My first experience of this relatively new addition to the MTB marathon calendar was in its inaugural year, 2014 and it was, in truth, a relatively last minute decision. A decision I am SO glad I made!
My friend and team manager at the time Mike Blewitt had asked if I would be available to cover the event for MarathonMTB.com. The format we always followed was to offer a bit of a three pronged attack to covering events. Each rider / reporter in the team would take it in turns to cover the actual event results on the day or their own personal racing experience, then whoever was back at base (read: left at home) covered the media channels with any insights the race’s own media team released whilst keeping things tidy as the racing team started to inevitably fall apart after days of hard racing and reporting. Its a format that has been as fun as it is demanding.
I mean imagine racing a day, as hard as you can, then getting back and doing all your bike prep, food and kit prep, then writing several articles and releases with the odd video edit thrown in for good measure, its tough when all you want is a massage and a snooze! No matter how crummy or brilliant your day, you have a job to do. But for all its demands, its a bloody great job to have!
So in 2014 I was teamed up with Matt Page, a little pocket rocket racer who, unfortunately for me was still in possession of an Elite UCI racing licence, more on that later! Matt is a full time race organiser himself, he is fiercely competitive, infinitely capable and solidly dependable both in and out of battle, a marathon racing veteran who knew as little about me as I did him.
Thankfully however, what started out as awkward hand shakes and hellos at the airport where we met for the first time, ended with a cracking result an unforgettable experience and some rather jubilant drinking in Swiss bars followed by suitably herculean hangovers the next day! Basically Matt when from ‘who’s that guy?’ to a great mate I couldn’t wait to race with again, mountain biking is good that way isn’t it?
Swiss Epic took a rather calculated and clever route to the multi day format. Rather than attempt to endlessly weave riders up, over and around every possible valley and mountain over the course of a super tough full week. Compact the racing, slim it down, keep it punchy.
Give riders the opportunity to take simply a week off work and turn up in Verbier refreshed and ready to race. Arrive on the weekend, start racing on Monday, finish Saturday, have a great big party and travel home Sunday, to me this is literally the most enjoyable combination of multi day racing with a big dose of compassion to those who have limited time to play.
In 2014 we had 5 days racing plus a prologue, starting from Verbier and making its way to Zermatt in the shadow of the iconic Matterhorn, a simply stunning route. In 2018 this format looks to have dropped the prologue, possibly simply due to the new start in Bettmeralp but riders will still get to taste those fantastic Suonen irrigation channels, the hard earned and technical descents of the Valais alps and that utterly stupefying view across Zermatt. Its 5 days racing, encompassing anywhere from 40 – 90km in a day and make no mistake, you will climb, a lot!
As mentioned the Valais valley is other worldly but just getting there is worth its weight in sensory gold. The seemingly effortless trip from Geneva to Verbier drops you into what feels like the beating heart of all that is the alpine way of life. Forests, lakes, fields and hilltop farmer’s shacks precariously perched on formidable mountain vistas makes for a kick in the cranium to the city based foreigner who has spent the previous week fretting about bike packing and budgets! Its a moment of complete calm and visual pleasure, true mtb therapy!
2014 was special, unique to the Swiss Epic was the ‘Flow’ category, basically a multi day enduro, and I mean come on, what could actually be cooler than doing a weeks worth of predominantly technical descending? I won’t lie, I was a little jealous when I realised that I had drawn a bit of a short straw with the marathon, we were in the ‘Elite’ pen, and WOW, was that a line up!
Schurter with Vogel, Buchli with Flückiger, Geismayer, Käss, Näf, Sauser, Kulhavy, and that was just the top 5 teams, GULP! But there we were, Spies and Page, soon to be alpine racing gods *wink*. The prologue proved one thing, never doubt yourself, Pagey and I did what we did best, me I hooned up the climb so I had time to manually drop my saddle a touch, and Pagey bided his time until the descent, where he quite literally let all hell break loose! The net result? 20th! Seriously that was a very very cool day, rubbing shoulders with your sport’s legends like they are just regular mates while feeling pretty proud of the days result, package me up and ship me home I’m done, it can’t get better!
But better it did get and day after day brought nothing short of everything I could hope for in a bike race. By the end of 5 days racing, we snatched an overall top 20 by a mere 29 seconds, 25 hours of shere unadulterated biking battle, I was ecstatic! Matt had raced like only Matt know’s how, full attack, he picked lines I could follow on the hard tail and drilled the valley floors so we could get the jump into singletarack, it was testament to his experience I was eternally grateful.
By some quirk in the organising, by the time we reached Zermatt I would have been happy to sleep on the floor of changing room but checking into our hotel and out came the immortal words from the check in clerk ‘you have our main suite’ er, ok. Well blow the doors off, in we step to a double story apartment with a mind bending view of the Matterhorn, what, the, hell?
Naturally mini bars were raided and all our mates invited, this was truly the cherry on the top, how could we top this?
Well in 2015 we did, a top three in the Flow category, yep, sometimes you truly are winning at life!
This years race runs from 11-15 September 2018