Craig and I went to Switzerland after Cykelvasan, we met up with Katie from Cape Town at the airport in Zurich and spent a night with Robert who was so kind to pick us up, and then the day after took us to Davos where we would be for a week before the Swiss Epic started. The purpose of my stay here was to get used to the high altitude and also to ride steep and technical downhills, none of these things are any of my strengths and this is exactly what I will get at the Marathon World Champs later in September here in Switzerland, it is at high altitude and with really tricky and steep downhills.
We had a fantastic week with great riding and nice weather, although some rides did not go as planned when we did not really find our way. One day we had to cross a river which was a bit too deep and the current a bit strong. Via social media I discovered that I had some friends living in Davos, it was nice to meet Nina who attended Sollefteå skiing gymnasium at the same time as I and whom I have not seen since then, and also Hielke who I last saw 2 years ago at Cape Epic.
The last day before the race started, it started to rain, we were absolutely soaked during the pre-race ride. In a way, it was good as it turned out to be a lot of rain and mud the first days of Swiss Epic!
Stage 1 Davos to St Moritz 86km 2800 meters of climbing
The weather report said heavy rain all day and that was right! It was not fun to leave our week long home in the rain and get soaked already before the start. I was a little nervous about how slippery it would be in the mud. We started with the UCI men and there was a small bunch leaving Davos. We were only 6 women's teams and as soon as it started to go uphill, all the women's teams fell out of the bunch. In these races we are not allowed to slip the guys so it was good that none of the women's teams could stick with them. Unfortunately, Katie could not stay with the girls, so we took it easy and just did our own race. I think I already there turned off race mode and it didn't get any better because the first really long downhill was more survival mode for me as it was very steep and slippery and here came the A bunch at a high speed and wanted to pass. It was raining hard and I could barely see anything as we passed the first water station down in Filisur. I struggled to focus whilst it was so cold and wet. On a short downhill with very slippery roots I slipped, and the bike went into a tree stump and the shifter got bent, before I got the right tool up Katie had already bent it back, she has stronger hands than me! When we started the long climb of about 25 km, Katie kept a higher pace than I expected and although I tried, the body did not want to go faster. It was very frustrating because both heart rate and watts were low, but mentally I couldn't get the body to cooperate, if it was because we had started slow and I wasn't in race mode or if It was the weather or I needed a day to get started, I don't know… It was a long day in the saddle and we reached the finish as 4th team about 14 minutes after the winning team. Not too bad considering.
It also became a long afternoon since everything takes longer when it is muddy, we went to our accommodation in St Moritz where we would stay for 2 nights and had to stand in the shower and undress so that we did not get mud everywhere, it took a while to rinse off the clothes and it still felt like they never got clean. At 4 pm we went back to the race village to check on our bikes which we had handed in to the bike wash as soon as we had finished. Katie's bike had not even been washed (although it was 3.5 hours since we handed it in) and mine was basically only rinsed. It looked like a war zone with dirty bikes everywhere and people trying to do something for their loved belongings! We started by trying to get them clean, then we saw that we needed to replace all 4 brake pads (ie both front and rear of both bikes). We had also discovered an problem on my bike, which we discovered already on Saturday evening but the bike shop said that it is not possible to do something about it as I need new parts from Silverback, this was obviously not possible to get so soon so I had to race the entire race with a loose main pivot which caused my back wheel to wobble and it felt like something was going to come apart. We made an effort to make it as good as possible, but it required us (rather Craig) to take off the crank and shock to get to the pivot. To make a long story short we spent 3 hours with the bikes. Not quite ideal for the recovery ...
