Disclaimer: If you came here to get a 2-minute-reading-but-meaningless review of yet another stage-race, you’ve got it all wrong. The story below is written with memories and emotions clear in mind, so enjoy instead – time is too valuable for nonsense ;)
I have to admit it
I’ve always seen St. Moritz, Schwitzerland, as a place, where the rich guys went for skiing, and nothing else. Sure, a very beautiful place, but not for me. So when I heard about the 3-day MTB stage race Engadin Bike Giro, I was both intrigued, surprised and very interested.
A brief check for online informations made me realise, that I wanted to go. Just the scenery alone was overwhelming, but that combined with the fact, that Sauser Events with Kai Sauser in the lead, was managing the event, gave me the feeling of being in good hands, even though the race didn’t even start yet. Fact is, that Sauser has been around organising events for close (or more?) to 2 full decades. The experience an organiser gain with this can’t be compared to anything else. Sauser knows and handles situations, that naturally occur, like no one else!
Man, my pre-registration-expectations were fully met! The start area for the race, Silvaplana, was already up high in 1.700m ASL!
I arrived a few days before the event just because I had the time, and I decided to go for a short see-the-environment ride. Man, my pre-registration-expectations were fully met! The start area for the race, Silvaplana, was already up high in 1.700m ASL, but despite this, sky high mountains rose up in the crystal clear air wherever I looked. My test ride was on a mix of hard packed gravel as well as forrest trails. Sure, I like interesting and challenging trails, but I was happy to see, that the paths all around seemed really well maintained with hard packed soil and rocks popping out all over.
Less than 20k later I was back home in the camper making myself some dinner with a panorama for the digestion. While getting some food, I spoke with my next-door neighbours – a nice 15 years older couple with some dogs – and told them about the race. They thought I was crazy – not only to go up there on the peaks, but to actually do this as a part of a competition. I agreed – crazy in a funny and very addict way. If you read my words, you’ll know, what I mean ;) Anyway, after sharing my stories and emotions with them, they actually went directly to Sauser and volunteered for the event – they wanted to be a part of this. They wanted to see and experience those emotions among riders, young and old ones.
I love that part of events as there’s always this amazing kind of tension. No matter how good or bad a rider you are, you always have expectations. Expectations to yourself and to your surroundings!
The next day I went for the race package pickup. I love that part of events as there’s always this amazing kind of tension. No matter how good or bad a rider you are, you always have expectations. Expectations to yourself and to your surroundings. Mostly those expectations are shared with other riders as nervous gibberish but many times most riders also get extremely frank about emotions, and that’s really awesome. Awesome to share. To give. To take.
Opening up the race package made me happy. I’m this into-details guy, so when small stuff like my exact start time for Stage 1 (which was a 16km time trial) was printed on the back of the bike number, I was thrilled. I know by experience, that when adrenaline rushes through the veins, basic information like your own start time (we’re talking about 2 numbers here, hours and minutes!) they just vanish! Race numbers, information papers, gels and a nice bag to carry. Simple, but useful stuff.
An hour and several talks with other riders later, I was on the way back home to the camper. I camped very near the start area, so there was this never-ending buzzing from organisers and semi-nervous fellow riders – very cool and motivating.
Stage 1 – the 16km time trial
The big day was up. My start was a 13.35, so I had enough time to prepare, get some proper food in time, do a warmup, do those thrilling talks to other riders etc. Speaking with riders right before the start opens up all communication channels, and makes you bond in a way, so when you meet after a stage / an event, you’re already half way down the friend lane. I really love this!
Getting into line. Walking the line up the ramp with the bike. Clicking into the pedals while being held by a supporter. 10 second countdown. Gun time!
‘nough talk, race start. Sauser made this in true stage race style, building up a big ramp with call-ups for all riders. Getting into line. Walking the line up the ramp with the bike. Clicking into the pedals while being held by a supporter. 10 second countdown. Gun time! I knew, that there would be a rider 15 secs in front of me, but also another rider sent off 15 secs after me, so there was really only one answer to the gun: Go go go!
I always prepare – no exception. So the evening before I had a look at the stage profile, and there was supposed to be a few km of flat before the big climb to the top, but for some reason racing through the steep streets of St. Moritz seemed only uphill and only not-flat :D Anyway, I caught a rider after just 5-600m and thought – man, this is starting pretty good! But just 2-300m later a guy overtook me from behind! Regardless, the climb started, and went on and on and on. I live in Bulgaria, so mountain views, lakes and snowy tops are not unusual. That said it takes a lot to impress me, so the fact, that I was stunned when reaching the top, says a lot! It was not only up high, alpine and blazing – the air was so clear, that I almost forgot to breathe! :)
A more than 5km long flow trail all the way down again. One jump replaced another. One 180 degree turn completed the previous.
