders gathered there and welcomed the finishers who were coming in. After a few high-fives I disappeared with a group of other riders into – well, you know it already – a gelatteria.

What a race, what a grand finale! Grazie!

All further information about the race and the official results can be found here: https://www.twovolcanosprint.com/

You can follow Raphael’s adventures here in the Β Journal or on his Instagram AccountΒ .

Foto Credits: Charlotte Gamus, Raphael Albrecht