The 2020 Swiss Epic entries have been open for a while, and while the stage towns have been made public, the final route has just been revealed. Unlike some mountain bike stage races, the Swiss Epic changes its route drastically each year. While the challenge of finishing the Swiss Epic will be the same year on year (ok, we think it used to be harder though…) the updated route ensures the experience will never be the same. The 2020 Swiss Epic will cover 333 kilometres of mountain bike racing and the very best of Swiss hospitality in Graubünden. The route traverses the Alps, from Laax to Arosa and on to Davos.
The Swiss Epic 2020 route uses varied terrain, from purpose-built mountain biking singletrack to rugged natural trails. The route traverses across high mountain ridgelines and looks set to challenge and reward throughout the five stages. The host towns of Laax, Arosa and Davos create 3 circular loop stages and 2 transition days.
In total, the 2020 race will take in 333 kilometres of racing, including 12 850 metres of climbing. By Epic Series standards the daily distances are short, but the metres of elevation gained and the high altitudes above sea level ensure they are intense. This will provide a platform for exhilarating racing; ensuring the strongest teams emerge victorious.
Swiss Epic 2020 Stage One
Laax >> Laax
Tuesday, 18 August 2020
Climbing: 2 600m
Descending: 2 600m
Water Points: (15km, 28km & 50km)
Stage 1 opens with a climb (that’s always good) that serves as a warm-up for the long ascent to the Crap Sogn Gion and Crap Masegn ski stations. After passing the latter, only a brief climb remains before teams reach the highest point of the stage at 2 456 metres above sea level. From the summit, a natural trail leads towards Alp Sogn Martin and past the spectacular Vorab glacier. A climb to the Segnas Plateau follows, where a smooth trail offers incredible views of the Tectonic Arena Sardona, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its legendary Martin’s Hole and the Tschingelhörner range of peaks. The flowing Runcatrail then provides the teams with a sensational descent. At the end of the descent, Lake Cresta and its crystal-clear waters await; followed by the turquoise Lake Cauma, the jewel of Flims. A brief final climb ensures the opening stage ends, like all others at the Swiss Epic, with a thrilling downhill that rewards all teams for completing Stage 1.
There is no better way to open a 6-day stage race than with a prologue. But, without a 6th day, the Swiss Epic hasn’t had a prologue for a few years. So it is really important to have a long climb to let teams get really spread out before any singletrack descents. Chances are that small descent a couple of. kilometres in will be pretty hectic. The Runca trail should be a real highlight, and stage success will be dependent on fuelling well and pushing hard through those last 14km – there is more climbing there than you would think.
Swiss Epic 2020 Stage Two
Laax >> Arosa
Wednesday, 19 August 2020
Climbing: 2 700m
Descending: 2 100m
Water Points: 28km, 51km & 59km
The first transition stage of the 2020 Swiss Epic takes riders 74 kilometres from Laax to Arosa, in the Schanfigg Valley. As Laax is located at 1 000 metres above sea level and Arosa is situated at nearly 1 800 metres; the stage is backloaded with climbing. With the majority of the stage’s 2 700 metres of climbing coming in the final 25 kilometres, teams are advised to make the most of the first 50 kilometres; especially as the day starts by tracing the upper reaches of the famous Rhine Gorge, to Reichenau. Known as the Swiss Grand Canyon, Rhine Gorge is a summer sports enthusiast’s playground. Boasting sheer white cliffs and rich forests, the Rhine Gorge is rugged; hewn by the raging river over millions of years. The route then loops into the Domleschg valley, following the Hinterrhein river; a tributary of the mighty Rhine. Flowing contour trails lead out of the Domleschg and past Graubünden’s capital city, Chur. Beyond Chur, the stage’s climbing begins in earnest and teams will ascend past charming Swiss villages, like Tschiertschen; which marks 10-kilometres to the summit. The highest point of the day, Rot Tritt at 2 007 metres above sea level, comes just 5 kilometres from the finish in Arosa; getting there requires skirting the shores of the lakes Prätsch and traversing the Maran Plateau before descending to the stage’s finish line.
This day looks awesome, especially with the chance to race through the Rhine Gorge. This is the reason you choose an event like the Swiss Epic! Those first two climbs will be important, but they are unlikely to create major gaps between anyone you are close to on GC after Stage 1. The Rhine Gorge may not be as enjoyable if you’re being chased down and under pressure. It would be foolish to ride through the first water point, no matter how tempting it is. This stage has a hard finish and fuelling early and often is the key to a fast finish today, and for the final stages.