Stage 2, St Moritz to St Moritz, 65km with 2500 meters of climbing
Today, I had decided to be in race mode from the start and I was really excited! Katie would try to start a bit harder and we would try to stick to the other girls for as long as possible. The start was at 8 am, so a bit of a sleep in. We once again had a small climb very soon after the start and again it didn't take long before the women's teams fell out of the men’s bunch, we were probably a little closer today, and not far behind at the top. I felt very good today and was able to ride hard and tried to give Katie all the slip I could uphill and on the flats. I liked the terrain around St Moritz better than Davos. The course was more up and down and the single tracks more manageable, at least in the beginning. The long climb started after 38 km and it was 15 km up to the highest peak at 2543 meters above sea level! After 6 km on a gravel road that must have had a gradient of about 7-8% on average we came to a water station, I thought we were at the top but it continued up a good stretch on a walking path that was so steep that it was not ridable at some sections. Katie struggled a bit. I thought to myself that it was lucky that it was so misty that I didn't have to see the cliff beside us, the path was narrow, and we were high up, so I guessed it was steep next to us. Up here we became familiar with the electric gates they have in Switzerland! We had run through many "gates" that look like a start gate at a slalom competition, these are of course only to ride through as they bend, but after going through a steel gate which I had to get off my bike and push hard to open, I came to a larger gate with a handle on top, so I obviously thought the handle was for opening... but that was not the case! I got the shock (electrical) of my life when I put my hand on the handle to open the gate!! Here you would also only ride through and hit the gate with your tire. Just behind me I hear how a girl screams loudly, a girl in a mix team had the same experience as I! Later Katie came and did exactly the same!! We rode straight through the remaining 6-7 of these gates, we had learnt our lesson!
I was able to take it relatively easy today and enjoy the view when we reached the top and were above the clouds, it was very beautiful at Lake Lej Alv and then from the lift station at Corviglia we started a super nice hand built trail down the slalom slope where they had had the alpine skiing world championships! We enjoyed the 10 km of downhill to the finish! We came in 5th place today and were now 5th overall as well.
Today we also had a better afternoon with sunny weather and less bike admin!
Stage 3, St Moritz to Lenzerheide, 80km with 2200 meters of climbing.
The Queen stage! We went back to the strategy of starting a bit slower and Katie to set the pace not to burn too much from the beginning. At the same time the day started with a long flat stretch for 19 km and it would be great if we could stay with the other girls for that bit. We managed to follow this plan and could stay with the other girls until the climb started at the 19 km mark. Unfortunately the A bunch caught us just as we reached a narrow path under a bridge and they split up the girls bunch. The climb started with a few kilometres which felt like it went straight up, but we got some breathing space as we rode on a flat single track along the side of a mountain, the path was a few feet wide with some slippery roots and rocks and a cliff on our left, I was just concentrating on looking straight ahead and not on the edge, it went well but a bit scary at the same time. Then we started climbing up the Albula pass (the one we went down on the first day), I did what I could to help Katie since I felt strong today. Once at the top, it was just to start the 30 kilometres of downhill! However, it took longer than expected, it was not easy riding. I have to say that I started to feel more and more confident on the trails and I was riding things that I would not have tried a week ago. The technical riding (and the high altitude) which was my main purpose with this trip was just getting better and better day by day! However, there were some really difficult parts where we got off the bike and the 350 meters long compulsory portage section would have been impossible to ride a bike, it was so steep both up and down!
I got more and more problems with the bike and stopped with the mechanic at one of the water points to see if they could tighten it but they couldn’t, even though I knew it wouldn't come off it was not a nice feeling riding like that and I think I could have ridden a tiny bit faster if I didn't have this problem.
Katie had a very tough day today and the last 20 kilometres up to the finish in Lenzerheide went very slow. I think the worst for Katie was when 2 girls who did not even start in the UCI women’s category passed us, it was just a bit too much. We finished as the 7th ladies’ team this day.
It was great fun to come in to Lenzerheide and ride parts of the XCO World Cup track which we have seen them race on TV, especially the piece on the slippery roots at an angle.
