The Perskindol Swiss Epic Official Race Book recommends that each competitor ride a full-suspension mountain bike with at least 120mm of front and rear travel and a dropper seatpost. I did an extra check and can confirm that this is not just for the Flow category (which is the ‘enduro’-style side of the race). Nope, that’s for everyone!
The trailer video gives a bit of info on what it’s all about… and how hard it is:
The Swiss Epic promises to be a real challenge on our equipment, as we race over 400km and climb over 15,000 metres in the six days between 14 and 20 September. While there’s no dropper seatpost in our household yet, I’m lucky to have my trusty Bianchi Methanol FS: It’s 100mm front and rear travel, equipped with Fox suspension fork and shock. Our race covers the same ground as the Flow category – so it’s super-gnarly – nothing like the gravel roads European marathon racing used to be known for. The Swiss Epic’s descents are rooty, rocky, wet, tight singletrack. And steep. So I’ve adjusted my bike to make this as manageable as possible. When I say ‘I’, I mean my race partner Mike has been doing most of it. For two days he’s been tinkering outside, changing tyres, rotors, cables, chainrings, and cassettes to prepare our bikes for the special demands of the Swiss Alps.
I’ve recently installed the new Fox FiT4 CTD, which along with the usual ‘climb, trail, descend’ (CTD) settings has more external compression damping tuning in the open setting, so I can get a nice low spring weight without sagging more into the travel. My new Fox fork is also a G2, with a 51mm rake, which lengthens the wheelbase and will give me a slacker effective head-angle. This should come in handy on the crazy-steep stuff by providing a bit more stability.
With crazy-steep descents come crazy-steep climbs. While I usually run a 32-tooth single chainring and a Shimano 11-40 XTR cassette around Brisbane, I’ve swapped these out for a 30-tooth front ring and an 11-42 XT cassette. These aren’t actually meant to work with the XTR rear mech, but for the record I gave the setup a thorough thrashing yesterday at the QLD XCO State Champs and it performed like a dream under huge loads and in variable conditions. (And I won!) The kind folks at Fox Australia have also tuned my CTD rear shock so that it’s firmest in the ‘climb’ setting – so I’ll get near lock-out for the long mountain ascents.
While it’s important to keep the bike light for those climbs, I’ve made sacrifices to give myself a better chance of getting through a long stage race (over precipitous mountains of flint sharp enough to carve a lamb roast) with as few mechanicals as possible. I’ve replaced my usual ultra-light Razer 76g rotors with Shimano XT 160mm 6-bolts for more stopping power. I’m running these with Miles Racing sintered pads, which have great heat dissipation and will work great in the wet, long descents. I run XTR trail M985 levers, which I love, and should get tested to the full breadth of their ability.
I’ve replaced my front Ardent Race Maxxis tyre with the reinforced EXO version, and my rear Maxxis Ikon 2.0 EXO with a 2.2 EXO version.
My fabulous Valor wheels have new bearings, a service, and had the spoke tension checked at Brisbane’s Spin Doctor bike store, where Joe did a great job. New inner and outer cables and a special extra polish completed the job!
We’re making a few other modifications, too. We can only run a single bottle cage on our bikes, so we’ll be taking one mount for the back of the seatpost, too, in case we need to carry an extra. I don’t mind training with a hydration pack but in race conditions I find they can inhibit my movement in singletrack a bit. Feed zones are about 30km apart, but if that’s a climb, it can be a long way…
As for other gear, well, we’re happy to have 80kg of luggage booked for our flight, and not unlikely to use it all up. We’ll be packing all our race food (70 gels, 48 bars), gear for every single kind of weather, an incredible array of tools and spares, plus our bikes of course. Then there’s the cameras, lenses, computers, and colourful casual ride gear that go with doing media work and photoshoots on the road.
There’s one piece of gear that should make the whole process easier, though. Once, years ago, I borrowed a friend’s Scicon bike bag to take a road bike on a trip to Italy. I couldn’t afford a bike bag with wheels at the time, and was amazed at how this thing followed me around the airport like a puppy on a leash… So… I’m chuffed that Scicon have lately added a bike bag to their range big enough to take a full-sus 29er MTB (the Aerocomfort MTB) and I’ve got my hands on one to test for Australian Mountain Bike magazine. The bike locks into an internal frame which fits all quick release types and I’ll only have to remove wheels and handlebars. More than anything it’s nice to know that I won’t have to worry about how my bike’s faring with the baggage handlers, and that I won’t have the usual bruise on my shoulder and hip from carrying a bike bag without wheels through the four different train transfers I’ll take from Zurich to Verbier once I arrive.
It’s going to be bittersweet, though, riding my Bianchi at this year’s Perskindol Swiss Epic. That bike’s taken me through some pretty amazing and tough races, including the Croc Trophy, and the last day of the Swiss Epic will be the last time I ever ride it. We’ll be storing it until we fly home a week later, then shipping it straight back to Bianchi, who are no longer importing the high-end duallies we ride into Australia. I’ll be sad to let it go, and while team management have plenty of feelers out for 2015-2016 bike sponsorship, nothing’s settled yet. Still, I’m confident the team will be riding some fabulous new bikes with cutting-edge technology and I can’t wait to hear where we’re headed.
Next I’ll be writing about the hard part – dealing with the mental side of a big event.