Swiss Epic 2020 Stage Three
Arosa >> Arosa
Thursday, 20 August 2020
Climbing: 2 500m
Descending: 2 500m
Water Points: 20km, 35km & 44km
Stage 3 is made up of three loops from the race village in Arosa and is, arguably, the most spectator friendly day of the race, allowing fans multiple chances to cheer on their favourite teams. The stage begins by looping north from Arosa. The following two loops take in the trails to the north east and south west of the town. It is the shortest stage of the race, but it is by no means easy as it takes in a total of 2 500 metres of climbing in just 59 kilometres, including a climb to 2 614 metres above sea level. The stage is not purely climbing, though, and packs highlights into the relatively short distance too. Riders will be rewarded with a descent on the Hörnli Trail, one of Europe’s longest purpose-built mountain biking tracks. Other standout features of the day are the charming Walser village Medergen; passing the Arosa Bear Sanctuary; the view from Gredigs Fürggli, the highest point of the race; and descending towards the beautiful Älplisee.
Firstly, this is a tough one. There’s no real flat ground on there. As such the amount of climbing for the kilometres ridden is really high. Also, it’s day three. People are tired. It’s also higher than other stages – on average – and while that only has a small impact, it’s those small impacts you notice when trying to climb at threshold!
The other feeling is – does it lack imagination? The Swiss Alps are vast playground for outdoor sports, and while this route looks to take in some great trails, it plays it safe and stays close to Arosa. Sure, this is great promotion for Arosa – but does it give the riders the best experience? We’ll only know once riders finish the stage.
Swiss Epic 2020 Stage Four
Arosa >> Davos
Friday, 21 August 2020
Climbing: 2 800m
Descending: 3 000m
Water Points: 27km 41km & 58km
The Queen Stage of the 2020 Swiss Epic is the second transition day. It takes the teams from Arosa to Davos, and at 76 kilometres long, with 2 800 metres of climbing, it is expected to be the toughest stage of the race. On the climb out of Arosa, the teams will be bid farewell by the sanctuary’s bears and after climbing to over 2 000 metres above sea level, treated to another stretch of the famous Hörnli Trail. The race drops towards Langwies, from where the climb up to the Durannapass leads the teams back over 2 100 meters once more and along the shores of the picturesque Lake Grüen, before starting its descent to Klosters. Usually famed as winter sports destinations, these valleys will be at their lush summer-best in August. From Klosters the route climbs towards Davos, then turns for a final climb into the Flüela Valley. The reward for surmounting the Queen Stage’s climbing is a spectacular flowing singletrack back down the Flüela Valley; it takes the teams nearly all the way to the finish line in Davos.
Transition days feel right, as you go somewhere. And that is usually worth the extra hassle of packing up a bit earlier to get your bag to the hotel lobby in time. It’s not a huge climb to get started, so if you have a team breathing down your neck on GC, expect some fireworks! The Hornli trail features again after yesterday, so any team making a move over the top of the climb can ride a descent that they have raced just 24 hours earlier. This is a clear advantage and a good way to put others under pressure.
This is a long and hard stage and it looks great. The reward of the Fluela trail should be very much appreciated.
Swiss Epic 2020 Stage Five
Davos >> Davos
Saturday, 22 August 2020
Climbing: 2 250m
Descending: 2 250m
Water Points: 11km, 31km & 45km
The final stage of the 2020 Swiss Epic wraps up the race in perfect style. Utilising many of the famous Davos routes, the last stage provides a day to remember. The aptly named Panorama Trail delivers breath-taking views over Davos, and the valley the town is situated in. It requires climbing to reach its highest point, 2 321 metres above sea level. Along with the views and the exceptional riding, the long singletrack rewards teams with the descent to Gotschnaboden. Rooty, forest trails then lead to the Wolfgang Pass. A descent back into Davos provides spectators with the chance to encourage the teams for the final two challenges – the ascent of the Sertig Valley and the Ischalp. From the highest point of the Ischalp Trail the final 10 kilometres are almost all downhill. For the teams contesting stage or overall honours, this creates the possibility of a sprint finish. While for the other teams it allows for a moment of reflection and a chance for the wonders of Graubünden and the Swiss Epic to sink in.
To be fair, the Davos trails didn’t really light up our world last year. But we raced them sodden with rain on Stage 1, and I rode them solo upset that Imogen went to hosptial on Stage 5. So – maybe they didn’t really get their chance to shine! Another circuit takes away some of the feeling of arriving at a destination to finish the stage race, but that’s ok. This is a small matter. Just because it’s the last day, this route proves it’s no parade. The first climb is long and steep, and the long descent is shallow with lots of work to do near the finish of it, including sharp climbs.
The final descent could prove decisive, but the last 6km are a chance to capitalise on any energy left, and hopefully cross the finish line in good spirits with your team mate.
Make no mistake, the Swiss Epic 2020 route is no walk in the park! The lower overall distance belies the fact you will be climbing a lot, and riding a lot of trail. And chances are – dealing with alpine conditions as well. This is a bucket list race, and if you like great accommodation and alpine trails, it’s one not to miss.