Stage 4, Lenzerheide to Lenzerheide, 48km with 2150 meters of climbing
This was the so-called shorter and easier day, 48 kilometres does not sound that far, but with 2150 meters of climbing on the short distance can only mean one thing, steep! It was actually only 2 climbs, the first one started almost immediately and went uphill for 18 kilometres. It was a later start at 8.30 am and a bit warmer so for the first time we could ride without a jacket or wind jammer! Today we were in the race for the first time and it was super fun! We sat for a long time in second and it was fun to see what was happening in the women's competition. I felt strong again, but it is also easy to say when I had not needed to go in to red or dig deep compared to the other girls who had had a tight race, clearly, I can feel fresh compared to them! After about 16 km we came to a single track that took us to the last part of the gravel road climb, here I had to let the other girls ride away. We were still ahead of Kathrin and Corina, who at the time were the leader jersey wearers. However, they came and flew passed us on the downhill, they are extremely good technically! It was a fun and long flowy single track down the mountain to the valley floor and the arms got to feel its fair share of tiredness! Then it was just to start climbing again and this must have been one of the steepest climbs I have ever done, definitely the steepest this week! This last climb was the talk of the evening during the dinner at the race hotel. I managed to stay on the bike all the way up where I could see other riders needing to walk, I set myself a challenge to try and ride all the way. We passed Kathrin and Corina again on the way up, but they disappeared once again on the downhill. We had a much better day today and I think I also did better than normal on the downhills, for the first time ever in my life I did truly enjoy the very steep parts on the downhill and felt confident. So, mission accomplished for the week! We came in 5th place and were only 6 minutes from the podium which was the closest we had been all week.
Although we had been out for almost 3.5 hours, it felt nice to have a short race day and a little more time for recovery and rest in the afternoon. It's funny when you think that 3.5 hours is short and if a one-day race in Sweden is 3.5 hours then it is a very long race!
Stage 5, Lenzerheide to Davos, 65km with 2350 meters of climbing
The last day! There were mixed feelings this morning, it would be nice to get to the finish and it is always nice when it is over, at the same time I did not feel tired and started to get into this and really enjoyed the riding so I could absolutely have done a few more days. I think Katie was of a different opinion, she was probably most glad it was soon over. She had been struggling with back pain the whole week which made it difficult for her to push hard.
We started up the same hill as yesterday and I noticed immediately that it would be a long day. Katie was tired and it made no sense that I had power left and she was struggling so I told her to take my pocket and off we went, we were in 4th place at the top of the 6 kilometre climb but the 2 other teams passed us on the 20 kilometre downhill. It was very fast and partly technical. We once again past the same water point in Filisur, this was the third time we had the same water point this week, so we started to recognize the area. It was nice to know the track, we did a bit of stage one in reverse and then some of the trails which Craig, Katie and I had ridden last week, and our last climb of the race was up Rinerhorn which we had done 3 times in training. It was a long climb up to the top, but I still felt good and I had a lot of fun down Äbirugg (the name of the single track) which we had also trained last week.
We were both pretty relieved when we got to the finish, unfortunately we had lost the 5th place overall and finished in 6th, but the most important was that we finished this race and we had such a great experience.
It was a bit different to be at a race and start with the girls that I usually compete with (and also a race I had won before), but not to be part of the race up front but taking it more as a training camp. At the same time, I wanted to do this race with a friend and have fun and I got what I wanted out of this week, good high-altitude training and good technical training! So, I'm happy! A few months ago, I was thinking of not even do the Marathon World champs this year, but now I look forward to that race instead! And me and my dropper post from Bike yoke have become really good friends!!
We had a fantastic evening after the last stage, we went back to Robbie and got a Swiss dinner with cheese fondue, steak tartare and Mövenpick ice cream! And of course, South African wine!
Now we are back in Sweden and I will get the bike fixed so that it is ready for the Marathon World champs in Grächen and the races leading up to it, but first I will take my hardtail and do a race in Norway this weekend!
Some more pictures: