Grand Raid BCVS is arguably the biggest one day classic in mountain bike marathon racing. It’s an event I’ve always wanted to compete in, 125km from Verbier to Grimentz with over 5000m of ascent through the beautiful Swiss mountains. This year was the event’s 28th edition. I don’t get nervous about too many races but this race has such a big buzz about it, I was pumped up with adrenaline!
Remembering race day at Grand Raid
It’s Sunday morning, the day after Grand Raid BCVS, my support team will be awake soon and eager to go riding up in the mountains. We are staying Le Chable just below Verbier so have access to the lifts from our door step, 2 stages of the Swiss Epic and lots of other trails. Today though I’m not sure I have the ability to leave our Swiss apartment, that was one tough race yesterday!
My health since travelling to Slovakia last week for European Champs has not been great (DNF last week due to illness) but I knew the form and fitness was good. I was just hoping the body would allow me to race, I’d trained hard for this event and put a lot of resources into being here so had to atleast try. (Edit – I was hospitalised a few days after the race with a kidney infection, no wonder I wasn’t running at 100%!!)
If you’ve not been to Switzerland before it’s a killer for the wallet but with events like Grand Raid BCVS it’s worth the effort. If you’re planning on racing next year book early if you want somewhere reasonably priced to stay.
With the race starting at 7am it was a 4.30am alarm, the start of an epic day! After a warm up on the rollers the support crew headed off to the first feed and I went to the start line for gridding.
There was strong competition with the Swiss Mountain goat Urs Huber the favourite. Retired pro Christoph Sauser rocked up a couple of minutes before the start still looking in good shape. Most riders were on lightweight climbing hardtails but Sauser was on his full suspension bike, a wise old fox? I’d not ridden the event before so didn’t really know what to expect, I’d talked to plenty of people who had ridden the event so prepared my bike suitably. I raced my Simplon Razorblade hardtail, a few changes to normal were a second USE carbon bottle cage so that I could take 2 bottles at certain feed zones and I used a Schwalbe Liteskin front tyre instead of Snake Skin to save some rolling weight on the long climbs. I had planned on using a Schwalbe Thunder Burt snake skin tyre on the back wheel but I changed to Racing Ralph’s front and back as the weather forecast was for rain and now I’ve raced the event I’m not sure I’d use a Thunder Burt even if it was dry.
Grand Raid – straight up!
Bang goes the gun, Grand Raid BCVS is underway! Up the first big mountain, we start steady enough but the pace rises as we approach the peak through the clouds. You can tell people are working hard and by the top a pretty elite group of 20 had formed.
I love going to races where there’s big crowds out on course, at Grand Raid the mountain tops had spectators, technical trails had spectators, all the little villages had spectators… TV helicopter hovering overhead and TV motorbikes broadcasting live coverage just added to the atmosphere. The Swiss Sport TV presenters were on stage in the finish arena doing commentary and interviews throughout the coverage, this race is a big deal!
Heading down off the first mountain an hour into the race we reach over 70 kilometres an hour down the twisty mountain gravel road descent!!! One of the easier descents but pretty scary at those speeds.
The group began to split on the second mountain and I found myself with the lion king Erik Kleinhans. A friend from the 2 times I’ve raced Transalp with his Topeak Ergon Team. Erik turned into my guide for the majority of the day, he’s an established pro and a regular at Grand Raid so had some good tips as we went along.
I had a little shock as we descended the second mountain, there were a lot of technical rocky trails, I’d been under the impression it was just gravel road until the final descent. There were some great trails over the next few hours, some of the best I’ve ridden but really hard work in the middle of a 6+ hour marathon.
When things don’t go to plan at Grand Raid
For me the first 4 hours 30 went very well, after the first good nights sleep without illness in quite a few days I actually felt very good today. At the final feed my support team were delayed by a dodgy sat nav route which meant disaster. I’d finished my bottle and gels ready for the feed but now I had at least an hour until the next neutral feed station. I went from mixing with the pros to losing 25 minutes in a dizzy dehydrated sufferfest over the final 20 kilometres. I stopped at the neutral feed at the bottom of the Pas De Lona hike a bike but the damage was done. Then the twenty minute walk up the Pas de Lona began which is part of why this race is so legendary, for anyone this hike is tough but I was a mess having been without water or gels for so long. I stopped at every neutral feed zone after the hike, “what would you like to drink” was the question, “anything” was my pretty desperate answer! The hike a bike was lined with spectators, you could see the hike a bike approaching from a long way off but you could also hear the cheers and cow bell ringing from the spectators, it’s quite an experience!
The final descent was a lot tougher than expected. Already 6 hours 30 in I started the fast gravel roads past the mountain top reservoirs, easy enough. Then turning into the longest, roughest trail I’ve ever ridden, my hands and arms were on fire as much as my legs. Damn that wise old fox Sauser on his full suspension bike!
I still managed a decent result, 31st place, but the result would have been in the mid teens which would have been something magical against this strong an entry list. Urs Huber crashed out whilst leading ending his season with a broken collarbone, we wish him a speedy recovery. Samuele Porro took the win, with Juri Ragnolicrossing the line in second. Young Bull Simon Stiebjahn was third. In the women’s Florence Darbellay won ahead of Cornelia Hug, with Bettina Janas in 3rd.
What a race! Grand Raid excelled expectations, after what I’d been told I did not expect that many trails, especially ones that demanding, so much fun! The trails, the atmosphere, the mountains, all part of why this event is definitely a classic. If you love marathon racing and mountains (who doesn’t) this has to be at the top of the bucket list.