TRUE GRIT AND SINGLETRACK HEAVEN AT THE SWISS EPIC
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