While the Grand Tours might be lucky enough to have final stages as processions, in the world of mountain bike stage racing, there’s often quite a lot of racing left to do, and positions to decide.
The 2015 Perskindol Swiss Epic was no exception, and across the Epic and the Flow race, many categories were still yet to be decided, as they were so close.
The biggest of all would be the men’s, with both BiXS-Stockli and Centurion Vaude able to take the title, with BiXS-Stockli needing to attack to wrestle the jerseys of the shoulders of the Centurion Vaude riders.
Once more into the breach, my friends
It was cold on Graechen at the start. Like, 2 degrees celsius. But the dry mountain air doesn’t feel as cold as it might. Still, riders were rugged up, and set for the 60km ride to Zermatt, with 2400m of climbing.
In the men’s race it came down to the two leading teams, lighting it up on the race course. But with Buchhli and Fluckiger putting minutes into the Centurion Vaude duo, they took the stage and the overall win, in the same dramatic fashion as 2014.
“I’m overly happy that it worked out like this“, said the winner Lukas Buchli, who is retiring at the end of the season. “We attacked on the first climb and gained pretty good control of the race from then. Last year we knew that we were the strongest team in the category. This year it wasn’t so: We never had the overall lead all week – but possibly the biggest will to win. Being able to end my pro carrier like this is the best thing ever!“
Team partner Mathias Flückiger also commented: “As a Cross-Country biker I’m not used to such long stages, so this race was very hard for me. I’m happy we could turn the race around today!“
In the women’s race, Topeak-Ergon won the stage again, and the Specialized-RECM pairing came second, ahead of Anne Terpstra and Hielfe Elkerink.
The Master’s men kept dominating, but the Mixed category proved to hold the most GC carnage again. On the final descent to Zermatt, Mel Alexander’s wheel cracked, ruining the chances for her and partner Mark Spratt to finish with their leader’s jersey.
WeBike, from Denmark, rode a strong stage to win the race to Zermatt, with the GC lead falling to Giant Team Obwalden.
Full results are online with Datasport.
And us? We rode again today, and enjoyed pushing ourselves hard when possible, and staying out of the way of others when it was time to remember it wasn’t our race.
The descent from Graechen was truly amazing, starting on contouring singletrack along the suonen, and moving into some highly technical terrain, with rocks, roots, wet dirt, and a steepening gradient.
The sun came out as we approached Tasch, and climbing up above the village we ended up with an unobscured view of the Matterhorn, with fresh snow on its face. The next descent was fast, finishing in some slippery sections to cross the road.
The run into Zermatt (for the first time) was a technical delight, and we had the pleasure of seeing Thomas Frischknecht clean almost the entire climb from the road. The true climb begun through town, as we climbed to Sunegga with huge views up the valley.
The descent actually played to a theme we’ve had all week – flow like water. To ride the trails you really can’t fight them. You have to be smooth. But also, some of the best trails have been the ones that have run along irrigation canals, or in the case of today, along the line of a mostly submerged water pipe.
Like most final stages, it dragged on a little, with a few more short (but very steep) climbs to finish off the legs.
Arriving in Zermatt was a joy, and we were quickly awarded our medals for finishing. But even without a medal, making it here was its own reward. Riders were lounging in deck chairs, eating pasta, enjoying beers, and embracing loved ones who had come to watch them finish.
For what could be one of the most demanding mountain bike stage races in the world, the Swiss Epic is alos one of the most inclusive. The small numbers allow great friendships to develop, and the terrain allows for fantastic racing. This really is a gold star event, and I hope to be able to come back again and experience it.
From Monday 21st September, anyone wanting to take part in the Perskindol Swiss Epic next year will be able to register online. There is a generous discount, so it’s worth signing up as soon as you can. The 2016 edition of the race takes place on 12-17 September and has even more flow than the previous two editions.
The Swiss Epic format covers a distance of some 360 km and an elevation gain of 12,500 m, so that’s about 2500m less climbing. The Swiss Epic Flow format covers a distance of 280 km, an elevation gain of 8,000 m, and flowing descents with an elevation loss of over 15,600 m.
The stopover locations remain the same, but riders in the Perskindol Swiss Epic 2016 race will set off in Zermatt, then head to Grächen and Leukerbad and finish in Verbier, making it a completely new course.
There will also be a new Corporate category in 2016 that will see three two-person teams share a starting position, and the Budget package featuring basic accommodation will offer riders the chance to participate in Perskindol Swiss Epic at a lower cost.