With mixed feelings we got up this morning as the weather forecast said it would turn ugly today. Still, some of Switzerland’s and also world’s best singletracks waited for us to be rocked and raced.
Race track: downhill from Leukerbad (1400m altitude) to the Rhône valley, take a shuttle and gondola and ride up to 2201m close to Gim, descent back down all the way to the valley and climb to Kalpetran for the second shuttle up to Grächen. Gondola up to Hannigalp with a final descend back to Grächen.
In total 58km, 1350m elevation gain and 3200m down.
It was light rainy when we picked up our bikes in the deepest section of the Leukerbad Parkhaus. Since it was warmer there than outside, we used the garage to warm up a bit before start. Then the pack was sent off at exactly 9:00 o’clock heading south out of town.
The first part was an asphalt climb, crossing some scenic Wallis villages. We managed to stay ahead of the main field in overall third position, with team AMB Mag struggling with a flat tire already prior to the first long descend down into Rhône Valley.
There, we also had some high-tension moment when Andrea’s rear tire lost some air during this long and twisty descent. But luckily the fresh sealant worked and after pumping the tire to higher pressure we headed out direction Visp and river upstream for an endless 15-18km. I can tell you that this flat section all along the river was tougher than any 1000+ meter climb that we have ever done! Headwind blowing with 50km/h in our faces and trying to keep us away from the finish at the airfield.
The only choice was taking a decent aero position on the bike, get low on the front and face it! Riding TT-style, we caught quite a few Epic teams and were really happy and out of breath when we reached our check point.
The wind was still blowing like crazy at the top of the gondola in Grim and to make sure the bike wouldn’t fall from the chairlift, everyone had to grab his bike and hold tight. Almost on top, some killer climb waited for us, steep and rocky and without enough oxygen at 2200m altitude. The downhill was worth it. Unbelievable and so fabulous, epic riding in its finest form! My hands were getting sore from braking and we enjoyed this sweet piece of downhill so much. Smiles all over the face!
OK, every downhill ends somewhere and our race was stopped by the Zermatt Bahn, when a train crossed our way exactly in front of us.
With the race time ticking, the train even stopped at the crossing to let pass another train. We waited there 4-5 endless minutes, no way out. Then we kept hammering up the hill but were soon stopped again by a huge tree that had been blown down by the heavy wind on the trail. Not easy as well to get through there while with all those big branches. This stage also kept going for a good distance until we finally reached the check close to Kalpetran.
One part of our race day was still missing. And while we wanted to get up to Grächen as quick as possible, we almost got lost looking for the shuttle bus and already getting directed on tomorrow’s course. Until then, the rain set in and when we arrived in Grächen the ground was already wet and slippery. The Hannigalp is at 2309m and outside of the gondola station it was not very cozy. That’s why the race start was inside the gondola station. OK, I gave Andrea some more instructions about the trail (I rode it twice during the 2014 edition), I checked my tire pressure for the 20th time (since I got a bad pinch on this stage last year) and off we went into the rainy monster-truck descend: wet roots and rocks in all formations, water channels, pine needles and more roots. Good speed and proper line choice help and so we went fast down this trail.
Andrea mistimed a bunny-hop over an iron water guide going across the trail at a weird angle – and when I looked back to see if he was catching up, he was already flying off the bike and down to the ground. No injury luckily, just we just straightened his bar and sprinted to the finish line.
We finished third today and could fight back also our third place overall.
Now we got to run to make it to the ceremony here Grächen. And get the course preview for tomorrow.