Hammond and Gordon Amazed by Perskindol Swiss Epic Scenery
The opening day of the 2018 Perskindol Swiss Epic saw 334 riders take on a 63 kilometre long route which started and finished in Bettmeralp. Among the 38 South Africans starters, the second largest nationality represented in the race after the host nation, were Timothy Hammond and Alan Gordon.
The pair are representing the race’s Official Tracking Partner SPOT and are racing in the colours of SPOT Africa/Insect Science. It is Hammond’s debut in the event and despite spending a few days in the Alps acclimatising beforehand the Botswana resident found the opening stage a bit of a shock to the system. “[I am] slowly starting to understand how riding works in the Alps ahead of the Perskindol Swiss Epic” he said four days before the race started.
Post stage one, he now has a much better idea having experienced racing conditions. He and Gordon completed the stage in twentieth position, 41 minutes and 15 seconds down on stage winners Noah Blöchlinger and Martin Fanger of BMC Fischer Price. “That was hectic” Hammond laughed; upon crossing the finish line in the village which is only accessible by mountain bike or on the cableway gondola. “It’s a lot more technical than the riding we’re used to. We quickly realised why everyone is riding dropper seat posts – it’s because of the rocky and steep descents. We were actually looking forward to the climbs” he recounted.
Hammond is a member of the Absa Cape Epic’s Amabubesi Finisher Club, of three time finishers, but had never experienced scenery like he did today during a mountain bike race before. “It was an absolutely beautiful day” he enthused, about the weather in a region which averages 300 days of sunshine per year. “The region is very sheer and mountainous, with snow caps on the peaks. It’s completely different for us from South Africa.”
Like many of the international riders the SPOT Africa/Insect Science team’s progress, at the Perskindol Swiss Epic, is being intently followed by their friends and family back home. “My family sent me a message yesterday. They’d been on the website and have favourited our team so they can watch our progress on the live tracker” Hammond revealed. “At home they like to be on the route, so this is the next best thing” he concluded.
To follow the action live from the canton of Valais, in Switzerland, throughout the Perskindol Swiss Epic visit www.epic-series.app/swissepic/tracking. There mountain biking fans will be able to select their favourite riders to track, as each team carries a SPOT tracking device. For more information about the race and the beautiful region it traverses visit www.swiss-epic.com.
An all-Swiss affair on stage one
Local riders take victory in the Men’s and Women’s categories on stage one at the 2018 Perskindol Swiss Epic.
The 2018 Perskindol Swiss Epic kicked off five days of challenging yet rewarding mountain biking in Bettmeralp. This year’s edition sees riders navigate some 50 municipalities in the fairytale-like Valais region, while surrounded by jagged Alpine peaks. Riders cover 50-80km each day with 1800-2800m of climbing before arriving in Zermatt at the foot of the Matterhorn on Saturday. 334 athletes left the race village this morning under clear skies, setting off on a 63km loop, culminating in the main obstacle of the day – a tough 10km climb back up to the traditional Swiss village.
Dark horse team BMC Fischer Price struck the first blow in the men’s category, snatching victory from team Scott-SRAM. Swiss riders Martin Fanger and Noah Blöchlinger crossed the line on stage one 55 seconds ahead of Matthias Stirnemann and Andri Frischknecht.
The decisive move of the day was made early in the race with an attack on the very first rise. Scott-SRAM, BMC Fischer Price and jb Brunex Felt Factory Team’s Thomas Litscher and Max Foidl broke clear of the group. However on the fast descent from the Fiescheralp to Fiesch, bad luck struck jb Brunex Felt – Litscher sliced his tyre, which could not be repaired, forcing them out of contention.
This left BMC Fischer Price and Scott-SRAM to duel it out on the rolling terrain approaching the 10km climb. Andri Frischknecht made a big attack on the second last rise, putting Fanger in difficulty, “I did a marathon race on the weekend and my legs aren’t that good for short hard efforts, so I couldn’t follow.” That left Scott-SRAM in the lead with BMC Fischer Price fighting hard on their own in no-man’s land to stay in contention.
Aiming to maintain their advantage, Scott-SRAM hit the base of the climb hard, perhaps overextending themselves in the process. Fanger and Blöchlinger played a different game, “With some good team spirit, Noah was helping me a lot. We rode one speed and with the altitude we were a little faster near the end, and we were able to close the gap.”
By the 53km mark, BMC Fischer Price had closed in on Scott-SRAM, with Stirnemann struggling, “After the feed zone it was just suffering, I think I didn’t eat enough and in the end I had tired legs. We didn’t overdo it… it’s a long way to the finish in Zermatt.”
With their ears pinned back, BMC Fischer Price went all-in for the stage, taking line honours and the overall race lead. Scott-SRAM hung on for second and coming in third was Team BiXS after a steady effort from Konny Looser and Hansueli Stauffer. “It was a bit too fast in the beginning for us and we wanted to ride our rhythm, save energy and ride consistent – there’s four more days to go!” said Looser, the current Swiss marathon champion – his eyes set on the final prize.
In the women’s field, team Canada’s Catharine Pendrel and Haley Smith looked set to take the stage all morning, passing the checkpoints in the lead with a small margin over Team Thömus’ Alessandra Keller and Katrin Stirnemann. But their ride was not without incident. “There was a moment of inattention and I hit a rock that knocked me off the track and into a cow fence,” said the two-time world champion Pendrel at the finish line showing a scratched cheek.
The tumble did little to discourage the two-time world champion and Olympic medallist – it was the final climb that was the Canadian team’s undoing. Locals Keller and Stirnemann set a steady pace, with Pendrel and Smith in their sights all the way up. With the hare ahead, Team Thömus moved up to the Canadians and gained contact with them in time for the final technical section, where they made their move.
The Swiss riders pressed home their advantage to gain 36 seconds and take the win and the overall lead. Keller was delighted. “I have never wore a leader’s jersey before. For sure we want to keep it till the end and try our best but we want to enjoy ourselves too!” said the newly-crowned under 23 world champion.
Still very much in touch of the leaders overall, losing the stage didn’t seem to affect Pendrel’s morale, clearly enjoying the Alpine scenery, “It’s like riding through a postcard here!”
Pendrel’s enthusiasm must have been contagious. Spirits were high in the race village, with riders visibly inspired by the landscapes and the challenge of navigating the tight and narrow trails. “I have never ridden such incredible trails before in my life anywhere – we had a ball,” says Heinrich Tait of master team Chocolate Block, from South Africa.
Tomorrow’s stage is starts as spectacularly as the stage 1 ended. Transitioning to Grächen, the ‘high road’ above the Rhone Valley sees a glimpse of the race’s final destination – the Matterhorn. This marks the start of a glorious descent to Mörel, passing the only saffron cultivation in Switzerland. At the end of the day, riders will have worked hard for their dinners, having climbed 2700m in 77km.