The Appenninici – From rugby to mountain biking: the unique journey of Sophie Halhead

All athletes, whatever sport they practice, dreams of reaching the pinnacle of their discipline. Savouring success is the ultimate fulfilment for those who dedicate hours and hours of training, effort, and sacrifice to rise to the top of the world. After retirement, many athletes feel the urge to continue experiencing that adrenaline, possibly by taking on the challenge of a new discipline.

That’s what happened to Sophie Halhead, an athlete competing in the 2023 Appenninica MTB Stage Race. On August 17, 2014, the Englishwoman climbed to the highest point of her sport, becoming World Rugby Champion with her national team. After 71 caps representing her Country, she decided to retire from professional rugby. From there, a new adventure began, where the oval ball gave way to a mountain bike.

I represented my Country 71 times, the last against Canada in the 2014 World Championship final. It was an indelible chapter of my life because I had the privilege of playing in two World Championship finals, experiencing the taste of defeat against New Zealand and the apotheosis of victory in 2014. After retiring from rugby, I chose mountain biking to share a sport with my husband. I started by joining him in training until I participated in a race: it’s a stimulus to stay fit and experience different adventures.”, recalls Sophie Halhead.

The 2023 edition of the Appenninica MTB Stage Race was not Sophie Halhead’s first time, as she had already participated in the event’s first edition in 2019. Five years later, the stage race organised by A.S.D Happy Trail MTB had changed much, but the 43-year-old Englishwoman couldn’t wait to return.

I participated for the first time in 2019 and would have come in 2020 if it hadn’t been for the pandemic. It’s an event I wanted to come back to, and I’m delighted to have done so to meet new people and see old friends again. I love Italy because it has so many things to love: the landscape, the views, the ice cream, the pizza, and its people. At Appenninica, the organisers are fantastic, always smiling; it would be worth participating just for the chats with others. It’s an incredible race!” says Sophie.

Returning after five years allowed Sophie Halhead to see a grown reality and appreciate this evolution.

“In 2019 I think there were 40-45 athletes, but I immediately understood it was a special event. Since then, it has weathered the pandemic period and grown while maintaining a limit of 150 participants, keeping its charm and identity. The fact that we all dine together during the awards, the fantastic videos and photos of the course, it’s all special”, says Sophie.

Thanks to the Appenninica MTB Stage Race, Sophie Halhead has strengthened her bond with Italy and the Emilia-Romagna Apennines, to which she is also emotionally connected.

My husband’s parents lived in Emilia-Romagna, so when I discovered the Appenninica MTB Stage Race, I immediately thought it would be a great opportunity to participate. I knew the area was beautiful and the trails were fantastic, and then seeing the teaser video got me even more excited, so we signed up. Emilia-Romagna is an incredible region, and I don’t think many people fully realise how beautiful it is to mountain bike here“, says Sophie Halhead.

The Appenninici – From rugby to mountain biking: the unique journey of Sophie Halhead

Among the protagonists of the Appenninica MTB Stage Race many stories of sport and life can be found. Sophie Halhead, who made her second experience in the Emilia-Romagna Apennines in 2023 after taking part in the debut edition, recounts her transition from rugby to the world of mountain biking.

Third time’s the charm: Hans Becking returns to Appenninica for the hat trick

First Elite Man to win two editions of Appenninica MTB Stage Race, the Dutch defending champion of BUFF-Megamo will go for the hat trick from September 2 to 7, 2024. “This race has won my heart,” says Becking.

The Appenninica 2024 route: kicking off in Bologna with 14,000 meters of elevation gain

The organizers have unveiled the route for the MTB stage race, scheduled from September 2 to 7. Confirmed stage venues include Lizzano in Belvedere, Fiumalbo, and Castelnovo ne’ Monti for the grand finale, with Loiano making its debut this year. Participants will face a total of 400 km and 14,000 meters of elevation gain

The Appenninici – An Olympic champion discovers Appenninica

Among the protagonists of the Appenninica MTB Stage Race are many stories of sport and life. Miguel Martinez, Mountain Biking gold medallist at Sydney 2000, participated in the 2023 edition and was impressed by the routes and landscapes of the Emilia-Romagna Apennines and the familiar atmosphere of the race

From Tour the France to the MTB: Appenninica 2024 to kick off in Bologna

The main town of Emilia-Romagna is poised to inaugurate the sixth edition of Appenninica MTB Stage Race on September 2, 2024. Bathed in the afterglow of the Tour de France’s visit in July, the MTB challenge is set to bring more cycling emotions to the city

Appenninica MTB Stage Race Adventure Returns from September 2 to 7, 2024

The renowned MTB stage race in the Emilia-Romagna Apennines confirms its six-day format, announcing its schedule for the 2024 season. Early Bird registration commences on December 1

Becking and Piana conquer Appenninica MTB Stage Race 2023

The Dutch rider of Buff-Megamo is the first male athlete to win two editions of Appenninica MTB Stage Race. Becking sealed the overall win by raising arms again in the last stage, followed by Tiago Ferreira and Tim Smeenge, who join him on the podium in second and third position respectively. Debora Piana takes the women’s GC, while Ilina triumphs again in Vidiciatico. “We are really proud of the athletes’ feedback” said the organizers

Happy day for DMT Racing Team in Vidiciatico. Becking and Piana keep the lead

Tiago Ferreira went all-in in the penultimate stage of Appenninica MTB Stage Race from Fanano to Vidiciatico, trying to pursue the leader’s jersey, but Becking kept everything under control. Same plot in the women’s category, with Russian Kristina Ilina taking her second win and Piana in control

Appenninica’s colour is Orange: Smeenge and Becking the stars of stage 4

The Dutch MTB Marathon National champion raises hands in Fanano, while Becking increases his gap in the GC on Tiago Ferreira. Debora Piana keeps dominating and makes it three in a row. Tomorrow, September 8th, the penultimate stage of Appenninica MTB Stage Race 2023 runs from Fanano to Lizzano in Belvedere

Becking and Piana strenghten their lead in Fiumalbo

The two leaders got the second win at Appenninica MTB Stage Race 2023. The Dutch rider of Buff-Megamo Team sprinted over Tiago Ferreira, while things are getting spicy for the bronze medal, with four riders fighting for the third position. In the women’s field, the Italian of Team Cingolani-Specialized secured the leader jersey with another success in Fiumalbo over Ilina. Tomorrow, September 7th, the peloton heads to Fanano

Ferreira and Piana tame the Mountain Queen Stage

The Portuguese athlete of DMT Racing Team answered back to Becking’s success in the opening stage, while Tronconi and Smeenge remain in contention behind them. Debora Piana took the win and the lead in the women’s category. Tomorrow, September 6th, marks the first-ever border crossing from Emilia-Romagna to Tuscany for the race, with the stage starting and finishing again in Fiumalbo

Becking and Ilina secure victory in the opening act of Appenninica 2023

The Dutch rider from Team Buff-Megamo the Russian of DMT Racing Team have made an impact on the inaugural stage of the Appenninica MTB Stage Race. Completing the men’s podium were Tiago Ferreira and Martino Tronconi, while Debora Piana and Nina Brenn claimed spots on the women’s top-3. Tomorrow, September 5th, comes the anticipated Queen Stage