The lion’s share of athletes in our sport stick to what they’re best at, branching out slightly if they need variety. Moving from downhill to enduro racing, or vice versa, is a popular method for keeping the competitive passion alive. For Italian Olympian, Marco Aurelio Fontana, variation and creativity have been more the focus than the exception throughout his career. The former World Cup cross-country racer has numerous “firsts” to his name, and with a switch to full-time e-bike racing in 2019, it’s clear that his adaptability and excitement for riding have continued to expand.
Fontana started racing mountain bikes in 2001 with a small Italian team called Hard Rock MTB, where he would stay until joining the big leagues on the Cannondale Factory Racing squad in 2009. He was surrounded by other XC legends while working for Cannondale, like Manuel Fumic, Anton Cooper, Keegan Swenson, and three-time Italian national champion Gerhard Kerschbaumer to name a few. In an early example of his desire to do things differently, and to distinguish cross country racing from road racing, Fontana and Fumic were well known for being the only athletes to line up at UCI World Cups in baggy shorts. In fact, they might still be the only XC riders to have ever covered up the sacred race lycra with some cool casual.
The northern Italian native has a healthy list of achievements from his long career to be proud of, starting with a win in his first Italian XC National Championship at age 18. He represented Italy in the Beijing Olympics in 2008 where he placed 3rd, then again took 3rd in the London 2012 Olympic race after breaking his seatpost on the final lap, and crossed the line in a respectable 20th place in the 2016 games in Brazil. His results before and between Olympic events are no less impressive, remaining in the top 80-90% of the World Cup standings throughout his eight XC seasons with Cannondale and two final seasons on the Bianchi Countervail program.
Ever the fan of road cycling and cyclocross racing, Fontana was one of the first athletes to race a cyclocross World Cup event on a disc brake equipped bike when the UCI finally allowed discs in 2013. That World Cup took place in Rome, Italy, where he finished in 3rd place in front of a cheering home crowd. With a handful of national and international medals in his possession, Fontana says he’s likely done with cyclocross competition, though he leaves wiggle room to change his mind and keeps a few cross bikes around for fun.
Today, Fontana lives in the countryside between Milan and Bologna, Italy, where he can train on the road or nearby trails any time he likes. He says that the local trails are mostly wild, unmaintained, and a lot of fun.
During the 2018 World Cup XC season, Fontana continued to earn respectable results, finishing in the top 20 after several races, and taking 7th in the WC Short Track event in Mount St Anne, Quebec. Despite maintaining results and pace at the elite level, he decided it was time for a change. To the surprise of his fans and colleagues, he announced a complete switch to eMTB racing for the 2019 calendar. The constant focus on training and performance that had filled his vision for nearly twenty years became slightly muted on the eMTB. He still has to train hard in order to perform well, but with the e-bike, he’s been inspired to have a little more fun and to stop and enjoy the forest a minute longer than before.
Fontana’s run of top results didn’t end when his bike gained a battery. He finished first overall in the 2019 XC World Ebike Series, took 6th in Ebike World Championships, and 5th overall in the EEnduro series. His goal for 2020, should the races go on as planned, is to win the Italian EEnduro series overall, as well as the new EWS electric series.
While we were chatting Fontana mentioned that “e-bike racing can be similar to racing normal bicycles, but how the organizer sets up the track is so key. It can be the best thing you’ve ever done, and it can be shitty because the bikes stop at 25km/h. […] So, If you have a good course that doesn’t have any flat sections, and it’s really technical, you’ll make the most out of e-bikes.” In short, even pro eMTB racers don’t want to pull the extra heft of the motor and battery around if the motor can’t do any work. It’s just not enjoyable.
He went on to share several examples of promoters who are doing a great job with course planning, keeping things technical and varied in a way that they flow well and challenge both riders and bikes alike.
Like the rest of us in Italy, Fontana is on full lockdown at his home in the Reggio Emilia region, working to gain fitness and focus for the coming season. He said that he is enjoying the quiet family time, and hopes that everyone can find some positive elements amidst the current chaos.
Last year marked the first season of Fontana’s cycling career where he effectively became a privateer, and he has a YouTube series aptly name The Posh Privateer. He’s working with Focus bikes, Kenda Tires, Öhlins suspension, and a handful of other sponsors he’s collected since leaving Bianchi. If you don’t understand Italian, no worries, his videos offer ample visual entertainment.
As for his former World Cup colleagues, Fontana offered up some empathy when he mentioned “they get paid for racing bikes, and this isn’t easy. Let’s hope that from July on we can start racing.” He knows that if he were still on a pro team he would be worried about layoffs and budget cuts as the 2020 race season continues to shrink.