Based out of the commune of Evolène at 1380m in the Valais region of Switzerland , the Raid Evolénard is a weekend of mtb events of varying lengths for all ages and abilities with the main 62.5km race attracting a high level of competition including numerous pro/elites.
A course worthy of hosting the Swiss National marathon championships in 2016, with its 2660m of vertical, it’s a course that demands good physical conditioning and high descending skills. Even the drive up from Sion through the gorge is as spectacular as the riding above the commune of Evolène.
The course for Raid Evolenard
The main race of the Raid Evolenard is one of the shorter alpine marathons, but it has all the ingredients expected of an alpine marathon, tough climbs, big descents, technical trails, plenty of singletrack, enough to challenge riders of all levels, as well as the obligatory scenery of course. If you weren’t racing, you’d no doubt be having the camera out around each bend.
If you have raced the Grand Raid BCVS, then the village of Evolène will be familiar as it’s the 4th main CP of the full distance or the 4th start point, before finishing 37km and 1845m+ later in Grimentz.
The weekend of events begins with a free orientation for kids of all ages up to 16 on the Saturday, led around the various length routes of the Bergamont Kids Cup races by pro/elite riders. It was great to see such a strong turnout with the youngest riders out in their balance tackling the 1.5km course! The Raid is also host to the 4th leg of the Garmin Bike Cup this year, a lap of the 1st 35km loop.
Race day for Raid Evolenard
Luckily the overnight rains had been replaced by sunny skies as 700+ riders gathered for the start along the main street of Evolène with the finish line 2km up the valley in the village of Haudères. The start was at a leisurely 9am and an easy jaunt along the river down from my accommodation in Haudères. Even at this height the arm warmers were stripped off well before the gun, an indication that it was going to be hot out there on the mountain.
The pro/elite women started 5 minutes before the main peleton herded down the main street. Unusually for a Euro race, it didn’t fire immediately into a hefty climb, we had a 1km grace, a shallow descent before of course it went upwards, just for a mere 8km though. Every now and then the switchback climb offered views of the villages, nestled in this natural bowl, surrounded by snow clad peaks.
It didn’t take long for the peleton to spread thinly out along this initial climb, the pro/elites racing for a 3 hour+ finish and strong amateurs not far behind that. The descent off the top was a sharp drop into steep, windy singletrack before it opened up a little through the trees, but losing little height before throwing riders back into climbing mode and up to the 2nd highest point of the race to 2250m. It was quite serene up here, traversing across high trails with a deep drop to the commune below overlooked by the 4000m peaks beyond.
Feed stations are plentiful along the route with the 1st one 15km in at the bottom of this 2nd climb and the 2nd station near its peak, then at 30, 35 and 47km, so little need to carry much. Lacking any real punch in the legs wasn’t what I had envisaged for this race, and punch is what you needed with no flat sections to tuck in and hide anywhere.
Hanging on in over the 2nd peak, the descent brought some relief at least to lacklustre legs on the rolling mountain side hugging singletrack. Evidence of a big winter lingered across the trails, the route crossing the snowy remnants of avalanche debris even though it was mid June! 900m of fast mountain descent and the route passed back through Haudères, ending here for the 35km Garmin Cup riders and going out on the 2nd loop for the full distance riders, climbing 1100m over the next 17km with a minor decent in between. I wasn’t going to get to ‘enjoy’ these highlights or the 1100m 9km descent the other side into the finish as the rear brake lever was pulling all the way back to the bars with minimal stopping power. Not ideal for fast, steep descending. I had to call it a day in Haudères as the descent off the top is typical steep alpine singletrack! Spectacular riding, but not so sure on 1 1/2 brakes!
A puncture at the pointy end of the race for last year’s winner Adrian Chenaux saw him drop out of contention for another win, leaving the door open for Urs Huber to take the victory ahead of Andreas Moser and Emeric Turcat, although Adrian brought it back for 4th overall.
In the women’s race, Ariane Lüthi, who had won the Swiss National Championships here in 2016, dominated from the gun, taking the win over last year’s winner Andrea Ming and 3rd placed Franziska Brun.
The organisation had worked hard over the previous weeks to ensure that the trails were safe to ride after what has been an exceptional winter for snow levels and avalanches. The amount of tired and muddy, yet happy faces was testament to the organisers hard work to offer a taste of the riding that’s on offer here. It is still a relatively small event compared to some of the other alpine marathons, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in the magnitude of the riding.
Access is straight forward from Sion by car or if travelling by public transport, it’s a train to Sion then the bus up the mountain. It’s regular, on time and has room for 5 bikes on the rear racks.
Where to stay for Raid Evolenard
For accommodation, there is plenty of choice from camping, to campsite lodges, hotels and BnB’s, price all depending on how much of a view is wanted! I stayed in the Tiny House, a home from home, but in a compact and transportable format. Based at the Camping Molignon in Haudères, it’s plenty roomy for 2 people and its position is maximised for views and daily sunshine. A race well worth making the effort to get to and there’s plenty of places to explore post race too.