Now, you could think, that this was the moment of the day – but no way. Reaching the top was equal to start of big fun: A more than 5km long flow trail all the way down again. I must admit, that I was a bit nervous, if I would be too tired, to handle the curves and jumps like supposed, but I surprised myself! I was simply amazing! One jump replaced another. One 180 degree turn completed the previous. I went from feeling like a tired old man into feeling like a kid with a brand new bike :D
On the way down the flow trail I passed several riders, who seemed to have had too much of the fun. Regardless I continued, and the end of the trail turned into a very fast and hard packed path towards the finish line.
I have to admit: I live in Bulgaria, and there mountain biking isn’t the biggest sport ever. Therefore I’m quite used to podiums and even to have wins once in a while. But when big events like UCI Engadin Bike Giro takes place, the best of the best riders from all over Europe attend, and suddenly I have to fight to stay inside Top 100 :D However, I believe this is good for the moral. Good for the motivation. Motivation to become better and to become faster. I ended up at 58th place at Stage 1, and I was pretty ok with this.
Stage 2 – A queen stage with a twist
The second day was way more serious! The first 50km were pretty ok with a lot of ups and downs. Some really fast transport sections. And more ups and downs. The great thing about being a part of a big event like the Engadin was definitely the amount of participants. Regardless of how slow or fast you are, you’ll always find someone to ride with. Maybe you have to let go of a “train”, which is too fast for you, but a few minutes later you’ll get on another one, that suits you better instead.
For some – great – reason all the riders I rode with were in thrilling mood, and joy and smiles were spread all over. Even when you got unhooked from a group, it was with a smile.
For some – great – reason all the riders I rode with were in thrilling mood, and joy and smiles were spread all over. Even when you got unhooked from a group, it was with a smile. I guess the surroundings, the trails and the – oh (!) – so many supporters clapping, yelling and almost pushing you with supportive talks were all a big part of this.
In the woods I truly enjoyed the narrow paths with – from time to time – technical downhill sections with rocks to make you focus. All riders – around me a least – showed true sportsmanship with the competitive mode on but still making room for each other to pass when needed.
At some point I was a part of a really fast train of approximately 12 riders, and we were really flying through the woods switching leader all the time and in this way helping each other. We were a great mix of 2 extremely fast girls, a few technical amazing riders and then us normal average-on-all riders. Going really fast through a curve my rear wheel hit a stone, and the wheel jumped 10cm from the ground. As I was pedalling, when this happened, the chain dropped, when I hit the ground again. I blocked the wheel, jumped off and mounted the chain back on. Probably I lost around 10 secs in total, but my train was all gone!
The last part to the peak (or was it to the next peak, I’m not sure.. it’s all kind of blurry to me!), the road went so steep, that there was no other way than getting off the bike and pushing instead.
This meant, that I hit the first big climb of the day almost alone. A 10k climb with +750m of elevation. I hate to love those long climbs, but fact is, there’s only one attitude and one way. Forward and up. Slowly but steady the climb turned from awkward struggling to a nice rhythm. I caught a few other riders and we turned into a small group helping each other through the crises every rider hits, when at this type of race. The last part to the peak (or was it to the next peak, I’m not sure.. it’s all kind of blurry to me!), the road went so steep, that there was no other way than getting off the bike and pushing instead. While it might sound like an ok solution, it’s actually the worst, that you can do. The pushing itself is kind of ok, but getting on the bike again after pushing is a a real challenge. Suddenly the muscles seem too short and almost impossible to straighten :D But in the middle of all that pain and those hard times the mind was pleased anyway, because no matter where the eyes settled, there was only pure beauty in matter of high and snowy mountain peaks as well as deep blue mountain lakes.
After reaching the peak, the body had a short 2km relax before the last part of the climb – a 2km climb to the final peak of the day. I still remember the happiness flowing through the mind when seeing both the peak as well as the happy and cheerful supporters offering anything from clear water to sugar-bombs and salty eatables. I decided to make a not-very-race-minded-longer-break, and enjoyed talking with the other riders coming in as well as the supporters. Again, this very happy and optimistic state of mind was visible among both fellow riders and supporters.
