Saturday 7am we get this show on the road and start meandering up a district road for a few clicks before descending and turning into the valley and beginning our journey on a mostly jeep type of road, but heavily damaged with all the recent rains. Several small river crossings make up the early part of the morning. Not a technical type of bike ride but challenging, as the road is a wasteland of rocks and ruts and navigating the descents one must concentrate at all times. There were a few falls, broken derailers, sidewall punctures, etc. The climbing was to be expected…I found day one a lot easier than day two when doing the reverse route back to Die Hoek resort. Temperatures were moderate and we were very fortunate it was not in the mid to high 30’s – that would have added a layer of difficulty. In the back of your mind on day one, after this insane climbing spell and then dropping into Die Hel valley, winding your way to the campsite location you are thinking “how frekking hard is tomorrows ride going to be!” The environment is so harsh in that valley you truly appreciate Wikus’s effort in setting up that camp – everything, and I mean everything must be taken in by car/trailer – a monumental logistical effort. Day 2 is a steady flat soft sand type of start for 15km’s before you hit the mother of all climbs. It is steep and just goes on forever. I have learnt over the years when to jump off my bike and to walk fast. If I burn too many matched on these climbing legs, it will just end up been sh.t show later, with a good solid vomit almost been guaranteed. Keep moving I say, and my walk pace is not too much slower than some okes ride. Time is not an issue here so you must just enjoy the ride and look up and take everything in and remember it is a privilege to be in good health and to be able to do this sport all wrapped around in some incredible scenery.
Three on route water points are on offer, which is more than adequate. Not a technical event so hydration packs are not a necessity. I used two 500ml kleen canteen aluminium bottles and it was fine. Had those bottles for nearly 8 years now, they have been smashed all over the country and still functioning. Plus, they look pretty cool on my steel bike, sitting all snug in their Arundel steel bottle cage holders!
Campsite for evening one: beautiful grass area with different tent options on offer, small stream to chill in and a large, shaded tent area all prepped for the afternoon lunch and the evenings self-braai. A lovely Italian espresso machine is manned……. for me the highlight – to sit late afternoon after kief days ride on a bean bag sipping on a strong well pulled coffee shot. Most okes will just crack a beer!
65 riders finished both days, so a fair amount of attrition considering we had 87 starters……quite a few DNF/DNS on each of the 2 days. It’s a tough weekend on your bike, make no mistake. There were several E Bikes who took part in this adventure. They are part of the ever-changing biking landscape now and kudos to Wikus for having them. Battery management by the E riders becomes critical. As far as I know they all used two batteries per day, using generators to charge them up after day one. Strange that these E bikes don’t have front wheel dynamo hubs feeding back into the lithium batteries?
I always rate these events afterwards once the proverbial dust has settled and then try wrap my head around the total offering presented by the organiser, asking myself the question – would I come back and do it again? For this one, YES I WOULD. It is a nice destination road trip event, offering proper hard riding in a stunning landscape, easy admin logistics and very well priced. And most important…..a lekker vibe – it has to be when it is the same folk who put on Transbaviaans each year. A nice calender date if you getting ready for that assault on what a call the tri-factor series in the new year, consisting of Attakwas/TankwaTrek/Cape Epic. The Hel will be a great opportunity to test both the bike and see how the hooman is doing at the same time. I ended up settling for a 42’nd position with an overall time of just over 13 hours, klapping that 150km with an average pace not far away from my Epic speed…..a testament to the amount of challenging climbing one has to do. Not bad for a ballie fast approaching his 6’th decade on this earth. Viva biking, viva
Thanks Wikus & Ecobound…….spot you next year
MARK VAN VEEN'S TOP SWISS EPIC TIPS & FACTS:
As this is a team event, first important thing to note is select your partner carefully. I had the opportunity to do this event with a great friend of mine and who also happens to be one of the last Cape Epic lions- Mike Nixon. Funny thing was that he was still classified as a “newbie” by the Swiss. The importance of a good teammate cannot be over-stressed as he held us together with all my “palavers”.
The Swiss Epic is a much smaller event than the Cape Epic with roughly 300 teams starting, but with a similar attrition rate of around 20-25% resulting in around 235 finishing teams. Most teams who dropped out either had altitude/ health issues or accidents.
Be ready for some arduous climbing and put on some comfortable walking/ cycling shoes. Training therefore should entail both the longest and steepest climbs you can find. Most climbs are around 10kms long (continuous) and an average gradient of 8 to 10% with sections over 20%. Also walk with your bike in rough steep terrain as you will have to jump off at points (unless you are Nino Schurter).
Be prepared for some rough/rocky shale and rooted single tracks. According to some of the participating Epic legends the single tracks on the Cape Epic are actually better prepared and in better condition. Must have something to do with the cost of labour in Switzerland…
Arrive at the start village (in our case Lenzerheide) at least a day in advance as this lies at 1500m. Some of the participants had been altitude training for over 10 days; others arrived just in time which showed up in the latter stages as the altitude changes the body oxygen intake dramatically and hence affects your muscles and your performance. Also perhaps check how your body reacts to altitude as each person’s DNA is different and hence effects are different.