The final stage of the Swiss Epic, stage 5, took the race in full circle, back to Davos. Covering 64 kilometres and 2,350m of climbing, the stage promised no easy finale, with a number of challenging climbs.
MarathonMTB.com’s day at the Swiss Epic
With one day to go and over 6 minutes lead, Imogen and I felt fresh (well, enough) and confident. Yep, Anders and Synne had taken the race to us on stage 4 but with over 6 minutes to play with we knew we just had to ride with them, and if they went on the last descent – so be it. It would be hard to gain 6 minutes.
The stage begun as it did on stage 4, around the lake and up the start climb from the World Cup, and then up and up some more until we tipped it into the bottom of a flow trail, descending down that, then onto the XC ski areas. It was fast, and soon enough Anders and Synne were on our wheel, then pushing past on a steep climb. We moved through sections of wet and root-ridden singletrack and farm roads, with Imogen glued to their wheels as I was a little lazy holding on, but by the valley it was a tight group of four approaching the first feed, then upwards to Filisur. We still didn’t actually go under the Landwasser Viaduct, which I sort of expected us to do. Maybe we did and I didn’t notice?
Up the climb past the station we moved into the wide forest trail – it was drier than coming the other way on stage one but still had some slippery elements. We were right with the Norwegians when one of those tiny decisions you make when racing was the wrong one, and Imogen slipped in mud at speed, hitting the ground hard. Anders and Synne dumped their bikes to the ground and ran back to see if she was ok. Imogen managed to stand, blood coming from both knees, and the Norwegians showered us with bandages. They eventually got back to their race but their help was truly gracious.
We limped along, with a few teams behind being understanding at the slow pace on the trail until it was wide enough to pull over safely. Unable to stand up on the pedals Imogen decided we needed to stop. At the rail viaduct we did that, pressed the Spot Tracker saying we needed help. We limped across the viaduct, much slower than the teams behind us liked, but there was no room to move. The motorbike medics arrived on the otherside and their care was perfect.
Once Imogen was patched up and stubbornly refusing pain relief, it was time to go. I crept to the line, on a stage that felt like it could have finished a few times already. Anders was there to see how things were, as were some other friends who no doubt expected to see Imogen and I sometime earlier. I rode to the hospital, it certainly wasn’t the finale I had expected, but I needed to know what Imogen’s condition was.
The front of the race at the Swiss Epic
On Saturday, 24 August, the 2019 Swiss Epic concluded with Trek Selle San Marco A wrapping up the overall title, while Devonbosch Stellenbosch took the stage honours. Michele Casagrande and Fabian Rabensteiner were content to roll across the final finish line, in Davos, 3 minutes down on the stage winners, secure in the knowledge that they had done enough to be crowned champions. Ahead of them Frans Claes and Sören Nissen turned around a disappointing week with a victory on the Grande Finale. The 65-kilometre-long Stage 5 traversed the Zügenweg and summited the Äbirugg on the trails from Lenzerheide to Davos.
Stage 1’s wet weather long-forgotten, the sun came out to ensure the riders had a pleasant last day in the Swiss Alps of the Graubünden Canton. It was no easy stage however; the route included a sapping 2 300 metres of climbing. As the stage started with a lap of the Lenzerheide Heidsee before following a flowing singletrack towards the Landwasser Viaduct, there was little opportunity for attacks. Once the climbing began, after the 25-kilometre mark, it was the Superior XC Team/bischibikes.ch of Martin Gluth and Simon Vitzthum who made the first move. The pair quickly established a 25 second lead, but a wrong turn relegated them to the chase group. Superior XC Team/bischibikes.ch’s misfortune was Devonbosch Stellenbosch’s gain. Claes and Nissen took up the impetus as they split the field on the day’s longest climb. Initially Trek Selle San Marco’s Casagrande, Rabensteiner, Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro followed the Belgian/Luxembourgian combination. Realising that Claes and Nissen were over an hour down on the overall classification the decision was made to let them slip away.
“We had no need to take risks today” Rabensteiner recounted, once the Swiss Epic title was secure. “On the final downhill we slowed a bit and came to the finish with both teams together, and without risks. It was fantastic to cross the line with the other team [Trek Selle San Marco: Porro and Ferraro] today. It was such a nice race and it feels great to have won” the, newly crowned, Swiss Epic champion said.
While Trek Selle San Marco took no risks Devonbosch Stellenbosch went all out for the stage victory. Nissen arrived at the finish line sporting a torn jersey and a bloodied arm from a crash on the final descent. “Some people get IRONMAN or Absa Cape Epic tattoos” he joked. “I thought I’d get something to remember the Swiss Epic by so now I have a nice cut from a fall on one of the slippery roots.”