A few calories later the mind and body were up for another ride, so on the bike and off we go again. This time a bit more funny but also interesting at the same time, because the next part was the exact same flow trail as from the previous stage. But what made it a bit more interesting now was that when reaching it I had 60km in the legs, arms and mind already, so some kind of tiredness would be expected.
With a bit of hesitation I took the first turns.. and a wide smile appeared on my face! Because regardless of distance ridden before this point, the body and mind accepted the challenge right away and I almost flew down the turns.
With a bit of hesitation I took the first turns.. and a wide smile appeared on my face! Because regardless of distance ridden before this point, the body and mind accepted the challenge right away and I almost flew down the turns. At some point down the trail I heard the ticking from a competitors wheel and accepted, that I was about to be overtaken. I was ok with this, but immediately after a young guy overtook me, I noticed, that his body language was telling a way other story than being fresh-and-happy: He seemed worn out and was taking chances. And I was right – just a few turns further down the flow trail he crashed big time. I guess it takes some experience from races to know, when you’re ready to push through, and when you should relax a bit more and just enjoy the ride :) I decided, that my fellow riders crash was a reminder to me to stay relaxed and enjoy, and so I did. At the bottom of the flow track there were a few km up again and then the last bit down to the finish.
A tough day indeed, but even though we had some really serious climbs, the mind was fixed on remembering that great flow track again. Great times!
Stage 3 – The final call
It’s the last stage, they said. It’ll be easy, they said. I guess they forgot to mention what happened after the 40km mark :D
The stage started, as the other days, with start box callup for the best riders. The big difference from the other days was, that this day I – not being the fastest rider in the pack – chose to lineup near riders I recognised from the other days, and with whom I had been riding with several times. The chit chat went on with stories about near-death-experiences (well, that’s how it sometimes feels like, even though the drop might only have been 50cm) along with sharing of emotions from the awesome flows, the high and warm sun together with the alpine surroundings.
The gun went off, and the pack was shot out of the start area like jet engines.
The gun went off, and the pack was shot out of the start area like jet engines. The start / finish area for stage 2 and 3 was the same – on the dusty trails right next to the beautiful Silvaplana Lake. When hundreds of riders go off like this at the same time, the area is truly transformed into an extremely dusty moon-like chaos, with only one way out: Follow the rider right in front of you. And for some reason and in positive ways it felt like we were all stringed together like pearls on a necklace, and it was impossible not to be sucked into this vacuum generating a very high speed. Well, at least for the first 2-3 km, and then the leading pack was all gone :D
That said it was pretty easy to get onto another train, as faces suddenly looked familiar, and riding styles were known. In a way the day was simple: 40km of ups and downs, and then a 10km climb ending in almost 2.700m above sea level. And from the peak almost only down through flowy single tracks. What’s not to like? Well, let me tell you, that the simplicity of it might sound appealing, and the first 40km – sure, they were really doable even though the kilometers from the previous stages certainly were in the legs. But when arriving at the bottom of the climb, most riders – around me at least – just looked shortly at each other and then looked down.. down at the stem and kept quiet for a looooooooong time.
They took the best out of not only me but also riders around me. I still remember the eyes of joy from other riders shared when getting close to the peak and realising, that sufferings were soon to be ended.
They were tough, those 10km. A lot! They took the best out of not only me but also riders around me. I still remember the eyes of joy from other riders shared when getting close to the peak and realising, that sufferings were soon to be ended. And the welcome from the checkpoint near the peak with the neverending-happy supporters was really amazing and made riders put the last efforts in getting on the other side.
The present? The reward? Well, a part from a few ups and downs, a really nice flowy single track almost all the way down to the finish. I still remember the last few kilometers. They turned into flashbacks of the past days. Flashbacks of crazy speed. Never-ending flow tracks. Scary drops. Fast trains. Happy supporters. Amazing organization. Sparkling friendships. It had it all – Engadin Bike Giro 2018. It had it all.
Admitted – when signing up for the Engadin Bike Giro I was quite excited. I had never been in Schwitzerland before, but I knew, that the stage race was organised by Sauser Events, and with decades of experience, my expectations were high.
After 3 stages up there I’m almost out of words. All expectations and more were met – both when it comes to the country as a place to ride as well as the events.
Everything was so professional made from race package pickup to markings, ceremonies and even one of the toughest jobs: To keep supporters happy all day long. Remember, those people are out there doing a really tough job trying to understand the needs from so many nationalities during so many hours. I’m amazed by them a lot.
Recommendation? Go, man, go sign up for next year. You won’t regret it, for sure! :)