Whenever we get in a group of fast riders, challenging us, I always tell Mike that we have to ‘ride the wave, as long as we can’. We were feeling a little battle-worn when we finally turned out the lights last night. We’d had a very tough day: things had gone wrong, we’d both dipped deep into the well of suffering, we’d been sick, sobbing, and hopeless. We’d won, but that seemed to have made it worse… both Mike and I prefer to race from behind and make up time in a long stage race. We’d much prefer to be underdogs – invisible, without pressure or praise, and nothing to lose. We’ve been sitting at the top, wobbling, worried about falling instead.
So we had a little meeting going down in the hotel lift before our race. We just agreed not to be intimidated by the idea of staying in the lead. It was as simple as that. Maybe this winning thing is just another wave that we just have to find the confidence to ride.
Today’s stage was packed with hills – 3000m of climbing over just 60km returning us to our start location in the magnificent spa town of Leukerbad.
There were few low points today, but a lot of high ones. We nailed the first climb and found ourselves just behind the leading women (and pretty much the world’s best) over the top (they rapidly disappeared down the descent, of course!), we took in trails that have left me utterly speechless. We flowed down the contours of a 2,300m mountain for 1,000m, twisted through exposed rocky singletrack that gave way to sinewy paths through enchanted forest, climbed back up, then did it all again (four times). I nailed my nutrition, we felt great all day, climbed quite well together, had none of the nagging mechanicals that came up yesterday, and really worked fantastically as a team. We’re thrilled to win another stage.
Low points? Not many. In fact I’m just going to list some more positives. The 60km distance suited us, even though our finish time was still 4:46. The rockier trails reminded us a lot of the riding at Alice Springs, and they were generally less steep than yesterday’s descents, meaning we got in lots of recovery and enjoyed ourselves immensely. The views were spectacular, and even though temperatures dropped fiercely over the climbs and stinging cold rain spat down on us occasionally, it was never bad enough to need to stop and pull on a jacket. We even timed the massage line to perfection, only spending 15mins or so waiting, compared with over an hour yesterday.
I suppose there was a bit of confusion for us when, for the first time since the race started, we overlapped with the Flow riders on a descent. Remembering that these guys are timed for largely downhill sections of the course and are equipped with trail-specific bikes and amazing skills, you can imagine things got pretty intense on 35% downhill singletrack as five inches wide. We learned pretty quickly that the thing to do is just pull the hell over. They afforded us the same courtesy when the trails went back up, as they always do here in Switzerland. There’s great camaraderie on course, and the atmosphere really is inspiring. That was pretty much the only tense moment for me today, and I had plenty of energy left over to celebrate crossing the finish line.
Our friends Matt and Stu are racing the Flow category this year, after racing the Epic last year – and they landed on the podium again with cheese as their prize!
From the front of the race
The weather was a huge factor in today’s race. A warm wind (föhn) storm came through with gusts of more than 70km/h in the mountains, and contrary to the forecast, there was some rain around midday.
The head to head race between the top teams in the Men’s category continued today. With 3h 24min the team BiXS STÖCKLI of Lukas Buchli and Mathias Flückiger took the win, only 15 seconds in front of the second place Jochen Käss and Daniel Geismayr of Centurion Vaude. Only 13 seconds behind was the Topeak Ergon Racing Team of Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek, who were able to hold onto the overall lead.
In the Women’s category Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans of Team Specialized RECM weren’t able to hold onto the top position for the first time since the beginning of the Swiss Epic last year. Adelheid Morath and Sally Bigham of Topeak Ergon Racing Team crossed the finish line over 8 minutes in front after 4h 15min, and took the overall lead. That puts the Topeak Ergon Racing Teams in both categories at the front of the pack.
Dani Schnider and Oliver Imfeld maintained their lead in the Masters category, and again shared the podium with us.
Mike and I had some spare time this afternoon to visit Leukerbad’s famous baths. There’s a hot spring under the town known for its medicinal qualities, and people come from across Europe to bathe in its waters. We donned robes and alternated between bubble jet baths, cold plunge pools and the hot natural baths. It was an amazing experience and one we’re really grateful for. Because of its medicinal baths there are many people with physical disabilities in town, and people zipping around in electric scooters and struggling on crutches have been coming to watch presentations and cheer for the bikers. Noticing them I’ve been reminded of how lucky we are, racing. We have the immense pleasure of being able to command and push our bodies and I’m so grateful to be out there riding my bike, no matter how much it’s hurting.
Tomorrow is another long one, and a nasty one. Over 93km we’ll gain 3100m, most of it in the second half of the race.