His crash did not detract from his joy at securing stage victory. “The week started okay with us in the top five for two stages, but then we had a terrible day on Stage 3. We punctured, broke a chain and panicked. We lost so much time that we decided to take it easy yesterday to save ourselves for today” the Luxembourg cross-country champion stated. “I said yesterday already, we would be going for the stage win today,” his partner, Claes added. Claes and Nissen’s winning time was 2 hours, 54 minutes and 5.8 seconds. They were followed across the line by Casey South and Noah Blöchlinger, of jb BRUNEX/Fischer BMC, 1 minute and 24.3 seconds later. The stage podium was wrapped up by Centurion Vaude’s Daniel Geismayr and Vinzent Dorn.
Given that all the teams contesting the top five places on the general classification started the final 9-kilometre descent to Davos together, it was unsurprising that Stage 5 saw no shift in the overall standings. Trek Selle San Marco A’s accumulated time of 16 hours and 6 seconds was enough to hand them victory by 6 minutes and 37.9 seconds over the jb BRUNEX/Fischer BMC team. Texpa Simplon’s Michael Stünzi and Marc Stutzmann were third overall, with Centurion Vaude fourth and the other Trek Selle San Marco team fifth.
UCI women at the Swiss Epic
The final stage of the 2019 Swiss Epic saw Adelheid Morath and Bettina Janas complete their remarkable comeback to win the UCI Women’s race title. Having lost 17 minutes on the opening stage the KS Trek – Sportograf team strung together four consecutive stage wins to secure the overall victory. Crossing the line in Davos, on Saturday 24 August, the pair were understandably elated.
“It’s so cool, we didn’t think about the overall after the first day and now we have won it!” an elated Janas reflected. The stage and race winners completed the 65-kilometre-long final stage, from Lenzerheide to Davos, in a time of 3 hours, 43 minutes and 24.6 seconds. Their time was 2 minutes and 12.6 seconds faster than that of their nearest rivals, Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy, on the day. Not that extending their advantage had been part of the plan for the KS Trek – Sportograf team ahead of the stage.
“We focused on ourselves” Janas said of their approach to the stage. “We followed our own rhythm, tried to not go over our limit, not get too nervous and keep cool. That was the key to today’s victory” the rider who represents Sportograf concluded.
Behind Janas and Morath an epic tussle unfolded between the Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy and Centurion Vaude 2 teams. Having started the stage with 2 minutes and 20.8 seconds separating them, the two engaged in a fierce battle for the Swiss Epic silver medals. Stefanie Dohrn had struggled with illness on Stage 4 and was still not entirely healthy on Stage 5 either. She and Alice Pirard dug deep to stay with Ariane Lüthi and Samarah Sheppard for as long as possible.
Then when the Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy team began to edge away the Centurion Vaude 2 team fought to limit their time losses. “I left everything out there!” Lüthi puffed after congratulating her partner Sheppard on their second position on Stage 5. The Swiss/New Zealand combination then turned to watch the clock and the finishing straight. 1 minutes and 43.6 seconds ticked by before Pirard and Dohrn sprinted across the finish line.
Having done enough to earn second position overall Dohrn confessed: “I had some problems on the last two days. So, it was our goal to finish second overall and we did it! I’m really proud of Alice [Pirard], she really helped me a lot.” The gap between the Centurion Vaude and Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy teams, after five challenging days of racing, was just 37.6 seconds.
Further down the field the early leaders of the Swiss Epic, the Shimano S-Phyre team continued to lose ground on the overall standings. Kathrin Stirnemann’s breathing troubles, which had caused her problems on Stages 3 and 4 worsened on Stage 5. “Today was worse. My diaphragm felt like it was made of stone and I could hardly breathe” Stirnemann recounted. “It was a struggle just to get to the finish.”
Stirnemann and her teammate Corina Gantenbein finished fifth on the stage; but only lost one general classification position, slipping to fourth overall. In a reverse of the stage and overall standings, the Swiss MTB Girls powered by Play up! finished fourth on the day and fifth overall. The young Swiss combination of Ramona Kupferschmied and Chrystelle Baumann gained valuable experience at the 2019 Swiss Epic, which will no doubt stand them in good stead for the rest of the long careers they have ahead of them.
Wrapping up the Swiss Epic
So the party is over. I’m sitting on a train on the way to the airport. Imogen has a few wounds and a knee brace and a crutch, with a booking with her physio for an MRI referral if needed on Tuesday. Our race was over above Filisur yesterday but we are going home with lots of great memories and experiences, and if Imogen’s injury is straightforward, she will have some truly great form for the XCM World Championships when we return next month.
Yes, we are flying home to Australia to just fly back again on 13th September. That’s just how it is as amateur athletes with full time jobs. Thanks Switzerland, you were awesome as usual.