It was a great honour to be selected for the Welsh team at the 59th edition of the Trofeo Vanoni. The race is based in Morbegno, a characterful town in the province of Lombardy, a few hours drive to the North East of Milan. Nestled in the Valtellina Valley and situated at the foot of the Alps. The town is flanked by mountains to the North and South, with peaks reaching in excess of 2,000m casting their shadows over the valley.
I can't imagine why anyone would go out of their way to visit Morbegno, other than for this race. Don't let that deter you, some of it's charm can be found in the cafes, bars and pizzerias, which are filled with local people. For good reason, as the food is delicious and the coffee is great, and all for a reasonable price.
As a form of peace and reconciliation between former enemies, the advent of twin towns become increasingly popular across Europe in the aftermath of WWII. Llanberis became twinned with Morbegno and in 1980 so was the Snowdon International Race and Trofeo Vanoni.
Trofeo Vanoni is steeped in tradition, this year was no exception and each international team are duly encouraged to attend mass at the San Glovanni Battista church the evening preceding the race. First, a parade starts in the town centre, each team takes their place behind their native flag, the local band plays at the front and we all march through the town, passing the crowd of spectators. Once in the church, a ceremony is held by the local pastor, he performs a blessing of the runners and local children read out to the audience. At the end of the ceremony the choir sings a few songs and everyone is invited to Holy Communion.
The race itself is held on a Sunday, a relay consisting of three runners, all of which complete the same 6.5km course, starting in the centre of town. It's quite the spectacle, the commentator rarely takes a breath as he rallies the crowd, the atmosphere is building as the first set of runners gather at the start line. As the countdown begins, the runners hunch over in anticipation, clutching their watches when suddenly the gun is fired and they sprint towards the roundabout, jostling for position as they approach a tight left bend, the climb starts as they take a side street that quickly narrows and steepens, incredibly slippery in the damp conditions, soon they arrive at the road and a kilometre section of fast running ensues before an abrupt departure onto zig zagging muddy trail through the trees, the landscape consists of orchards and small holdings until you emerge at a hamlet at the top of the hill. A mile long descent begins, it's a timed section and the record is held by the legendary fell runner and aficionado descender Ian Holmes. The wet conditions soon catch out the wary descender, others take advantage and attack the technical descent. I very nearly over shoot a tight bend to a photographer's horror as he recoiled, anticipating being taken out by the runner in the red vest. I soon catch up with a local runner, the crowd loves the competitiveness but I expect most of the cheers are for him. He slows on the steep concrete surface and I break free, the race is far from over though as we are directed across numerous roads, onto paths, over walls until finally we are flushed onto the main bitumen road, where an opportunity to open up and use leg speed emerges. At the final turn, there's a sting in the tail as the road steepens again, the finish line comes into view and I see the red vest of the third runner, spurring me on and gesticulating, encouraging me to dig deep and sprint to the finish line.
We managed 10th place overall, winning a cash prize and a selection of wine bottles, it was the 2nd best result by a Welsh team at the event. At the finish line I spotted the local runner I had be running with, his name is Guido and his wife translates for us, we decide to swap vests. Later in the week I received a nice email with some of the photos taken of us, hopefully they will come over for the Snowdon Race next year.