The Stone King Rally has been billed as the world’s toughest mountain bike race. It's a six-day, 260 kilometer blind-enduro through the Southwestern Alps of Europe, where every turn unveils the beauty of alpine singletrack, breathtaking valleys and villages, and the rich history of the Italian countryside.
Built to put riders in the harshest terrain for extended periods of time, we love both the idea and the execution of the Stone King Rally. From challenging climbs to exhilarating descents, it is exactly the kind of place where Reserve wheels excel.
Read on for a report on the 2023 event.
DAY 1 LA DRAYE > PONTECHIANALE
The 2023 Stone King Rally kicked off with a bang, uniting riders from 22 countries in an exhilarating mountain biking spectacle. This extraordinary event began with a breathtaking day 1 test that took riders from La Draye to Pontechianale.
Making ground on 63 kilometers of total distance, with 4 unique stages, 2010 meters of ascending and 4560 meters of raw descending, everyone walked away with a stories to tell for a lifetime. There was, of course, snow at the high altitudes, which is normal for the time of the year in the mountains of Italy.
DAY 2: PONTECHIANALE > PRAZZO
Rolling out of camp 2, the energy was different from the morning before. The first day nerves had dissipated and people were starting to get into a bit of Stone King flow: tired, slightly overwhelmed, but ultimately excited to get going.
To kick things off, SP5 was a point-and-shoot kind of affair, really fun, fast and flowy with a great mix of dirt, slabs, twists and turns. It had all of the good bits and none of the bad, until...
Lulled into a false sense of security, the riders were greeted by a 4.5 hour transfer section. It was a heavy one, speckled with views, waterfalls and other alpine delights to distract the fatigue setting in. Race-founder Ash Smith himself was keeping a close eye on everyone as they circumnavigated - a good omen for those who needed a bit of motivation.
To finish the day off, the final transfer was a steep, tech (mainly) hike-a-bike. The numbers did not look quite so intimidating on the race card, but that naivety is what makes any adventure great, right?
Luckily, it was worth it, as SP8 led into a beautiful cobblestone turns, through an ancient village and then into some more cobbles. Fast and tech was the theme of SP8.
Finally, like all good rides should, the day finished at the bar.
It was time to refuel, rest and have a couple of Negronis to aid a good night's rest.
Day 3 PRAZZO > DEMONTE
Rolling out of camp, the first special stage of the day was an epic; with 17 minutes and 820 meters of natural trail, sandwiched by views of snow capped mountains, cloud inversions and vistas galore.
This was then followed by a smaller stage to a small village and more importantly, a feed station. Riders who were here knew what was coming, another classic SKR steep hike-a-bike, so they filled their plates accordingly.
The final two stages were on the same hill everyone said they were an absolute treat! The first was grassy and bumpy with fast speeds - a big workout for the hands. This led nicely into the final stage of the day, a brand new trail that was natural and loamy and finished off with splices of rocky tech.
Day 3 finish is always a pretty special one, ending at a fort. It all feels very surreal, but just adds to the magic of the week.
Day 4 DEMONTE > TENDE
Day 4 was a transitional stage, as the riders departed the Cottian Alps’ Occitan Valleys and waded into the whole other world that is the Maritime Alps via an infamous, history-steeped entrance to the Colla di Tenda / Col de Tende.
The morning contained the lowest altitude trails of the week but this had no diminishing effect on the level of excitement or technicality. Everyone had to keep their wits, especially on PS13 with its sharp awkward switchbacks and high-speed straights past ancient ruins.
After the shuttle to Col de Tende, the afternoon was a feast of the high Roya Valley’s absolute best singletrack descents. PS15 was what mountain biking is all about and contained little to worry about: Loam for days, ending in some dryer, looser rocks to keep you focused.
The next stage was a little steeper and more intense, and contained a pretty crazy surprise with some WW2 bunker navigation, lit up by locals who cheered the riders as they passed through the concrete maze, before heading home for the day.
DAY 5: TENDE > DOLCEACQUA
Day 5, the air was hot and getting saltier by the second. The penultimate days was in the bag and the riders were ready to dive into Bordighera, head first.
The day was another super physical day for both body and bike - getting closer to the coast makes for rocky, technical trails that shake everything loose. After several days of back-to-back racing, it was a big ask, but the promise of a cold beer and a dip in the ocean was definitely the dangling carrot.
PS18 was today’s big effort: 19 minutes of descending down rocky, tight switchbacks that were “almost impossible,” but these eased as riders got lower down and then were treated to a scenic tour of the Granile, a hamlet perched on the south-facing slope of a ravine that flows to the Paganin gorges.
The day ended in Dolceacqua, a village nestled in the hills of Val Nervia and home to a medieval bridge that has featured in many images, including a Monet painting Its charming backstreets and cobbled paths made for a great backdrop for the last sleep before the final push.
DAY 6: DOLCEACQUA > BORDIGHERA
The 2023 iteration of Stone King was like a big reunion of old friends. Those that were new faces, didn’t feel like new faces for long. Long, arduous days in the mountains were a surefire way to fast track connections. It's not only on an adventure for the riders, but each other's support, physically and mentally kept the pedals turning. Happy tears, tired tears and everything in between - there was no hiding from one another, and that’s the undercurrent of the whole week.
To quote one of the riders at the end of the event: “You feel like you know people so well after so little time. We not only had a good time together, but we suffered together. I think that’s pretty rare. I can see why people come back - because you want to come back and see all these people again and have another go.”
Get excited for the reunion next year.