Circumnavigating the beautiful Swiss National Park is the National Park Bike Marathon. Part of the hugely popular Swiss Bike Marathon Series, the NP marathon draws the best Swiss and international marathon stars to battle over the 137km course.
The 4000m of climbing over the full course is made up of four main climbs that all come within the first 80km. The highlight being the brutal Chaschauna Pass. Covering 3.3km and averaging 18% it is a true test especially considering the 75km before it!
The last time I attempted to race a longer distance event in Europe was the Trans German stage race in 2012. I got smashed and was barely able to finish inside the top 100 on the stages. With climbs over an hour long and a large depth of field, it was very different to anything I had done before in Australia.
Having left a few years for the mental scars to heal from that one, I was ready to tackle another. Even though I was peaking to race a 1:30hr XCO race and not a 5:30hr race, I thought there might be some cross over. Or maybe I was just hoping there would be!
The choice to race the National Park Bike Marathon wasn’t just out of convenience as it was the only race at this time, but it was also acting as a ‘field trip’. Next years race calendar is slightly different due to the Olympics, and so opens the door for some possible time to do some different races to XCO. Gathering data on how these races are run with my Stages Power meter would be extremely valuable if I decide to take that path.
Time to Race
With a one-hour climb straight out of the gate, there would be no time to warm up, and sure enough when we hit the open slopes the pace was on. The first 15min averaged 9% and I was nearing my limit trying to stay in touch with the first few riders. Going that hard wasn’t ideal with 130km still to race but with a false flat and only a 3-5% average gradient for the remainder of the climb I knew it would be better to spend some energy now to stay with the much faster moving bunch once it ‘flattened’ out.
Over the top of the first pinch, I lost contact with the lead group of about 15–20, and joined up with two other guys to catch up. The lead group seemed to be surging with attacks but our little group kept plugging away and after about 10min of chasing we were back on.
With close to 12km still to climb, I was pretty happy to be back in the lead group and tried to sit in and get everything settled down. At this point, I thought I was going all right but I was well out of my league. This became brutally apparent when, with my heart rate at 170(+-), last years runner up Urs Huber rode off the road onto some single track to film the lead bunch with his camera and then proceed to rejoin and start interviewing one of the Centurion Vaude riders!
I think I still have some work to do!
As we reached the end of the climb, the gradient started to pick up and I lost contact again, after which I settled into a pace I thought would be more appropriate with 100km to go! Unfortunately, disaster struck on the first corner of the descent when I lost power in my rear brake! I had had a brake bleed done on the Thursday before the race that I wasn’t sure about but it seemed fine on Friday so I put it out of my mind. Clearly my suspicions were right!
I kept it steady down the descent and rolling into Fuldera I was caught by a large group and came through timing in 30th. I was going to pull out but I still held out vain hope that I could get the brake to work as it was fading in and out.
Halfway up the climb out of Fuldera I started to think about the descents to come and knew it wouldn’t end well if I tried to push on with only a front brake, so I switched it off and set about touristing into Livigno. Checking out the epic views that the Swiss National Park offered. Even cruising I still overcooked a corner on the flat and nearly ended up in a lake!
This affirmed my decision to pull out, which had me very disappointed and made the last climb pretty tough. Although it didn’t end the way I had planned, the National Park Bike Marathon was still an awesome ride and gave me some invaluable knowledge of the speed of the top marathon riders. Really, really fast!
Mens results HERE
Womens results HERE