Playground of champions

Its been almost a week back to relatively ‘normal’ life and as much as the post stage race blues have not totally hit as I’m quite excited at the prospect of a little bit of rest, I will say this, city life is LOUD!

Crikey, all that clatter of bikes on alpine trails is nothing compared to the sirens, traffic, shouting and mayhem of city life, I’ve escaped to the park to try write this and still I have a lady screaming at her dogs as they pop over for a friendly hello pat on the head ‘it’s ok, they’re fine…they’re…’ ‘APOLLO, ZEUS! GET BACK HERE!!!’

Aargh, anyway I’m pretty sure I love it, London or Johannesburg, the cities just buzz and when the buzz is too much, I chase a different buzz, I go race an incredibly challenging stage race in the mountains somewhere!

And this years buzz escape? The Perskindol Swiss Epic, yes please!

Swiss cows have a way of just putting a smile on your face! – Photo by Nick Muzik.
Its at times like this you really do appreciate Swiss precision! – Photo by Alex Buscher.

Previously I had tried to do the race justice when we were covering the event for MarathonMTB.com with daily results and impressions and I needed a way to condense it all down into a bit of a summary piece. It was this article that prompted a mate to go ‘I want to give it a crack’ and it was that same mate that finished 9th in Masters this year’s race and reminded me of the fact it was the report which got him to do it, now thats a result!

But how can you really describe spending a week in the pristine Valais alps, surrounded by jaw dropping scenery while literally having out of body experiences the whole time that border on what some would call ‘spiritual’? How?

Another team mate summed it up nicely on the finish line ‘this is just different, you know if you make a mistake its going to be bad, its going to cost you big time, so you are just so, so focused and ‘in the moment’, its tunnel vision’.

It is certainly that!

Mistakes can be big and very costly, focus is essential and bravado unnecessary – Photo: Sportograf

I also had to explain to Rusty, my race partner, when pondering the financial implications of stage racing ‘buddy, just do it, I’ve never remembered the cost, only the experience’ sage financial advice that…think I’m still paying off my first stage race in a roundabout kind of way!

But its true, you walk back into normal life with a swagger and a contentment that few seem to share. You have a seemingly helpful ambivalence to work problems and office stresses. You come back, well, ‘different’.

Swiss Epic punches well above its weight, the team behind the race has changed since I first did it in 2014 with Matt Page and some of the logistics are different but a credit to the team, those changes seemed to stem from rider feedback and their own experience in building a seamless event.

Bikes are cleaned, racked and secured each night in the park firme, a fantastically smooth operation all round. – Photo by Alex Buschor.
Logistics for any stage race is tough, for Swiss Epic you have the small matter of multiple monolithic alpine mountain ranges to contend with, but lets face it, this is a Swiss race in Switzerland, you won’t be found wanting when it comes to race support – Photo by Marius Maasewerd.

Out went the Flow category, a shame as the race really crackled with the infectious energy of high on adrenaline enduro riders wheeling their way to checkpoints as the marathon riders swore inside. I could see why running effectively two races in one would be intensely difficult logistically so the focus went all to the marathon.

Gone too were the little things, like my eternal bug bear the bike wash queue, could I hate anything any more, in came the infinitely more efficient personal chaperone to take your bike to get washed and parked up in the park firme, nice touch and definitely a rider or Cape Epic styled initiative.

The brilliant touches were everywhere, proper coffee, yes people I credit Fabio and the wonderful chaps from Ibex coffee for one of the best starts for us in a stage race in years, double espresso, BOOM! And finishing the stage you got the option of the usual recovery snacks but then also a full slap up meal with free beer….I mean free beer? Are you for real?

When all is said and done, it’s the riding that counts, and if endless single track and jaw dropping vistas are your thing….oh come on, its everyboys thing ! Swiss Epic riding is utterly brilliant! – Photo by Nick Muzik.
Aside from the relentless climbing, there is an unbelievably vast collection of challenging trails that weave their way across peaks, the terrain is on the whole dry and rocky but the diversity of the trail meant you would be hard pressed to feel your setup was absolutely dialed, each day brought something new to contend with. – Photo by Alex Buschor.

So lets cut to the chase, you don’t go to a stage race thinking ‘ooh I hope they have nice feed stations’ you go there in the hope you find untouched or inaccessible trails that will test you and blow your mind, well hello, welcome to heaven! The Valais region is home to rides that will make you weep, rides that will make you suffer and rides that will test your nerve, jam those all into one event and you have The Perskindol Swiss Epic!

Some would argue against hike and bike sections, me I don’t mind, if a trail is ‘up there’ and we are ‘down here’ hell I’ll walk, crawl, climb or heli drop my way in, thats why I mountain bike, its not for the easy crap anyone can do. Some too would argue against tarmac of any form in a mountain bike races, oh please, what beats 80kph on knobblies? And finally, the climbs, some would finally argue you can have too many or too much, for this I say, you are very seriously wrong. Elevation is king in marathon racing, the higher and the harder the more spectacular the descent and to be challenged mentally as well as physically is to me the entire point of not just mtb marathons but the term marathon itself!

Finishing this race is different, you kind of don’t want it to end, its less about breaking riders its more about building them and rewarding them. – Photo by Marius Maasewerd.

This is pure unadulterated and concentrated marathon racing. It has the stamp of approval from possibly the most descerning of mountain bikers, in ther back yard no less, the Swiss are not about to let some scrappy half cocked race be their showcase as to why they command the very top steps of any mountain bike event, this is their baby and they are supremely proud to show it off.

We loved our time back in this special race, it has rekindled the fire for seeking more challenging riding, remember when you put planks of wood on a sketchy stack of bricks ready to launch into the unknown? This is the mother of all brick stacks and the biggest of jumps, it wakes your brain up, shakes you about and spits you out the other side like a ragdoll out a washing machine, you are a mountainbiker again, you are you!

2019 early bird registrations are opening on the 1st of October check out the Swiss Epic website for details.

If you have any questions about what gear we were running, what worked and what didn’t, drop us a line at seriously[@]chaingang.me (anti spam botting that one you know what to do)