Our Italian correspondent, Alessandro Milanese, submitted his account of this year's Garda Fest - arguably one of the best marathon / expo's in Europe and is often referred to as the Sea Otter of Europe. Got some spare air miles and a bike travel case? Then put this race on your list for next year. 

I always forget how exciting the lead-up to a race can be, and the Garda Bike Festival is one of the most exciting events of the northern Italy calendar. Our weekend at the venue started with a pretty windy and quite chilly Friday. While spending some time in the afternoon to visit our friends at Intense Cycles, crankbrothers, and fi'zi:k, we realized that the race on Saturday could turn into an "almost enduro" if Mother Nature wouldn't decide to bring back the typical May warm temperatures.

Maybe all the prayers we said during the night while enjoying the finest local cuisine, maybe the German organization of the race (Garda Bike Festival is basically a little piece of German land brought to Italy for 3 days...) made our day on Saturday. We woke up to a typical Italian spring scenario: blue sky spotted with white fluffy clouds and fresh and crisp air (most of the day was around the mid 70s).

We headed off to the starting line and immediately remember why the Garda race is so great: more than 2,500 riders were warming up, revewing the course profiles or just relaxing, waiting for the official clock to hit 7:30.

In spite of our "Block A" number plates proudly displayed on our bars, we found ourselves packed in at the very end of the pack with around 800 bikers ahead of us. This was caused by a flat rear tire on my bike I discovered as we were leaving our hotel. Too bad.

The course was kept similar to years past, which included a super narrow fence climb 3 miles after the start that forced us to walk on a steep cobblestone ramp packed of bikers and runners. Too bad, again.

Once out of the pack the real race started and slapped all of us with 1 hour and 30 minutes of non-stop climbing. The amazing view of the lake Garda was our motivation though and we found ourselves at the top of the mountain where the feed zone was located. We quickly fueled up with some bananas slices, some homemade cakes, and the customary refill of our water bottles with Iso drink.

Usually, leaving the feed stations is always great: you feel energized since most of the hard part is over. Not at Garda. 20 minutes more of super steep ramps were waiting for us, along with some deep leg cramps, too...

Then the course brought us into the woods, and it was like switching to a different discipline: wet leaves and roots, tacky dirt, and some not-too-techy-but-fun descents into the trees.

After loosing some elevation the scenario changed again when a couple of rocky trails brought us down fast. Some minor crashes reminded us that falling on rocks hurts.

The final miles of the race were on a super fast paved road and we quickly (some of us hit 50mph) found ourselves in Riva downtown, where thousands of fans where cheering at all the riders approaching the finish.

A perfect organization including a washing area for our bikes, some hot dogs and beers booths and the huge expo area (40,000 visitors estimated) filled the rest of the day. The race was done and a sunny Saturday afternoon turned in to a perfect time to have some beers with friends and look at all the fresh stuff for the season.

Thanks Garda, see you next year: the German precision already confirmed the dates for 2016.
No excuses!