As an experienced gravel racer who has ridden the Unbound Gravel, Almanzo, Gravel Worlds, Trans Iowa and more, I was excited about the new gravel race called Gravel Epic Switzerland. Life in Switzerland was a must.
Gravel Epic Switzerland is a two-stage gravel race in the Swiss Alps. The inauguration took place at the end of a gravel road in a cozy, rustic lodge, which serves as a base camp in the French-speaking part of the Swiss Alps in Champex-Lac.
Around 90 participants cycled a total of 103 miles and overcame 19,000 meters of altitude – all over beautiful Swiss gravel.
The participants arrived at the event village on Friday afternoon, picked up their numbers and received a free massage to relax their legs. This is how every weekend should start!
In the evening I took part in the 14km pre-ride gravel event, which gave a foretaste of the next two days and also allowed me to meet my bike colleagues. A total of 17 nations from all over the world were represented.
In the evening we all ate together in a cozy hut. It was a great opportunity to exchange ideas and meet new people.
Gravel Epic Switzerland: The courses
The organizer Shawn Rath then gave the race briefing for the next day. We could choose between the 40-mile (60km) “discovery” option or the 103-mile (112km) “epic” option.
The race format included sections (usually uphill) that were timed. The winner is the person with the smallest accumulated time of all segments. But if you felt less competitive and adventurous, all you had to do was hit the cutoff times to get to the next segment. Fortunately, those times gave a lot of wiggle room to snap photos and enjoy the view (which I did).
Although I would normally go for the largest route offered at a cycling event, this time I opted for the shorter route. For this event, my main goal was to relive that gravel spirit.
After recharging our batteries with calories, we retired to our accommodations, which ranged from tents to private rooms.
Gravel Epic Switzerland Day 1
The next morning at 6:20 a.m. the alarm clock rang. It was still dark outside and the air smelled fresh and fresh, but it promised a sunny and beautiful day.
We went to the common room for breakfast, where the mood ranged from “Still need my first cup of coffee” to “Too excited to sit still”.
For this event I rode my Stevens cyclocross bike and opted for 33 mm Schwalbe tires, which were sufficient for the smooth gravel.
I drive 36-46 in the front and 11-30 in the rear. This gear ratio turned out to be far too big for the long and sometimes steep climbs. I spoke to one of the riders after the ride who had a mountain bike circuit on his bike and that seemed a lot more appropriate.
Still you drive what you brought with you. At 8 o’clock the race started and off we went. Experience the Swiss Alps with all your senses – wonderful views from the mountains down into the valley, cows ring while you lazily pass by; the smell of freshly cut grass and conifers; and always fresh, clear air that flows through your skin and makes you feel alive.
The refreshment stations along the way had a fantastic range of foods, including many natural foods.
The terrain was demanding. Located in the middle of the Alps, you have two options: up or down. Since the racing village is almost on the top of the mountain, you have to drag to the last mile to get the well-deserved beer at the finish.
However, slippery roads made up for difficult terrain. The sketchy gravel stretches I’ve seen many times in the Midwest weren’t there. Only the last 3 miles to the end had a grassy and muddy surface that required a few extra watts to move around.
That wouldn’t be a big problem on fresh legs, but after a hard day in the saddle, this required the last bit of energy that I (luckily) still had in my legs.
Back at our destination, we enjoyed a warm meal after the ride and a massage. The evening was filled with a detailed post-ride analysis and a well-deserved dinner. That night I fell asleep immediately and had an excellent day to rest.
Race day 2
Ready for the next day, we woke up in the rain. Today would be very different from yesterday and sunny. The low-hanging fog made the mountains even more mystical.
These are usually not my preferred driving conditions, but the clouds hanging heavily in the mountains, the dark and foggy atmosphere, and my breath while driving gave the day an atmospheric, sacred feel.
The complete change in weather from one day to the next showed how unpredictable the conditions in the mountains can be. It was fun to see the different behavior of the drivers. Some really didn’t care, and some (including me) waited under the eaves until the last moment before facing the inevitable. As the conditions changed the driving got slippery and muddy and required a little more caution.
Back in the event village, we warmed up with food and drinks. It was a great end to a fantastic weekend with all the things that I appreciate so much about gravel events: an inviting, friendly atmosphere, a sense of adventure among the drivers and fantastic routes, accompanied by delicious food (and of course beer).
And just one more thing
With the mission of attracting more women to cycling and participating in cycling events, I am pleased that the participation rate was 20% higher than usual. Yes, that was still far from equality, so I encourage all of my female passengers to get inspired and start driving.
Whether you want to smash the Strava segments or just enjoy the incredibly beautiful landscape, this event is fantastic for all cyclists who want to experience the full Swiss gravel experience.