In a year where nothing can be certain, at this point the Swiss Epic, the European arm of the global Epic Series, will be going ahead in August. After the successful running of the Engadin Bike Giro in St Mortiz already, and a Swiss Cup XCO race in Leukerbad, it is clear that racing is on again in Switzerland.
Trek Pirelli, racing as Trek Selle San Marco at the time, won the 2019 Swiss Epic after a flawless team performance. Michele Casagrande and Fabian Rabensteiner were aided to the title by Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro. In 2020 the quartet return with a third support team in tow, ready to defend their crown.
The Trek Pirelli outfit hail from Italy and had to get permission from their national federation to travel to Switzerland. With the legalities and logistics settled, the squad will travel to Graubünden in force; boasting three confirmed teams, with a fourth potentially joining for the title defence.
In 2019 Casagrande and Rabensteiner’s race victory was built upon teamwork with Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro. For this year’s Swiss Epic, Simone Avondetto and Gioele de Cosmo have been added to the Trek Pirelli roster. This strength in depth could be pivotal to the Italian squad’s plans as they are up against the strongest ever field assembled in Graubünden.
No mention of Italian riders can be complete without acknowledging the toll that Covid-19 has taken on that country. “This pandemic changed everything in our lives” Casagrande stated. “From our lifestyle, to our way to appreciate simple things. I have tried to stay positive during these months, kept on training at home and, most importantly, enjoy every moment with my family.”
“It has been a really long and turbulent period” Porro added. “The situation was constantly changing and it was therefore impossible to plan the competitive season. Needless to say, I cannot wait for the Swiss Epic! Finally, we’re working hard towards a goal once again!”
“I think in these last few months we all realized that bicycle racing is not the most important thing in life” Rabensteiner philosophised. “But it is my job at the moment and so it was important to my life, and the lives of my fellow athletes. The Coronavirus pandemic didn’t change my perspective; but it highlighted to me once more, how much I love my job.”
“The time was definitely not easy,” Rabensteiner continued. “But nevertheless, I tried to stay focused and motivated on training. I tried to take it day-by-day, rather than thinking about the weeks that lay ahead of training on the rollers. Little rewards, after training sessions, helped keep my spirits up; for example, I often made myself a homemade pizza after training.”
Like most avid mountain bikers, the long period without travelling for training or racing was strange to the Trek Pirelli team. “We are not used to staying at home for too long” Ferraro commented. The Swiss government’s rigorous guidelines and the race’s strict adherence to those and other best-practice risk mitigation protocols allayed his and his team’s fears. “With the right precautions we are looking forward to finally begin traveling and racing again” Ferraro emphasised.
Having already noted the presence of the formidable SCOTT-SRAM teams on the start list, Trek Pirelli know that repeating last year’s success will not be easy. “The 2020 Swiss Epic will be a unique and unrepeatable event” Porro said. “The best riders in the world will be at the start in Laax and everyone will have a great desire to win after this long period without competitions.” SCOTT-SRAM and the defending champions are not the only squads with multiple cards to play, or the last of the big names to be announced.
“The race will be more tactical this year” predicted Casagrande, having heard who the as yet unannounced big team are. “But we always race with two teams, so we are really good in team play!” “I don’t feel pressure being the defending champions” Casagrande’s partner, Rabensteiner said. “It is more an honour for me. We will again give our best; and then, let’s see what it brings…”