TRUE GRIT AND SIN­GLE­TRACK HEAVEN AT THE SWISS EPIC

Australian Mountain Bike - - Contents -

In 2014 a new event put it­self on most moun­tain biker’s bucket list. The Swiss Epic has an en­duro and marathon cat­e­gory, and some of the best ter­rain you will ever find.

The Swiss epic is The stage race europe needed – amaz­ing Scenery, great or­gan­i­sa­tion, and op­tions for The marathon rac­ers and The en­duro rac­ers.

A rib­bon of trail in view as far as I can see ahead of me, barely wide enough to be called sin­gle­track but we have to push on. Flat out, through ev­ery cor­ner – switch­backs left and right, sweep­ing bends that make you switch feet ev­ery few sec­onds. A quick glance be­hind – we are clear, “keep push­ing, nearly there”. Zer­matt is in the dis­tance; the fi­nal de­scent is a mix­ture of thoughts. I want it to go on and on, with a never end­ing magic car­pet ride through the alpine mead­ows – but the town marks the end of the Swiss Epic and fin­ish­ing it is the main pri­or­ity. Switzer­land is a coun­try fa­mous for many things: banks, watches, choco­late, army knives and of course moun­tains and ev­ery­thing that fol­lows, in­clud­ing moun­tain bik­ing. Well re­garded as one of the best rid­ing lo­ca­tions and with a plethora of fa­mous sin­gle day events such as Grand Raid but as of yet, it has never hosted a moun­tain bike stage race. the multi-day for­mat has been grow­ing rapidly over the last decade, so it was un­sur­pris­ing to see that some­one de­cided to or­gan­ise a stage race in Switzer­land. take the amaz­ing moun­tains within the Alps, mix it with Swiss pre­ci­sion and you get the Swiss Epic. A 6-day, multi-dis­ci­plined stage race from Ver­bier to Zer­matt. A to­tal of 400km and 15,000m climb­ing, plus the ad­di­tion of an en­duro cat­e­gory called the “Swiss Epic Flow”, which uses lifts in places as well as a few ex­tra, more tech­ni­cal down­hill trails but with a still chal­leng­ing 300km with 8,000m climb­ing. Quite pos­si­bly the first time where 2 dif­fer­ent events, each with its own lo­gis­ti­cal chal­lenges is or­gan­ised at the same time, within the same over­all event. Promis­ing a huge amount, plus with the back­ing of su­per Swiss star thomas Frischknecht, did the Swiss Epic de­liver?

on The Line on the start ramp for the time trial pro­logue, with my race part­ner Stu just be­side me, we get the count­down from the guy with his hand as well as in French, rem­i­nis­cent of time tri­als in some­thing like the tour de France.

5,4, 3, 2, 1. Go! I take the lead, weave through a few cones and straight into the first climb through Ver­bier vil­lage. “Allez, allez, die, die, die!” - Was that re­ally Ralph näf cheer­ing at us? they cer­tainly have plenty of big names rac­ing with more World Cham­pion stripes than I can count. the climb is tar­mac as we head out of the vil­lage, by the time it turns to gravel the start is well be­hind us and the lungs are set­tled into the near flat out pace that any pro­logue de­mands. It’s a 40-minute climb to the top, then a chance for the legs to have a lit­tle rest as we head al­most straight back down. Will it be a gravel road de­scent? I hope not and I have my fin­gers crossed. the ar­row points right and with it the well-known sight of the 3 down ar­rows that ei­ther puts the fear in peo­ple or has them jump­ing for joy. I fall into the lat­ter – the course is a down­hill track within the Ver­bier bike park, nor­mally ac­cessed by the Gon­dola by thrill seek­ers on long travel bikes – yet here we are on xC hardtails and short travel full sus­pen­sion bikes with the seats point­ing high in the air. Jumps, drops, dou­bles, switch­backs – this is the best of ev­ery­thing. Far too soon for my lik­ing we emerge from the woods and the sin­gle­track onto

the tar­mac again and the fin­ish line is in sight. Cross­ing the line, we share a high five and we turn to the big screen to watch the big guns who fol­low be­hind us. The Swiss-Ger­man duo of Urs Hu­ber & Karl Platt from Team Bulls take the lead, a full 9 min­utes quicker than us. But even their lead doesn’t last long, as the clock ticks down the top guys are fly­ing through, first Olympic Cham­pion Jaroslav Kul­havy & Christoph Sauser, then Mathias Flück­iger & Lukas Buchli and fi­nally Nino Schurter & Flo­rien Vo­gel take the win by just 10 sec­onds! What a bril­liant, dra­matic way to start a race. It re­ally set us up for the rest of the week. As the adrenalin slowly dis­si­pates we can think about the days ahead. The pro­logue is just a taster of what lies ahead of the next 6 amaz­ing days. Leav­ing Ver­bier, for the start of the first full length stage we climb up a long gravel road, that any­one who has rid­den the Grand Raid will know all too well, com­plete with pitch black tun­nel near the top that en­sures car­nage and crashes galore as un­sus­pect­ing rid­ers slam on their brakes as the light com­pletely dis­ap­pears. From the top at 2000m it changes to fast, tech­ni­cal sin­gle­track and a few tech­ni­cal drops and switch­backs to catch out the less con­fi­dent. Any thoughts about the race be­ing full of gravel road de­scents are thank­fully dis­pelled quick enough af­ter that de­scent, although I do won­der if some peo­ple are per­haps ex­pect­ing quite a tech­ni­cal race and I guess that is of­ten a chal­lenge for a new event. How do you ac­cu­rately por­tray the rid­ing to at­tract the right rid­ers? Get it wrong and there will be a lot of un­happy cus­tomers.

WORDS: MATT PAGE IMAGES: MAR­IUS MAASEWERd And APIx Photography

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