The 4th day of a six day stage race, is well and truly the hump day. Starting in Leukerbad, the Perskindol Swiss Epic was set to descend down to the Rhone Valley, travel upstream towards Visp, and then ascend towards Grachen, via Visperterminen along a seemingly never ending climb, followed by a never ending descent and the final push to Grachen. 89km, 3100m of climbing. A tough day.
With storms on the radar, the route had been modified slightly to avoid sending riders into a hidden valley with no vehicle access, in case a rescue was needed. But while the sun was out for much of the day, so was a very strong wind, felt on the nose more than the back.
Our own luck took a turn for the worse last night, with Imogen suffering some very severe gastro, pains and nausea. Waking to find her curled up on the bathroom floor at 11:30, after she’d been calling weakly for help for an hour made for a horrible night. Helping her drink some water meant she was able to almost stand up and make her way to bed – although this took quite some time and we were up most of the night, with me worrying about whether to call for a doctor. Sleep was patchy and this morning’s alarm was not greeted well.
But when holding a leader’s jersey for your category, what do you do? Imogen did her best to eat and managed about a cup of yoghurt for breakfast and we took the start.
With rain threatening, and even starting, the downhill start out of town was quick. Reports suggested the weather was fair in the valley and it looked like everyone was keen to get there. After a road descent and climb we moved into some traversing singletrack. The wind of the day was already apparent, but we rode into a similar position as the past two stages. The main descent down to the valley was steep, loose, filled with corners, and had our brakes cooking, with a lot of arm pump and hand fatigue. If you’re coming to the Swiss Epic, seriously consider upping your rotor size. I was wishing I’d opted for a 180mm front and Ice Tech pads and rotors.
With about 25km of flat up the valley, we’d considered “getting in a group”. All well and good. When there’s a gale blowing down the valley, it was super hard work.
Through Visp, we climbed, and I was amazed that Imogen was still riding so strongly – and that we both were actually still riding where we normally would, with similar teams around us. Of course, the climb above Visp went to about 2300m, from not much. About a third of the way in we also started to get buffeted by winds. Really heavy winds. In spite of all our efforts and a great start, last night took its toll, and Imogen was even forced off the bike with fatigue and a return of nausea and dizziness, at one time collapsing onto the road completely.
The Flow category joined the route at a top lift station, and we had more climbing on a ski slope, fire trail, and then singletrack before the long singletrack descent started. I couldn’t even guess how long it was, but it took us down almost all the way again, about 1500m of drop.
Imogen rode it superbly, but the nausea and fatigue took its toll and forced her off the bike numerous times. She had managed to down a bar and eight or nine gels over the four hours, but nothing could help with the weakness, probably from last night’s dehydration. Testament to Imo’s toughness and ability, we must have had an amazing lead, because it took a very long time for other teams to catch us, but then, quite suddenly a bunch of men’s teams we hadn’t seen before passed us, then other mixed teams who were having better days than us.
Once in the valley, with a few more complete stops and tumbles off the bike with dizziness, we had to stop. Thanks to all those who asked if we were ok, or if we needed some help. The vibe from just about everyone in this race is amazing. Virtually no one rode past us without asking about our wellbeing or needs. But with 20km and another 1000m to climb, carrying on would be dangerous.
We’ve relinquished our lead in the Mixed category, and also forfeited any chance of ranking in the event. But we’re hoping that we can recover tonight and enjoy riding the trails of the routes for the next two days.
The front of the race
The three favourite teams in the Swiss Epic Men’s category changed spots today. Team BiXS Stöckli with Lukas Buchli and Mathias Flückiger took the win again today with a time of 4h 19min, but closely followed by Jochen Käss and Daniel Geismayr of Team Centurion Vaude, with 4h 22min, who were able to take the overall lead by one minute. The Topeak Ergon Racing Team of Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek crossed the line with 4h 24min taking third, and getting bumped down to third in the overall rankings too.
In the Women’s category Adleheid Morath and Sally Bigham of the Topeak Ergon Racing Team continue to build their lead, taking the win with 5h 21min, followed by Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans, Team Specialized RECM, with 5h 26min.
With our day as it was, Melanie Alexander and Mark Spratt won today with 6h 01min and took the overall lead. But the mixed category also had a lot of upheaval, with 3Sam racing in 2nd and Team Webike in 3rd, the first trip to the podium for both teams.
In the Masters category Dani Schnider and Oliver Imfeld continue to pull away from the rest of the field.
Full results are on Datasport.
Stage four tomorrow is another circuit from Grächen to Grächen, covering a distance of 88 kilometres with an elevation gain of 3,300 metres. The former mountain bike professional Christoph Sauser will ride this stage as a guest rider.