The 2016 Swiss Epic is barely one week away, and come 11th September, Zermatt will be flooded by a mix of lycra, whizzing freehubs, bright all-mountain clothes and some highly excitable mountain bikers. The 3rd Perskindol Swiss Epic will begin the very next morning.
Based in the Valais, the Swiss Epic is 6 days of pure mountain biking between Zermatt and Verbier. The race starts with a prologue in Zermatt, starting way up at the Rotthorn before descending to Zermatt. The route is punctuated by climbs, but the net descent is huge! It’s a challenging trail with some older, natural trails and some built sections.
While this stage will favour those with the best skills, it might not be a true reflection of the result in Verbier. Start lists have just been released, so here’s a look at who we think might challenge in the Epic categories for 2016.
Swiss Epic Men
As a UCI hors categorie event, the Swiss Epic carries some serious cache for elite racers – and ranking points and prize money. In the past two years, the final result has changed on the last day.
It looks like Centurion-Vaude might be the overall favourites, with Geismayr and Kass. Even ahead of Schurter and Stirnemann. They just have a bit more to race for. Centurion have some pretty sweet new 29er FS bikes too and if they race these that could make a difference. Hynek and Lakata from Topeak-Ergon will likely be on the podium, save for flat tyres. A stage race doesn’t forgive a bad day with mechanicals, and the front of the race is likely to be very close and any mechanical mishaps will be costly.
BMC have two strong teams, and there are plenty of Swiss riders who could make a difference. But the top three teams are likely to be the above.
Swiss Epic Women
The Swiss Epic has had a similar women’s turn out to the Cape Epic, until the Cape Epic changed their rules for the women’s race. The event hasn’t quite gathered as much depth in the women’s race as the mens – but that doesn’t mean it won’t be exciting! Jolanda Neff is lining up with Alessandra Keller, and these two will no doubt have some great stages.
But this Stockli team don’t quite match the stage race experience of someone like Ariane Kleinhans, who will be racing with Corina Gantenbein. Kleinhans doesn’t have her super team mate Annika Langvad on hand, but will she lead Gantenbein to victory?
The duo of Esther Suess and Hielke Elferink might be a bit of a sleeper. Suess is one of the most accomplished women on the marathon, stage race and XCO circuit, and Elferink has had some exceptional performances, including 3rd at the Swiss Epic last year. I think these two will be the favourites.
Notably absent is 2016 winner Sally Bigham – but Anne Terpstra is racing with Elisabeth Osl, and these two might even take the Prologue given Osl’s talent.
Swiss Epic Mixed
This one is tough to write! I had hoped to partner with Imogen Smith for the mixed race again this year – in-fact much of our yearly race plan, and even our team bikes, was built around it. But the life of an amateur cyclist must take exactly that into account – life. And work commitments will keep us in Australia.
So who did we see as our competition for vying for a win? THere are a few teams that stand out, including XCRacer.com duo of Mark Spratt and Mel Alexander. It’s clear these two have had a strong focus on success in Switzerland this year, and they will race with extreme intensity to get into the lead.
But look at R’adys Scott Team – with Cornelia Hug and Adrian Ruhstaller. Ruhstaller had a great race in Masters in 2014. The UK also presents another set of challengers, Matt Page and Sophie Hemming. While Matt is an old hand at the Swiss Epic (and finished 3rd in the Flow race last year) Hemming is new to mountain biking – but certainly has tasted a lot of early success. It would seem these two will find a foot on the podium – but the top step? We’ll see.
A few other teams might come into play, but as is often the case, sometimes you need to see who is the stronger team on the ground, not just on paper, with Mixed.
Swiss Epic Masters
Masters actually looks pretty open – but it is hard to not expect Barti Bucher to be up near the front with team mate Hansjuerg Gerber. But it doesn’t have an outright favourite jumping off the start list. Again, let’s see once the first two stages are complete.
The full start lists are online – check them out and let’s hear about who you think can ride away with the titles.