I have a small dream that some day we will count a large number of Norwegians at the Gunn Rita Marathon in Italy, both as supporters and as cyclists. Maybe it'll become like Marcialonga on skis some day, only on bikes! On the 26th of June, 2011, the race will start for the 10th time, and this year it doubles as the Marathon World Championship.
The original name of the race is Granfondo del Montello (first run in 2001), for the simple reason that the mountain ridge the track follows bears this name. The start and finish are both in the town of Montebelluna, which lies north of Treviso, in the Veneto region, up in the north of Italy. The organization behind, Pedale di Marca, wished to honour my results by naming the race after me, so starting in 2006 the race has been called Gunn Rita Marathon (GRM).
Cycling is big in Italy and is very much a part of the people's soul. For this reason, they put a lot of hard work into arranging happenings so both young and old can take part in the festivities, and GRM is no exception.
By going to www.gunnritamarathon.com, you will gain a good insight into the history of the race, the tracks the race follows, the gorgeous nature surrounding the tracks, and the contents of the festivities. You can also check out all the videos made of the race since 2001.
Unforgettable cycling experience
During the last weekend of June, Montebelluna will offer a variety of entertainment on both Friday, Saturday and Sunday, including food and wine-tasting all weekend and races for the smallest kids, both with and without bikes. Sunday is the actual race day and the whole centre of town will be closed off for an unforgettable cycling experience for both spectators and participants.
The traditional GRM distance is 78 kilometres, with a total of altitude gain of 1980 metres. The tracks follow gravel and tractor roads which criss-cross the mountain Montello, a bit of asphalt here and there, and in and out of thick woods where the ground can be pretty slippery if the rain-gods have done their business during the days before the race. Often one cycles in and amongst the vineyards which cover the area, and parts of the race provide fast-paced and challenging singletrack which is great fun to ride.
The "classic" distance of 52 kilometres has a total of 1310 metres of altitude to cover in all and follows the first part of the GRM tracks, and then crosses over to head for the finish.
For the elite riders taking part in the World Championship Marathon this year, they must do an extra distance added to the GRM tracks, after about half the race is completed, something similar to the previous GRM distance for the really hard-core riders.
World championship distances
The elite women in this year's marathon world championship will ride 98 kilometres with a total of 2290 metres of altitude gain before the finish. Elite men will do a longer route of 115 kilometres with a total of 2860 altitude metres climbed.
During last year's European Championship marathon, held in conjunction with the GRM on the same tracks, the distances for both the elite men and elite women had eight kilometres added because of huge amounts of water which made it impossible to build the bridge they had planned to use.
Who can take part?
Just about everybody will be able to enjoy the Gunn Rita Marathon in Italy, but the demands are naturally different for spectators and those planning to do the race. If you've ridden Birkebeinerrittet or Nordsjørittet in Norway, you will do just fine, even though the terrain is totally different.
Last year a group of 20 people took part from my home municipality in Ryfylke, Norway, both men and women in their best years, who have all completed the Nordsjørittet race the past years. Most of them chose the "classic" distance as they felt that would be a hard enough effort to begin with. All of them completed in style, somewhat bruised and very tired, but extremely satisfied to finally be able to call themselves real mountain bikers.
If you're seeking new challenges on your mountain bike or wondering where to have your family holiday this summer, I can certainly recommend a trip to Italy and Montebelluna in the last weekend of June. This year's Gunn Rita Marathon will definitely be an unforgettable experience for young and old, both on and off their bikes.
I have been told that more Norwegians than ever are going to travel down there, but there is guaranteed space for many more, so it's good to jump at the opportunity.
I hope to see you in Montebelluna in the last weekend of June. I'll be there with the goal of fighting for another world championship gold medal.
Cyclist's greetings from Gunn-Rita
Multivan Merida Biking Team
[Translation: Crispen T.P. de Lange]