Engadin Bike Giro – When reality is as good as the holiday brochure
It's not too often you go somewhere and it lives up to the pictures in the holiday brochure. Engadin is one of those exceptional places you dream of visiting. The Engadin Bike Giro host town of St Moritz holds a prestigious place in history having held the Winter Olympics in 1928 and 1948. The second host town Silvaplana is known as a water sports destination with its lakes proving a popular place for windsurfing, kitesurfing and dinghy sailing. This week though there’s a bike race visiting.
The Engadin Bike Giro begins on the shores of Lake St Moritz, a spectacular venue with glistening water reflecting views of the snowy mountain peak. Stage 1's timetrial ran over 16 kilometres and 881 vertical metres. After routing riders through the glamorous centre of St Moritz and down the old bobsleigh track we began the ascent up the mountain. It's a long way to the top of the ski lift (and even further to the top of the mountain as we’d find out on day 2 and 3) but the reward is great. We entered the flow trail for the first time, a silky smooth ribbon of trail flowing its way down the mountain like a roller coaster. Pump that jump, rail than corner, repeat for maybe 10 minutes all the way down to the finish line half way down the mountain. It was a day for the mountain goats! Steep climbs, thin air, hot temperatures, strong competition, stunning scenery and beautiful trails. Sabine Spitz and Kristian Hynek won an exciting battle to take the leaders jerseys.
On day 2 Kristian Hynek extended his overall lead with his second stage win, Esther Süss won and Adelheid Morath became the new leader for the ladies after 79.9 kilometres and 2446 metres ascent starting and finishing in Silvaplana. This was just a small part of the story, a truly memorable day for all as we raced through the breath taking Swiss mountains on some absolutely amazing trails.
Unbelievably the scenery and trails got even better on stage 3. After 62 kilometres and 2033 vertical metres Jochen Käß and Sabine Spitz took the victory. Spitz’s win saw her overtake her rival Adelheid Morath to take the overall victory. Hynek went into the final stage with a comfortable advantage and even though he had to settle for 4th place in today’s race he secured a brilliant win in the overall. After some amazing trails in the valley for the first 40 kilometres we began the climb to the top of the mountain, this time to the very top! The race track seemed to take the direct route today, it was so steep at times it was hard to turn the pedals. In the heat it was almost impossible but riders knew from the top there was a descent all the way to the finish. Cresting the top we raced through the snow still settled after the long European winter. The final descent was as challenging as the climb, put your wheel in the wrong place and one of those rocks would take you or your bike out of the race. It was scary but invigorating to successfully negotiate each obstacle. Everyone reaching the finish line after the past 3 days of racing was a champion.
I came here with much excitement having heard many good stories from Mike and Imogen from MarathonMTB after their trip here last year. The trip didn't start entirely smoothly with my travel buddy Scott having to drop out at the last minute and my bike not making it onto my flight from Heathrow. The bike flew in on another plane later that day and I began the drive to the race. I arrived with pretty tired legs after some tough training the week before and in the days before the race, arriving with poor form and high fatigue isn't the best strategy for a race this tough but my focus is on National Championships end of July. I was here to enjoy the experience and maybe pick up some UCI points. My race turned out to be a bit of a cruise with the legs unwilling to put together much pace but it felt good to be at a race and not stress about the result, instead just being able to enjoy the experience. There was a few other riders unwilling or unable to dig too deep and I found myself riding with Karl Platt and Anton Sintsov on days 2 and 3, pretty good company! Three very enjoyable days on the bike complete, a handful of UCI points and some solid training.
At feed zones staff were handing up water bottles with a choice of water or 2 different flavours of energy drink. For someone like myself travelling with no support it makes a big difference and other races should take note. It was particularly important here with temperatures reaching 20 to 25 degrees centigrade by midday.
After the timetrial on day 1 I was wishing I'd bought the hardtail but on day 2 there was some pretty rocky trails, you could have ridden them on a hardtail but not as safely or as fast. Day 3 I'm not sure how people raced a hardtail, that last descent was possibly the longest and roughest I've ever ridden, after the climb being so tough I was so ruined I could barely hold onto the bike! I was glad to have the Simplon Cirez fully, definitely the right choice for the race if you can only bring one bike. A lot of the pros swapped bikes for different stages. The men’s race winner Kristian Hynek rode a hardtail on all 3 stages, the women’s race winner Sabine Spitz rode a hardtail on the first stage and a full suspension bike on the last 2 stages.
Next year’s Engadin Bike Giro will take place 28th to 30th June. Can’t wait till then? Why not enjoy a trip to Engadin this year. There’s a huge variety of trails open to the public and if you’re here for a while there’s plenty of other Swiss and Italian cycling destinations within easy reach. Being a resort there's plenty of places to stay including the Hotel Giardino Mountain where we stayed. There's plenty of activities to do with the family so it could make a great summer destination. Don’t miss your opportunity to enjoy the delights of the Swiss holiday brochure!
Engadin Bike Giro is an experience which won’t be forgotten, I think everyone here is now totally in love with Switzerland!