The 2019 Swiss Epic stage race is just around the corner, and like any major mountain bike stage race, there is quite a bit of preparation that is involved in arriving at the start line ready to race. Here’s a look at what Imogen Smith and I have been doing to get ready, along with some tips for your own stage race preparations.
Understand the route
This works a few ways. Firstly, understand where the stage race is based, and where it starts and finishes. You are going to need to book travel to and from the event, so it is worth looking up what the connections are like for the start and finish towns. If the event is point to point, now is a great time to check that you have booked for your extra luggage and bike bags to be sent to the finish location. For the Swiss Epic, we start and finish in Davos, Switzerland. We can easily get a train to Zurich airport the day after the Swiss Epic concludes.
And the race route – clearly this is important. Have a look over each day, and not just a glance at the profiles for the stage race. Does it show what type of surface you are on? Are roads, trails, or double-track marked? Read the names of the climbs, the towns. Is it somewhere you have visited before? Can you research the trails that have been used? Are you able to look up segments on Strava to get an idea of the times some people take? It is up to you how deep you go into this rabbit hole, but even things like searching for YouTube uploads can help.
In 2016, Imogen and I searched for some video from Roc Laissagais. I had raced in 2012, but this showed some terrain and gave a general idea for the area ahead of the 2016 XCM World Championships for Imogen.
Back to the race route, if the feed zones are marked, and you have hypothesised how long you will take given the gradients and trail type, you can now start planning your nutrition.
As an example, Stage 1 of the Swiss Epic leads from Davos to St Moritz. The first climb will be undulating as we get to the top of the Alps Epic Trail. Then, it’s going to be a really good trail to descend. No time to eat or drink – just ride! Later we go under the Landwasser Viaduct. We rode through here last year, the trails down are fast and fun and the valley will be a great place to eat and drink. And that final climb to the Albula Pass will be a monster. I have driven it many times and it’s a long climb, so this is the time where the big impact on the stage will happen. We also know the finish, more or less, as we will ride up the Engadin Valley, most likely right into a headwind coming from Silvaplana.
Sure, some of that is prior knowledge, but it’s also using information that is available to us.
Plan your logistics
Another basic – it’s all on the event schedule, right? But lets step it back. Ok so race rego is open from midday. Where are you staying? Have you booked an extra night in Davos, or will you be waiting to check in while also wanting to get registration done?
How are you getting to Davos? How far is the train station to your hotel? If you choose a hire car, is there actually parking available? What if you have been riding elsewhere already – is all your clothing clean? Have you found a laundry? Maybe it’s time to look one up. Take any stress from before the stage race out of the equation by proper planning.
We are arriving in Switzerland on the Wednesday beforehand, to help with jet lag. We have decided to stay in St Moritz beforehand. It’s not cheap, but it’s a holiday. We have visited before, and know some fun trails, when the supermarket is open, and how to get around. All in all it’s low stress, and while the altitude at 1800m won’t be the greatest for getting over jetlag, it keeps us up high for most of the trip, so getting to Davos won’t be a shock.
This gives us a big buffer for travel mishaps and lost luggage – arriving right before the event can increase your vulnerability to travel problems.
Train smart for your stage race
This shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone. Train smart and train to suit your stage race. I have probably done less volume than before other mountain bike stage races ahead of the Swiss Epic, but I believe the quality is better.
Imogen has a top-notch coach who understands her as an athlete and a person, and modifies her training to suit. I’ll be honest, I follow the plan (which is not as effective as my own training plan) and Imogen looks at my power data and we make changes from there. Imogen is an accredited coach and a data fiend, so it’s not a terrible way to do things.
Our training includes more intensity, and has had more time doing sweet spot efforts or time working alternately above and below our threshold values. Each session has involved increasing fatigue, and sessions that look ok on paper have left us crumbling at the very end. We aren’t getting broken, but at the end of each training block we are ready for an easy week, and certainly motivated to keep training.
We don’t live in the Swiss Alps, but do have access to longer climbs where we live near Brisbane. While we aren’t going all out up the long climbs, there are some very specific efforts on the long climbs, making sure the quality of our training trumps the quantity.
Take the right bike for a stage race
This one is coming down to the wire, but we do have the new Norco Revolver frames being built up. In 2015 we raced Bianchi Methanol 29 FS bikes. We had Shimano XTR 1×11, Fox suspension, light carbon wheels, 100mm of travel and strong Maxxis tyres.
In essence, not much is changing. Our new Revolver frames are still being run with the 100mm suspension option, but the reach is longer, the head angle is a lot slacker, and the seat angle is steeper.
We will be using Shimano’s XTR M9100 12-speed group set, giving us a wider range than the 11-42 we had in 2015, instead we will ride on 10-51 cassettes.
And while we still have light carbon wheels, we will be racing on wheels with at least a 25mm internal width, quite a lot wider than the NoTubes Valor wheels we used to use. They were amazing wheels, but our latest EIE carbon rims laced to XTR hubs are stiffer, and only about 100g heavier. We’ll still use Maxxis tyres, but something a little wider than the 2.2″ Ardent Race and Ikons. Not much bigger though, we feel 2.25″ will be ideal.
And the big one, Imogen and I both use a dropper post now, and have done since 2016. Sure, it helps to get off the back, but it also helps to get low and work the trails. with better balance. We both have 125mm drop KS Lev models fitted to our bikes.
Take the right spares
This is really event and bike specific, and I wrote a short piece in 2016 before we headed to Europe for a few races. Think about what is specific to your bike, and what you’re likely to wear out given the conditions. Now for most of us, all this will be a trade off with a luggage limit. Some items might be best to be sourced locally if time is available, like tyres, sealant or chains. None of those items are particularly expensive, unless you’re paying an extra $70-150 a kilo for them.
For the Swiss Epic, we will take one spare tyre, one spare chain, spare quick links, chain lube for wet and dry conditions, spare brake pads, at least one spare rotor, spare bolts and a set of cleats, a set of handlebars, a set of grips for reach rider, a saddle, a dropper lever, a bottom bracket, head set bearings, a cable and outer and of course tubes, zip ties, multi tools and some essential tools.
Don’t forget about the rider though – we will both take spare eyewear and maybe spare shoes. Some people won’t consider travelling to a race without spare shoes. And I totally get that, I’ve just never really done it.
Take the right attitude
This is the final one. Yes, that does mean this is just an overview. But you have to go with your head in the right space. The Swiss Epic is a paired stage race and racing with your husband or wife (or life partner) does add a different element to it. But no matter who you are racing with, you have to know how the two of you will work as a pair.
We landed in the Mixed leaders jersey after the prologue in 2015, and a lot has changed in four years since then. In a summary Imogen is stronger and I’m less strong! But Imogen’s technical riding, which always moved up a notch for big races, has improved amazingly since then and I’m going to have my work cut out for me to hold her wheel. I’d say we will be really well matched, but if not, we’ll have a plan how to work it out. Be that on climbs, descents or on the flats. And that’s something you need to do as well.
Who rides best when they’re leading? Who rides best when they sit out of the wind? Only you and your team mate know these answers so use them to the best of your ability.
And lastly – it’s just a bike race. The Swiss Epic has accommodation in hotels in pretty glamorous towns. The race routes take us through beautiful areas and past historic locations. There’s a lot more going on than trying to go as fast as possible. Imogen and I love racing in Europe. The sights, the atmosphere, the competition, the terrain, the public support… it’s hard to say exactly what makes it so good. So just being there and finding where our race is is going to be awesome.
Stay tuned, as we will be reporting daily from the Swiss Epic, plus a little from our visit to St Moritz beforehand.