After 400km and 15000m of climbing over 6 days on demanding and technically challenging trails, me and my partner Adel Morath (GER) won the prestigious Swiss Epic at the base of the spectacular Matterhorn in Zermatt! Riding in the Swiss mountains was incredible and despite full throttle racing we were able to draw extra energy and motivation from the truly breath-taking vistas! The stage towns (Verbier, Leukerbad, Grachen, Zermatt) and especially the last two, traffic free towns, provided idyllic places for rest and recovery in top class hotels with quality food!
This was the first time that Adel and me raced together so we were uncertain how the relationship would work especially competing against the well established duo of Annika Langvad and Ariane Kleinhans (Specialised RECM) who were the defending champions and race favourites. After a hard crash the day before the race started in Verbier I was uncertain whether I could compete but our team physiotherapist, Torsten Walter, was able to work his magic daily on my injured hip enabling me to make it to the finish in Zermatt - albeit in a lot of pain!
Losing over 3 minutes to Annika and Ariane in the Prologue wasn't the start we wanted but with the long stages to come we were optimistic. The long climbs suited Adel and me and during Stage 1 we were able to catch and pass Annika and Ariane but with 1 km to go we lost the lead and finished 50 seconds back in 2nd position. On Stage 2 it was clear that the fast pace of Annika and Ariane had started to take its toll and we were able to take our first stage win and with it the coveted yellow leader jerseys!
Over the following stages we were able to gradually build our lead and focus on riding smooth and consistent. With the relentless climbing and technical descents there's no time for recovery increasing the risk of mistakes. Adel and me rode really well together; throughout the race we had no crashes or mechanical issues - testimony to the great partnership we formed, and of course our excellent mechanic Peter Felber!
Stage races are brutal but the Swiss Epic is especially so and nothing is ever certain until the finish. This is clearly highlighted in the men's race where the leaders, Centurion Vaude, lost their lead on the final stage and BiXS-Stockli rode into Yellow for the first time. Despite our gradually increasing lead Adel and me were fully aware that the race wasn't won until crossing the line in Zermatt! Congrats to our men’s Topeak Ergon duo, Alban and Kristian, for winning the first 2 stages and finishing 3rd overall despite mechanical issues.
Now I'm taking some days off and resting my hip in the Cote D'Azur before heading to the Azores for a UCI World Series Marathon race. It's nice not to wake up at 5.20am for breakfast ;)
Big thanks to Topeak Ergon for the amazing team support!