Last time I came to the Swiss Epic was in 2015 and the event was based in the Valais region, with the route taking us from Verbier to Zermatt. This year, the fifth year of the race, the Swiss Epic roadshow has left the Valais region for the first time and headed to Graubuenden – the ‘Home of Trails’.
Mike and I were actually riding (awestruck) in Graubunden last year when the route was announced, and made a resolution then and there to come back and race. The trails around Davos, St Moritz, and Lenzerheide are some of the best in the world and the Swiss Epic one of the world’s best-organised races. Below is a preview of this year’s route:
Today’s Swiss Epic Stage 1 route
The Swiss Epic got straight down to business today on a route that took us from Davos to St Moritz covering a very respectable 3,000m of climbing in 86 kilometres.
This stage’s highlights included some incredible trails around Davos, climbing the epic Albula Pass, and descending flowy, muddy trails from the top before storming home on some fantastic Engadin valley forest ways.
Today’s talking point
Had to be the weather. As I said to another team, you can ride for 10 years in Australia and not see a single wet root. Today made up for my lifetime deficit of wet roots and more. This morning my MeteoSwiss App (awesome animations!) helpfully let me know that we were headed for ‘Level 4 persistent rain’, a level up from the previous day’s deluge, and the first three hours or so of the stage were in some pretty messy conditions.
I have to admit that in all my years’ racing I can barely remember a handful of races that I’ve started in the rain, and only one or two where the rain carried on for hours. Such is the benefit of living in a country that’s 70 per cent desert.
But the water falling from the sky was great compared to the water that sprayed up from the wheels in front, from puddles and creek crossings – muddy, gritty water that got everywhere – into gloves, bidon valves, your mouth, hair, eyes, and yes, the chamois.
Equipment choices at the Swiss Epic
Our Swiss Epic Stage 1 was made so much more bearable by some really good clothing choices. We put latex gloves under our usual MTB gloves and these kept our hands relatively dry (although as I write this now, two hours after finishing, my fingertips are still all wrinkly), we wore knee warmers, our fluffy short winter bibs, undershirts, jerseys, armwarmers, and rain jackets. But by far the shining star of today’s wardrobe was the Velotoze shoe covers. As much as they nearly make me cry when I have to pull them on or off, these ultra-tight swimming-caps-for-feet actually kept my feet perfectly clean and dry for nearly the whole stage, and then the only water that got into my shoe came from clambering into streams. Amazing bit of gear.
MarathonMTB.com team’s race
Our day started well, with a nice, neutral start that gradually ramped up as we hit the first few kilometres of climbing out of Davos. Good for me because I had eschewed a warmup in favour of staying dry for twenty extra minutes – sorry coach. We tussled with a few mixed teams early on but pulled clear as the race continued climbing, riding the muddy, rooty descents reasonably cleanly and working well together, with great camaraderie among the other teams on the road. Things got pretty intense when what must have been the top riders of start block B began to catch us about 30 kilometres in, about the time when the weather was at its worst, but we held on, and on, and on, really pushing the muddy, grimy food and fluid into our muddy, grimy mouths until at last we got to the start of the road climb to the Albula Pass.
By now we had to rely on memory for the length of climbs, the location of feed zones, the road surface we’d be traversing, our helpful Swiss Epic stage stickers having simply disappeared, dissolved perhaps, by the rain.
I knew that here we had to be strong and Mike and I worked really well together to keep a nice sheltered position behind some men’s teams. The Albula pass isn’t a steep climb, but it is very, very long, and the higher you go the stiffer and colder the headwind that races off the towering walls of granite beside you. The descent off the top was really challenging for me, having gone pretty deep on the climb, but Mike shouted encouragement all the way. If only Mike and I could work as well together while, say, cooking dinner, or doing the shopping.
Mike TTed us to the forest climbs on the outskirts of St Moritz, and the last five kilometres of the event which, instead of the pleasant roll into town I had imagined, presented a series of wet, rooty pinch climbs that challenged me more than the entire thousand metres of climbing to the Albula Pass. Eventually though, we hit bitumen, the sound of the commentator floated over our heads, and with a few more corners the giant inflatable arch was in sight. We weren’t sure we’d won the stage until they announced that second place had finished behind us. Elation!
That was one of my toughest days on the bike, but also one of the most rewarding. It’s been a long time since we’ve needed to try ourselves in difficult conditions and our bikes, gear, and relationship (amaze) stood up to the test.
The front of the race
More than an hour beforehand the winning men’s teams crossed the finish line. Team Trek Selle San Marco A of Michele Casagrande and Fabian Rabensteiner crossed the line in an eye-watering time of 3:52, almost beside second place-getters team Trek Selle San Marco of Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro. Team jb BRUNEX/Fischer BMC crossed the line six minutes later. In the women’s event, team Shimano S-Phyre girls Corina Gentenbein and Kathrin Stirnemann came in first in a shade under 5 hours, followed just 25 seconds behind by Arianne Luethi and Samara Sheppard of team Wielka Orkiestra Swiatecznej Pomocy, then Alice Pirard and Stefanie Dohrn of team Centurian Vaude 2. Full results are available on the Epic Series App or on the Swiss Epic site.