Marco De Gasperi: I have a lot of dreams for Valtellina Wine Trail!

Από 04 Μάι 2022

Marco De Gasperi is a legendary name in skyrunning, but for a few years now he has also been part of the organizing team of an event that is a hidden gem of the Lombardy region in Northern Italy. The Valtellina Wine Trail is a trail running event that takes place in the valleys, vineyards, slopes and picturesque villages of a great wine-producing region, which invites us to explore it in terms of running, culture and of course ... food & wine tasting. Advendure launches its collaboration with VMT, with an exclusive interview with Marco about all aspects of Valtellina Wine Trail, but also regarding other interesting topics concerning the evolution of mountain running and his goals!


[Advendure]: Marco, you obviously don't need any special introductions as an athlete, since your career has "spoken" for you in the most emphatic way all these years in mountain running. But we would like you to tell us about your involvement in the Valtellina Wine Trail, and of course about the team behind this very successful event.

[Marco De Gasperi]: The Valtellina Wine Trail is the first race I started to organise being an athlete. It has a story behind that makes me laugh if I remind the difficulties we had to let understand to the runners this event at the very beginning. It was back in 2013, and with my friend/training partner Emanuele Manzi we spent months searching for the exact route to connect Tirano to Sondrio in about 40km of trails. But the worst thing came from the entries that didn't want to rise despite to all the effort we were doing! At 40 days to the race day and after over 2 months from the open of the registrations, only 70 people out of the 500 bibs available were registered. Finally at the end they arrived. We had to accept about 700 trail runners on the 2 distances and it was a complete success. Nowadays our team is made of 5 friends who every week from January to November have to meet up and planning all the details to guarantee a quality of a product that is a true sport and cuisine experience. 


Photo copyright: G Meneghello


[Advendure]: What was the initial inspiration and motive for organizing Valtellina Wine Trail? How did it all start?

[Marco De Gasperi]: The year before the first edition, in 2012, I've been invited from a friend who owns a restaurant in a valley to make a tour in the Champagne area with other wine passionate friends. It was an incredible trip that open me the eyes on the unique and incredible world of the excellent French wine. Every morning, before to visit the cellars and eventually start our tastings, I went for a run and I discovered there were a plenty of marks either on the paved roads, in the vineyards and sometimes they indicate the door of a cellar, which clearly were indicating a race course. So, while we were driving back home I started to propose to those restaurateurs if they would have support and help me if I would have organised something like this in our territory. That answer was positive so I created a team made of friends with an athletic background but with different capabilities. In this way everyone follows any aspect and there's no much confusion.


Photo copyright: G Meneghello


[Advendure]: The word "Wine" stands out in the name of the event and makes it very original, compared to the names of most mountain running races.  Can we imagine that vineyards and wineries dominate the scenery of the three races of the event?

[Marco De Gasperi]: When I start to explain to someone the characteristics of the race, they just say me: "this is mine!" Or "it will take me more hours because I would stop in the cellar to drink!" But everyone wants to join the event because of its goliardic spirit that transmits a wish of run with the others and enjoy food, wine, and all the peculiarities of a territory. Running through the cellars is just great: they are very historical and dense of meaning. The vineyards are probably unique in the world for this terraces construction. Running there is an inspiration and you'll understand the effort made of the man centuries ago.


[Advendure]: Let's get away from the scenery and focus on the technical characteristics of the three races (42, 21 & 12.4 Km). Apart from the distance, what do they differ in, which one should each athlete choose and what difficulties do they present?

[Marco De Gasperi]:  The VWT, I would say, it's a course quite nervous and muscular on all its distances due to the variety of small fields of vineyards terraces made by hand centuries ago. You have to run in, climbing quite often short but very steep stairs sections where the farmers have to go to grow the grapes and making the harvest by hand, because any tractor here can't reach the vineyards. 

The 12km (Sassella Trail) is the only race among the three that starts south west Sondrio and could seems short and easy, but it has in the middle part some steep climbs alternated by downhills until the km 8. It goes through six beautiful cellars where it's possibile to taste a sip of wine. The last 4km to the finish are on a enjoyable trail in downhill before to reach Sondrio.

