Every race has one, and today was the Swiss Epic’s Queen Stage. The most demanding, most emotional, hardest stage of the race. Today took in 80km and 2,200m of climbing, and while on paper this may look easier than other stages (think stage 1, with 3,000m climbing), the technicality of today’s trails, and the repeated, tough, climbs were how the route earned its royal title.
Swiss Epic Stage 3 – the route
A lot of the buzz around today’s Swiss Epic stage was centred not on its difficulty, but its grand finale on the 2018 XCO World Championships course at Lenzerheide Bike Park. For many, this, and tomorrow’s stage, will dish up a once-in-a-lifetime chance to trace their tyres over the same ground as Jolanda Neff and Nino Schurter. To hit those infamous features – the rock and roots sections – that all look so deceptively easy on RedBull TV. But it also took us a long time to get there. Check out the route below:
I have some amazing memories of this place myself, having raced that World Champs in 2018 in Aussie colours and written about it for MarathonMTB.com. But today we were really just focused on getting there.
It was a fast start out of St Moritz. Overnight rain had cleared and Mike and I had ditched some of the layers that had kept us warm the last couple of days. We headed through some early forest climbs and onto the bitumen bike path, where Mike took a massive turn TTing us onto the back of the group in front – a turn that probably won us the stage. We moved up this excellent bunch and stuck with them until the base of the climb to the Albula Pass, where everything splintered into a million pieces.
The Albula Pass climb for us would be a mixture of forest road and tar with a long singletrack traverse, and was kind to us. I found I had great legs and could set a good rhythm that saw us riding in the top half of our start block around some very strong men’s teams. We held on and on through to the singletrack and the first feedzone, before pointing our bikes down. And down, and down we went. More on that later.
Eventually, and I mean, a long time later, we started climbing again. This was what we’d been waiting for, really, the final 20-kilometre push to Lenzerheide. We found our rhythm again and made it to the top of the bike park, and rode some of the World Champs course – I could hardly recognise it I was so cross-eyed, and even went the wrong way – a little frustrating when the finish line is basically in sight!
We’d stayed out the front of the mixed teams all day, but racing is still tight, with a few minutes separating us from second place. It’s been great to enjoy some awesome camaraderie among the mixed teams and all other riders along the course, and with the sun today came the spectators, with heaps of encouragement for riders along the route. It’s also been lovely to get to know riders from just about any country you can imagine in the post-race chillout tent and at the hotels.
Today’s talking point
Was definitely the steep, rooty, rutted, muddy, and frankly scary valley trails. The race book had failed to mention it, probably because the Swiss don’t even notice this stuff, but some of the trails that took us down into the valley of Filisur are some of the most technical I have ever attempted, and I got a little frustrated at myself when I elected to walk something I judged as ‘unrideable’, only to have a master’s team of Swiss men overtake, apparently totally unfazed, while they chatted away (in my head probably sharing observations about that loser girl from the mixed team walking down these sections). Steep slopes, wet roots, rocks, mud – my skills are definitely up to nearly everything the Swiss Epic throws at us, but today some bits were just too gnarly.
The front of the race
The women’s racing remains exciting, with team KS TREK- Sportograf taking another win after a strong attack on the final climb, and are now sitting just 30 seconds off third on GC. The Centurion Vaude 2 team came in second, and are now approaching the leader’s position on GC, while the Swiss MTB Girls powered by Play Up! enjoyed their first podium of the event in third.
In the men’s category JB BRUNEX/Fischer BMC enjoyed the technical trails to take their first win, with Trek Selle San Marco A coming in second and retaining their leader’s jerseys. Texpa Simplon had another solid day in third. Full results are available on the Swiss Epic website or the Epic Series app.