In a year that will be remembered for different reasons by everyone, elite athletes have had a serious shift in their goals. With Tokyo 2020 becoming Tokyo 2021 (maybe?), the Cape Epic being cancelled, and the XCO World Cup being crammed into two months lots of athletes are overhauling their race calendars. With the Swiss Epic as a UCI stage race in August
Multiple World Champion and Graubünden resident, Nino Schurter is set to headline an all-star SCOTT-SRAM team at the 2020 Swiss Epic. The reigning cross-country World Champion will line up alongside Lars Forster. The 2018 Swiss Epic champions, Andri Frischknecht and Matthias Stirnemann also return to the race after a one-year hiatus; while Thomas Frischknecht and his teammate are set to contest for the Grand Masters’ trophy.
Schurter last raced the Swiss Epic in 2016. That year he and Stirnemann finished third, after losing time to a catastrophic puncture on the opening day.
“First of all, I’m happy to finally go back to racing” an enthusiastic Schurter said. “Particularly as we missed the Absa Cape Epic this year. It’s great we can now use the Swiss Epic as a warm-up for the World Cup racing to follow. I always race for victory though, so it will be more than just a warm-up. And racing on some of my ‘home trails’ is going to be special too. A Swiss Epic win is missing from my palmarès, so I’ll be giving it my all to change this.”
Stirnemann and Andri Frischknecht were set to aid Schurter and Forster in their bid to defend the Absa Cape Epic title in March. Six months on, their role in Graubünden, at the Swiss Epic, could be a little more relaxed than it would have been in South Africa. The pair will undoubtably still support the race favourites if necessary but they will also not be held back by team orders, given the need for them to blow out any cobwebs after a lengthy lay-off from racing.
There will be no easing into the Swiss Epic however, as the route and the racing is intense from the gun. “The Swiss Epic, I believe, is actually harder; as it’s more intense with all the climbing.” Andri Frischknecht revealed, comparing the Swiss Epic to the Absa Cape Epic. “That said, it’s not as long. Plus, we as Swiss locals have the advantage of knowing the terrain a bit better than when we are racing in South Africa.”
Reflecting on the long months without racing he continued: “Luckily in Switzerland we were able to train at all times. Therefore, physically the break it wasn’t such a problem. Psychologically though, it was not easy at times. Everything was uncertain and difficult to plan. But hey, that’s not only the case for us athletes. It’s the same for everyone, regardless of their profession. Now with the Swiss Epic being confirmed we have something to aim for. It has definitely given me a boost in motivation to go out and work even harder.”
Andri Frischknecht’s father and SCOTT-SRAM team principal, Thomas, will be taking the opportunity to race his bike too. The 1996 Olympic silver medallist will step up to the Grand Masters’ division for 2020 and will be racing for the Purple leader jerseys which Bärti Bucher has, virtually, made his own. “To me, these days, the fun aspect is much more important than the competitive side of it” Frischknecht senior stated, playing down his competitive instincts. “I just like to be part of the race itself and get the feeling of being in the competition.”
While his coyness at his own racing aspirations could be deceiving, he makes no secret of the pride he feels for the race he helped found. “I’m super excited how the Swiss Epic is growing” he smiled. “From giving birth to it as a start-up, ahead of the first edition in 2014, it has grown and is now making its way to be the top stage race in Europe. Even with the tough circumstances, I know that this year’s edition of the Swiss Epic will have an impressive field of professional athletes.”
The confirmation of SCOTT SRAM’s participation in the 2020 Swiss Epic follows the Swiss government’s announcement on the 19th of June that events and gatherings of up to 1 000 individuals would be allowed from the 22 of June. After months of uncertainly this decision comes as a very welcome relief to the mountain biking industry. Being able to once again participate in races heralds a return to some form of normality and allows an industry to begin planning for the future once more.