The marathon is definitely the better choice in terms of landscapes and spots you will pass through. The start is in Tirano which is located north east from the finish area of all the races in Sondrio. The first 10k are runnable and there are some nice old villages and the first two ancient cellars where local people and young students come to incite the runners. Then a steady easy climb leads at the highest point of the race (1000m) at the ancient tower of Teglio before a long but very panoramic downhill to the half marathon point, where the marathon course meets the 21k course. From here the race could seem easier because there are more runnable sections after the passage into two other cellars, where you can breath the intense perfume of the wine and the harvest just ended up. The last part is full of short up/down sections in the vineyards, but even the most attractive one for the landscape on Sondrio which is approaching. Once reach the Grumello Castel, the finish is represented of 3km ondulate and 1km downhill after the new suspension bridge over the Mallero river. The finish is in the crowded Piazza Garibaldi in Sondrio, just a dream for the athletes. 


Photo copyright: R Ganassa


[Advendure]: The format of the event and the region of Lombardy where it takes place predispose to an event that is not only purely athletic but also touristic, especially for athletes from outside Italy. What parallel actions are offered as part of the event package and what activities are proposed in the region for the athletes and their families & friends?

[Marco De Gasperi]:The VWT was born with the purpose of bringing people to discover the multiple possibilities this valley - placed in the northern Italy - offers. The most known areas are represented by the Olympic sites of Livigno and Bormio, that hosts events like the world skiing downhill cup in the winter. But the middle part of the valley remain quite unknown although there are many particularities that worth to be discovered. The first is the traditional cousin which is very different from others in Italy. The buckwheat grows here and with other ingredients such as the local cheese and vegetables become the Pizzoccheri, a topical pasta offered at the finish line of the VWT. The variety of the grapes is Nebbiolo, one excellence of the territory, and the visit in the cellars are organised during the whole year. From Tirano to the famous town in Switzerland named Sainkt Moritz there is a small red train which connects the two Countries in a 2hr trip going through the Bernina pass above 2400mt of altitude and close to the magnificent glaciers. Bormio is a thermal area, with the old and the new spring. Thousand of people come there for for relaxing and enjoy the benefit of that was recognised from the Romans about 2 millennium ago. The last but not the least, just a visit of the village of Livigno worth the trip. This is recognised as the capital of the outdoor sport in the Alps. Sport activities, shopping in a tax free area and the relax at the "Aquagranda" (an Olympic swimming pool with Spa) offer to the visitor an unique experience.


Photo copyright: J Munoz


[Advendure]: Valtellina Wine Trail is very popular, considering the approximately 3,000 athletes who participated last year, even in a pandemic period. Despite that, there was strong competition from top-class runners in the races. As an elite athlete yourself, but also a member of the organizing team, do you consider as a success factor for a race the quality of the field and in what percentage compared to the number athletes participating in the event? Sure it's early, but are there any big names of mountain running in Sondrio this November?

[Marco De Gasperi]: Fortunately the VWT is growing its popularity year by year and the top class athletes look at this race as the last kermesse before quit the season. It's not really about a competition but the desire to meet up with colleagues and have fun in the last race. We do care to have here as many strong runners as possible, to do that we start early in the season inviting them and now they know they have to save some energies for the latest appointment in Valtellina. Last year we tried to have here François d'Haene and Aurelien Durand Pallaz (1st and 2nd place at the UTMB). Unfortunately a last minute change for François and an injury for Aurelien couldn't make this happen. Will we be able to propose such an interesting revenge this year?


Photo copyright: G Meneghello


[Advendure]: The event takes place in early November. Why did you choose this period and how is the weather and nature in the region usually?

[Marco De Gasperi]: Because the harvest has just ended up and the nice autumn colours offer a warm atmosphere in the Valley that seems welcome all the participants. Along the years we had warm conditions normally, but sometimes at the highest point it's not rare to have some snow. Moreover all the busy period of trail running races is over but the true winter is not already arrived. I think this is the best period to organise a race in a medium part of a valley placed at 300m of altitude among the Alps. 


Photo copyright: D Ferrari


[Advendure]: Sponsors and volunteerism are key elements for the success of an race. Tell us about your partners/sponsors and how much your region volunteers to help you organize Valtellina Wine Trail each year.

[Marco De Gasperi]:  The VWT became, in the last few years, a phenomenon so linked at the territory and its inhabitants. Everyone here know in November this race fulfils the small villages and brings cheerfulness and colours and they always wait this moment to be a part of the volunteer staff or just to come along the way to cheer up the trail runners. In exchange, we always try to support at our best the associations that give us a help. We are talking about 350/400 people involved as volunteers! From the beginning we had a chance to be supported from all the local food producer in Valtellina and we are so lucky to have such many small companies in the food industries. The Salumificio Rigamonti for instance is the title sponsor, they produce the delicious "bresaola" which is sold worldwide. Then we have the Latteria di Chiuro for cheese and Mulino Filippini for the buckwheat and flour, or again the Melaví that distribute the apples of Valtellina. These are just a few excursus in some of the various food sponsor, but the highlight is represented by our wine, the Nebbiolo delle Alpi, as excellence everyone can taste in our rich kit race!


