The Engadin Bike Giro started today nin the glamourous town of St Moritz, in Graubuenden, Switzerland. As an area that has immense natural beauty, it is more often known for being a place for jet-setting skiers more than mountain bikers. But with a long alpine valley, lakes, and innumerable trails both in the forests and above the treelie – the mountain biking around St Moritz and Silvaplana is truly amazing. Especially the option for long distance rides.
I have passed through the area and stayed about 3 times in the past six years – and always wished there was an event here too. Sure, the trails made for great riding anyway, but visiting a town when there is a mountain bike race helps make the area feel truly alive.
The Engadin Bike Giro, run by Sauser Sports, is just that. It is a 3 day stage race based between St Moritz and Silvaplana, that uses many of the Swiss National routes, as well as the Corviglia Flow Trails. These trails have been carved into the south-facing slopes below Corviglia, over looking the lakes and towards Pontresina and the Bernina Pass.
The inaugural event has attracted close to 400 mountain bikers, from amateur to full-time professionals. And on day one – we would climb.
The Prologue at the Engadin Bike Giro
There was to be no easing into the Engadin Bike Giro, with a 10km prologue and 788m climbing to kick start the race. Starting from the lake of St Moritz, riders were set off in 15 second intervals. A strong tailwind from the Maloja Pass gave a helping hand for about… 500m.
Lots of jovial mountain bikers rolled around the start, moving into the start chute as required. As time ticked down, more lithe, shaved down mountain bikers arrived. I looked at my start number, and realised I would be chased down by many speedy looking Swiss.
The Elite women were off just before me, and Imogen was a little nervous after being ill most of the week since the Marathon World Championships. But, it was another chance to race against some of the best marathon racers around. Up a hill.
I set off behind Daniel Gasthof and never saw him again. However I did quickly see the rider starting behind me, and the one starting behind him, before I was truly even passing through the pedestrianised area of St Moritz. I felt compelled to pose briefly for a tourist’s photo.
We moved onto the road through town and the usual minor hazards of European racing played out. A child wandering under the tape. A truck filling the road behind a blind corner. And steep climbs.
After being passed about another 6 times, we moved off road, onto a forest road better quality than most people’s driveways. We seemed to be taking a tour of large carved items, as I huffed and puffed past gnomes, sheep and mushrooms made from wood.
A brief reprieve came as we traversed a ski slope, and even went down through some singletrack. A rider who had just passed me had to stop with a dropped chain. I had noticed a few riders riding XTR M9000 setups with the clutch off. It does have less resistance, but I wonder if this was at fault for this guy?
Either way, rounding the next corner we were straight back up hill, and into some brutally steep singletrack. More people passed me, and I started to catch some elite women. We moved above the tree line and I could see the lines of colourful riders ahead. The uphill flood of shaved arm, fluro skin suit wearing Europeans didn’t abate.
At the start, I had heard that Team Bulls had arrived to race. Looking back, I could see a hard charging Bull – unmistakably Karl Platt. Goal setting for the next few minutes can be fruitless, but I set the lofty goal of not being passed by Platt before I finished.
That lasted about 90 seconds, as Platt rode past in a TT position on the centre of his handlebars.
Soon enough I was at the top, joining Imogen who had crossed just ahead, and I did as others did – donning warm clothes from my bag which had been shuttled up, and grabbing some warm bread from the finish feed zone. The view was amazing but it was chilly, so we were keen to get on down.
It turns out Adrian Chenaux was the fastest bloke up, and Nadia Walker was the fastest woman. Imogen and I were 6th and 27th in Elite women and men respectively. Full results for the day can be seen online.
What goes up… must rail down
So there we were, At the Corviglia mountain railway station, with a purpose built trail leading back to St Moritz… like so many other riders, we headed down. But not before letting some air out of our tyres.
Switzerland has some of the best trails I have ridden. Anywhere. And almost all of them have been old trails, there for getting around, for getting into the mountains – whatever. Trails there because life has made them necessary. Of course we live in a different time now, with great expense going into leisure and recreation. So we also have Flow Trails.
I actually had a coffee with one of the builders this morning, who said the idea of the Flow Trails in Corviglia was to have an option away from the technical, natural trails. Something young people, old people, and novices could ride.
But lay a Flow Trail over a steep slope, and yes it is achievable, but the speed on tap meant any mistake would have a high penalty for failure! The trail was really well built, and reminiscent of Verbier Bike Park – although a little less rocky and with a better view
Lines of bike races zipped down the trail, some more at ease with the speed than others. With St Moritz and Pontresina seemingly at our feet, the descent still seemed to take forever, taxing quads and calves that had so freshly been filled with lactic acid.
Imogen and I made a bee line for the Coop supermarket and some chocolate milk, before spinning back to our apartment in Surlej. But not before an ice bath in the lake!
Feel good Friday in the Engadin
Much like Imogen said on her post after XCM World Championships – the race vibe is astounding. There were so many smiles at the top, even after the effort, and again on the downhill of course. The Engadin Valley is exceptionally beautiful, and it looks like the Engadin Bike Giro is off to the right start.
Tomorrow, we about 74km and 2500m of climbing, punctuated by another climb to Corviglia via Bever.