MORE SWISS EPIC TIPS AND FACTS
St Moritz…known for its chique and splendour is a beautiful town with stunning grand hotels (one of which we were lucky enough to stay in) and a stunning lake which in winter time once frozen holds not only one of the biggest cross country ski marathons but also polo matches and horse racing events. St Moritz has hosted the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948 and it has also hosted the Swiss Epic on two previous occasions.
Day 3- St Moritz-St Moritz
Having once again rejuvenated the body and soul with great food (I am sure I was putting on weight during the event!) and a very comfortable bed, 58kms and over 2000m of climbing awaited us in and around the Corviglia/ St Moritz area.
Unsurprisingly, we started climbing straight away again on mainly forest tracks and reached 2472m altitude within the 1st 10 kms. From the top, the beautiful Marmotta Flow Trail gave us a thrilling reward (apparently named after the marmots in the area, although we were too focused on the track to see any) and a variation of jeep track and fast flowing single track brought us back down to just below 1800m. A traversing section with the most stunning views and through some of the ancient Swiss hamlets brought us to the 1st waterpoint were our daily dose of bouillon awaited with cheerful support from the staff.
After the water point, our second challenge arrived in the form of a false peak at Alp Muntatsch and then the actual peak a couple of kms on at Lej Alv at 2543m above sea level. To get to the top of Alp Muntatsch, a climb of roughly 8kms ensued with gradients between 8 to 15%, including a 4km “impassable” single track section at 10%-needless to say our walking boots came in good use here!. A brief drop to Marguns gave us the second water point of the day in splendid surroundings and then back up the final 3km at 9% gradient to get to Lej Alv- the highest point of the day and of the race thus far at 2543m. At this stage a lot of teams not used to this kind of altitude and oxygen level started to suffer and unfortunately a number of teams did not complete the day.
The Olympia Flow Trail awaited- a 500m descent in 5kms. The trail led across the 1948 Olympic downhill ski slope though rocky terrain and various meadows with the ever-omnipresent Swiss cows and their cowbells and then back into the tree lines with the magical pine forest. Another incline awaited through the forest to get us to the Foppetas Flow Trail consisting of a variation of switchbacks and traverses creating a “trail-induced high” through the forest before the finish line was crossed back in St. Moritz. An overall satisfactory day with more than 4300 calories burnt….
Day 4- St Moritz- Davos
Having enjoyed the “poshness” and upmarket resort of St Moritz, we were ready to “slum it” in Davos- known more as a town for the politicking and brown-nosing activities performed each year in late January/ early February at the World Econonic Forum then for its beauty and splendor.
This was the second and final transition stage and was promoted as the Queen stage- not specifically because of the distance and the climbing (as stage 2 was both longer and had more climbing) but because of the terrain and the altitude levels. Known as the Scaletta Pass at a daunting 2606m altitude, 15kms and over 1000m of climbing had to be overcome in this stage in “one push”. The Scaletta Pass trails were once part of the old horse transport route, not dissimilar to the Gantouw Pass in the W2W, and similar portage would be required over at least the last 400m to the top- some “gees” was therefore required!.
Waving the pros goodbye as they disappeared at an unbelievable pace (they require a motorbike as their neutral vehicle – us poor mortals only an ebike) we set about getting ready for day 4. Again, a leg warm up in the initial 5 kms with a gradient of 10% got us back to reality, but then a flatter section next to the beautiful grey/ blue Flaz and Inn rivers past Lej da Staz towards Zuoz gave some welcome reprieve before the work of climbing the Scaletta Pass was to commence. One has to remember that even these flatter bits were still ridden at an altitude of over 1800m; and hence oxygen was a bit lacking. Then some rough single track through the Val Trupchun National Park had to be traversed which took the steam out of our sails after we passed water point 1. It was a clamber through mudded rocky and rooted paths, but at least a certain camaraderie had arrived at this stage with the various teams around you as you had been on the same journey for the last 3 days. Chatting and churping we trundled our way through the Engadin valley before reaching Val Sasauna and its beautiful harsh ruggedness. This is were we got sighting of the beast- the next 10 kms were going to be hell!. Riding/ walking up the first incline to water point 2 was our 1st priority and was doable. Reaching the water point felt like an oasis in the middle of a dessert- although this was a moon landscape littered with shale rock and avalanche debris. It felt a bit like basecamp, with ahead the ominous sight of what was still to be conquered, and yet right there the comfort of bouillon, snacks, and shelter.
When the race advisors tell you that the last km is probably more a hike then a ride for most participants, you should know that this was going to be a tough walk. A hellish steep gradient combined with a high altitude and loose shale/ rocks created the right recipe for suffering for most parties. The dramatic landscape and spectacular views did however keep the mind entertained in between the muscle exertion and pain. This was a fight for every man on his own and many partners had to wait at the top of the Scaletta Pass for the other party to reunite and join in the longest descent of the race. The longest descent however was rocky and loose at the start, so many teams had to walk part of this before hopping back on to the bike and leaving the Scaletta moon landscape behind to rejoin the world of pine forests in the Dischma valley and to the finish in Davos.
Day 5 Davos-Davos
Having spent the night in (another) wonderful hotel the final day had arrived. Due to various storms the weeks before the route was slightly altered and some of the midsection climbing was cut out; however not many participants were complaining!. The final route was now 58kms long and 1800m of climbing.
Having carbo-loaded at dinner and breakfast for the last time, we commenced our final day going uphill for 19kms- no surprises there- through the quant Swiss village of Sertig Dorfli towards the Alps Epic Trail. This trail was still showing some of the damage undergone through all the rain and was in parts no longer rideable. Reaching 2100m altitude we started dropping down after water point 1 where we descended into some treacherous muddy single tracks to finally traverse across various meadows with the unmistakable clanging of cowbells in the ears and back to Davos Clavadel to reach the 2nd mountain of the day- the Clavadeler Alp. There the final waterpoint arrived and an awesome single track down hill awaited. Riding through the fresh pine smelling forests the organisers once again had decided that one more steep section had to be conquered and a soul-destroying detour of 5kms finally made way to the roads to Davos and the finish line- as the slogan goes: The Alps had been conquered!
MARK VAN VEEN'S TOP SWISS EPIC TIPS & FACTS CONTINUED:
As SA was the second biggest nation the gees during and after the rides was lekka!. Further interesting fact- 50% of the participants were women which was great to see for cycling as a whole.
Stop converting beer prices into Rand- it will become a very dry and unsatisfactory event. There is however free beer at the race village after the stage if you are so inclined.
Go and do the ride for spectacular scenery; not to meet the Swiss nation as their sense of humour is like the holes in Emmenthaler cheese- empty.
The real supporters in the race were the Swiss cows- feeding on their evergreen pastures these magnificent specimens were ringing their cowbells in every nook and cranny as encouragement and had a certain Zen like influence on the mind- a bit like the gong vibrations in meditation techniques.
Though the Swiss humour was severely lacking, the accommodation we stayed in was top notch in every aspect- rooms/ beds and food were superb and hats off to the organisers!
Furthermore, a great bonus was that we only had two transfers in 5 days- meaning that you are not continuously on the move and can adjust comfortably.
Finally and most importantly, the various feeding stations were well stocked and with extremely friendly and supportive staff. One take home note was the delicious bouillon they served- perfect for salt and nutrient intake and to restart that engine!