Photo copyright: R Ganassa


[Advendure]: Marco, you lead the mountain running Scarpa team, which is one of the main sponsors of the event. Tell us a bit about the team, its involvement in the Valtellina Wine Trail, and its goals for 2022.

[Marco De Gasperi]:  Yes, SCARPA for the second year is the technical partner as well as the Valtellina's based sport apparel brand Crazy. We take care of our sponsor inviting their athletes and making a partnership also with them to invite dealers and customers. Last year we had many of the SCARPA trail running international team at the start, like Andre Rodrigues , Helio Fumo (Por), Mojka Koligar (SLO), Aurelien Durand Pallaz (Fra) among the others. But I'm sure this year we will go for more and more. Talking about this year, the goal for the Team is growing in popularity in some of the best races in the world, with in mind the UTMB, Tor des Geants, and the main Skyrunning events like the Trofeo KIMA which remains the DNA of the brand. We will stay also with an eye on our strong athletes Manuel Merillas and Hillary Gerardi that has some interesting project on a mountain during the summer.


Photo copyright: M Gianatti


[Advendure]: What is your vision for the event? How would you like to see it a few years from now?

[Marco De Gasperi]: There are a lot of dreams for this race. I'd love to dedicate myself (supported by my team) 100% to make them true, but it's not the moment now. We are growing steady and the results gave us the confidence we could achieve an even better level further on. I'm thinking to add a longer race for example, to embrace all the vineyards in Valtellina. Or again, adding other parallel cultural events to bring here people along the week. But the goal for now, is opening more to the foreigners that doesn't know this little gem in the Alps.


Photo copyright: G Meneghello


[Advendure]: We would like to close the interview with some personal questions. How do you see the evolution of the sport after the pandemic crisis and the big changes at the higher level of the races (UTMB etc...)? Do you think mountain running has a place in the Olympic Games? What are your and Elisa's goals for 2022?

[Marco De Gasperi]: Despite the big crisis we are living in this moment, I believe people growth during the pandemic or just after that, the wish to go out and making any outdoor activity. Trail running was already in a positive trend before, but I think the lock down has boosted this growth. This year we are trying to come back to a normal life, even thinking to the race world, but honestly I see the numbers are not similar to the pre pandemic period at the moment. UTMB pre registrations showed a -30% for all its races this year, of course, almost all the Far East is still missing! Anyway a larger number of trail runners or amateurs want to go out on the trails, even if they don't race, that's clear! Let's see if for the races there will be a return to the usual numbers in the future.

About the new UTMB rules I think we are approaching an evolution which is so close to what we saw years ago in the Ironman. I don't know if this will be positive or not for the sport we love, it's too early to say. I'm curious to see the big changes at the UTMB this year to judge if I like or not. 

As a background I remain close to the more wild Skyrunning world. And I do hope this will never have the ambitions of the Olympic Games like the mountain running or the trail running. We need to preserve at maximum level the integrity of a sport like this, without the compromises of the big interests around the sponsors and televisions.

On our side, Elisa will race the CCC this year, passing through the LUT 80km, so it means this year she will add some extra km to what she was doing until now. Myself? I don't know. The work make me extremely busy for now, but still I have in my plan the LUT. Fingers crossed!


View this photo set on Flickr


Dimitrios Troupis

Δημήτρης Τρουπής

Κατάγεται από το Ξυλόκαστρο Κορινθίας και ζει μόνιμα στην Πάτρα. Συμμετείχε στην συντακτική ομάδα του Adventure Zone από το 2009, ενώ μαζί με τον Τάκη Τσογκαράκη ίδρυσαν και "τρέχουν" το Advendure.  Το τρέξιμο στα μονοπάτια των βουνών και η μεταφορά εικόνων και συναισθημάτων μέσα από τα άρθρα του αποτελεί αναπόσπαστο κομμάτι της ζωής του. Παθιάζεται με τους αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος, υπεραντοχής και  περιπέτειας. Έχει πολλές συμμετοχές και διακρίσεις σε αγώνες ορεινού τρεξίματος όλων των αποστάσεων, με έμφαση στους αγώνες ultra trail.  Θεωρεί ότι το τρέξιμο και η πεζοπορία στη φύση είναι μια εσωτερική ανάγκη του ανθρώπου, μας φέρνει πιο κοντά σε αυτήν και μας κάνει να αγαπήσουμε περισσότερο το περιβάλλον.



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