The Etna Extreme Mountain Bike race has long been a popular attraction amongst Maltese mountain bikers.
Hosted by Extreme Bike Nicolosi, the race is divided into two categories – Marathon which is a 60km route with an elevation of 2,000 metres, and the Gran Fondo, which is 45kms and an elevation of 1,500m.
The course is famed for its gruelling terrain and challenging weather conditions.
Malta was represented by 11 riders. The Marathon race saw the participation of Marie Claire Aquilina (Team Greens), Patrick Scicluna (Berria Racing Italia), Domenic Cutajar, Francesco Grima, Steve Grima and Brandon Sultana – all hailing from Gozo Cycling Club.
On the other hand, Justin Gauci (Mosta Cycling Club), Carl Saydon (Agones SFC) and Jamie Camilleri, Felicienne Cini and Shawn Sciberras all representing Gozo Cycling Club, were on the starting line of The Gran Fondo Race.
Veteran cyclist Scicluna, who took part in his sixth Etna Extreme Marathon, was representing sponsoring Club Berria Racing Italia.
This afforded him the privilege of being on the pros starting line, giving him the opportunity to start the race amongst some of the world-ranked mountain bikers like Riccardo Chiarini, Giuseppe Pellegrino, Arias Cuevo and current world champion Leo Paez.
“Temperature conditions during the race were epic, having to contend with heavy rain and snowfall, with temperatures going well below zero. Naturally, the downhill conditions were a massacre, but certainly a highly thrilling event,” said Scicluna, who finished eighth in his category, at the end of the race.
Gozo elite rider, Domenic Cutajar, took part in his fourth Marathon. He said that this was a new route and despite the steep hills and the lava tracks, the weather was more of a challenge having experienced all four seasons in one day.
“The fact that there have been no races due to COVID-19 made it more challenging to get into race mode but the adrenaline rush soon came into play and the race was one of the fastest I have ever experienced so far,” he said.
Cutajar went on to express his satisfaction at the amount of Gozitan riders that joined the race which shows the increased popularity of the sport in Gozo.
Despite riding bikes from a very young age, Carl Saydon ventured into Mountain Biking in 2019.
This was his second international experience having competed in a similar event on Etna back in September.
Saydon expressed similar sentiments when it came to lack of local racing, making it difficult for riders to keep their competitive spirit ignited.
“The trails on Mt Etna are demanding, flowing and very exciting,” Saydon said.
“Taking part in the 45km Gran Fondo, the route had over 1,500m of brutal yet rewarding elevation. Having completed the race in the target I had set myself, that of 3 hours 9 minutes, I have now set myself a goal of sub-3 hours for next year. Hopefully we will soon be able to race locally putting this difficult chapter behind us.”
Felicienne Cini, another newcomer to the sport and competing for the first time in an international event, saw her take home a second-placed trophy in the females’ Master Sport Category.
Marie Claire Aquilina, competing in the Women’s Amateur category took top spot, adding more accolades to her ever growing list.
Since the Etna Extreme forms part of the Mediterranea MTB Challenge Circuit, a ten race circuit of mountain bike races around Sicily, Aquilina took home the green race winner jersey, as well as the leaders’ (white jersey).
The presentation of the jersey was done by Maltese rider Patrick Scicluna, as representative of one of the main sponsors Berria Racing.
Aquilina and a number of other Maltese riders plan to take part in the second race of the Challenge which will take place on May 9 in Mineo.
The Malta Mountain Bike Association expressed its satisfaction at the amount of riders taking part and the results achieved.
The local association echoed the riders’ sentiments in respect to lack of racing experience due to competitive sport being paused by the Health Authorities.
The MMBA hopes that the easing of measures will lead to the resumption of races in the very near future.