With Olympic Gold Medallists, multiple World Champions and a host of talented young riders, the Swiss Epic boasts arguably its best ever field this year.
The Swiss Epic has always seen a quality field take to the start, with World and National Champions lining up to test themselves at the Swiss mountain bike stage race. Laax, the host town for the opening stage of 2020, though, will see more elite mountain biking talent than any previous race village.
The men to watch at the Swiss Epic
The five-star favourites for the 2020 edition of the Swiss Epic are a pair who have never won the race before. Schurter and Forster are, however, each eager to add the Epic Series event to their palmarès.
“Racing on some of my ‘home trails’ is going to be special; a Swiss Epic win is missing from my palmarès, so I’ll be giving it my all to change this” Schurter promised. Schurter and Forster are a proven partnership, having won the Absa Cape Epic together in 2019 and had been tipped to repeat that feat in 2020. As such they are the clear favourites for this year’s Swiss Epic.
They will have to best the defending champions if they are to win the title, however. Trek Pirelli are returning to Graubünden in mass; with four, powerful, teams. One of the 2019 winners, Rabensteiner will be partnered by the reigning under 23 cross-country World Champion Vlad Dascalu. The pair will race as Trek Pirelli 2; with Rabensteiner’s former partner Casagrande teaming up with Gioele de Cosmo, for Trek Pirelli 3.
Another two Trek Pirelli teams complete the Italian outfit’s roster. Samuele Porro and Damiano Ferraro line-up as Trek Pirelli 1; while Simone Avondetto and Davide Toneatti race as Trek Pirelli 4. The squad are usually averse to pre-set team orders; but once the trails have determined the strongest team in the group, expect the others to sacrifice their own results to ensure two of their numbers stand atop the final podium.
Another potential winner lining up for the 2020 race is Centurion Vaude’s Daniel Geismayr. The Austrian marathon and stage race specialist will be racing alongside Ben Zwiehoff this time out. Geismayr’s countryman and multiple marathon World Champion, Alban Lakata, also returns to the Swiss Epic. He and BULLS Legends teammate Karl Platt will be joined by the BULLS Heroes, Urs Huber and Simon Stiebjahn, as well as the BULLS Youngsters, Martin Frey and Simon Schneller. The three BULLS teams will undoubtedly play off each other and are arguably the most experienced stage racers in the field. With Huber racing on home trails, he and Stiebjahn could well end up at or near the top of the final Swiss Epic podium.
Kulhavý is also a name which is difficult to overlook on any start list. The Czech Express will be partnered by Simon Andreassen, for Specialized Racing, in Graubünden. Having won three editions of the Absa Cape Epic, a marathon and cross-country World Championship title, as well as an Olympic Gold Medal, there can be no debate as to Kulhavý’s well rounded skill set. Motivation has, at times, been the powerful rider’s undoing, but after the Covid-19 enforced months off from racing he and Andreassen, both, are said to be chomping at the bit. Mountain biking fans will be hoping for an epic rematch, of battles past, between Kulhavý and Schurter.
Fellow former Absa Cape Epic winner Kristian Hynek would be as eager as anyone to see the old rivalry reignite. If only so that he and his Future Cycling Northwave teammate, Martin Stoseck, can fly under the radar. While the attention is on the SCOTT-SRAM and Specialized Racing teams, the softly spoken Czech will be trying to steal a march of the more highly touted squads. Anyone who has raced against Hynek knows however that he is underestimated at one’s peril.
Women to watch at the Swiss Epic
The elite women’s field for the 2020 Swiss Epic is packed with star power. Headlined by Annika Langvad along with rising stars of the global sport, the five-day race through Graubünden is sure to be a humdinger.
When Annika Langvad lines up for a stage race, she and her teammate are de facto favourites, virtually regardless of circumstances. Since 2014 the Dane is undefeated in Epic Series races, notching up a record-equalling five Absa Cape Epic titles. That could well change, however, when the 2020 Swiss Epic gets underway. The elite women’s field features a host of potential challengers.
Langvad will be assisted in her bid to add another Epic Series title to her impressive list of victories by Haley Batten. The young American joined Specialized Racing at the start of the season and has already raced successfully with her senior partner at the Cyprus Sunshine Cup. A commanding victory over a strong field, back in February, suggests that the pair could be tough to beat in Graubünden, too.
The region’s rugged terrain and natural trails do, however, create opportunities for other riders to put the favourites under pressure. Especially the rival teams with more Swiss Epic experience, than the Specialized – Racing pair, could prove dangerous. Ariane Lüthi and Alice Pirard, of Andermatt Spur, are among the most experienced campaigners in the race.
Both Lüthi and Pirard finished on the 2019 podium. That experience could see them wait for a mistake by Langvad and Batten. Another team who will be relying upon stage-racing nous is the Centurion-Vaude Radon combination of Stefanie Dohrn and Elisabeth Brandau. Dohrn finished second, in the race, alongside Pirard in 2019. This year she has the reigning German cross-country champion in her corner. Both riders are exceptionally experienced and are expected to mount a sustained challenge throughout the five-days of racing.
An exciting though perhaps less predictable pair are the Swiss Cycling duo of Sina Frei and Nicole Köller. Brought together by their national cycling federation, as they ride for opposing trade teams, Frei and Köller are undoubtedly talented. Frei is the reigning under 23 cross-country World Champion while Köller is former junior World Champion in the same discipline. How competitive they will prove to be, over 320 kilometres of racing, against their experienced rivals remains to be seen. However, motivation and preparation will not be a problem for the Swiss combination.
“A few weeks ago, we trained with the national team up in Davos” Koller explained. “We spent the entire camp riding our mountain bikes, so we got to know the trails around Davos pretty well. That will help us on the final two stages I’m sure. Overall, I’m expecting a nice, but also a hard time on the bike during the Swiss Epic. We have to climb a significant number of metres in elevation, on each stage, so I hope we will be rewarded with some nice downhill trails. But, for sure, I will enjoy riding my bike in the Swiss mountains; especially with Sina [Frei] as my partner.”
Another team who will be enjoying ever centimetre of the trails from Laax to Davos, via Arosa, are Corina Gantenbein and Hielke Elferink. Riding for Davos Klosters, the women are firm friends and training partners beyond the race. In 2019 Gantenbein wore the leader jersey for three stages, while Elferink had to sit the event out with a knee injury. This year their goal is to get Elferink through her first major race in over a year, incident free, though they will be racing their hearts out and having a great time while doing so too.
Our picks for the Swiss Epic
It’s tough to make a pick, as there isn’t much racing to base form on. But we can look at previous performances, team support, and relevant strengths.
In the men’s teams, one of the Trek-Pirelli teams would be the emotional pick. However, Nino Schurter might just be the more ferocious competitor, and along with Forster they are likely to come out on top. The Swiss had a different lock down as well, and that impact on training will make a difference at this level.
And in the women’s, it is hard to bet against Langvad and Batten. Will Langvad crush her own team mate? Is she back to full strength? It’s hard to know, but you cannot argue against her experience.
But, bring in Lüthi and Pirard, who were all set for the Cape Epic. Can they fire up that competitive partnership again? What of Brandau and Dohrn? This is a stellar pairing, but so is the partnership of Frei and Köller.
So overall – this will be one to watch. It might seem easy to make a pick, but the reality is 5 days of racing can bring just about any situation.
Need more details on the Swiss Epic? Head to the event website.