Kross Racing Team star Ariane Lüthi has 8 Absa Cape Epic and 3 Swiss Epic finishes to her name. At the 2019 Swiss Epic she is aiming to add a fourth to her palmarès with New Zealand’s Samara Sheppard.
Lüthi is undeniably a legend of the Epic Series. Though she has yet to complete all three week-long Epic Series races and earn the coveted Epic Legend medal. The three-time Swiss marathon champion has three UCI women’s and two Virgin Active mixed category titles at the Absa Cape Epic to her name; to go with the two additional podium finishes in the Untamed African MTB Race and the title of inaugural champion of the Swiss Epic. In total she has notched up 8 Absa Cape Epic and 3 Swiss Epic finishes. At the 2019 Swiss Epic she is riding with New Zealand’s Samara Sheppard; the cross-country multiple national champion, who is making her first steps into the world of stage racing.
Sheppard was born in Clyde; 80 kilometres to the east of Queenstown, the starting point for The Pioneer, powered by Nutri-Grain. “I was born in Clyde, but grew up in Wellington, so it’s definitely on the list and I’m hoping to do it this December” Sheppard, a little guiltily, explained. She has however competed in the other Antipodean Epic Series events; Australia’s Port to Port, Reef to Reef and the Cape to Cape stage races. “Those events used to be single races, so I could race solo. But now they have all changed to be team races” the 2019 Port to Port champion said.
Having raced to solo success in the past this year has seen Sheppard step into team stage racing to great effect. In May she turned out with Australian cross-country champion Kate Mcilroy to win the Port to Port, Epic Series stage race in New South Wales. “The challenge in team races is to find someone you are compatible with, in terms of strengths. Ariane (Lüthi) asked if I’d like to do Swiss Epic and I’ve always loved riding in Switzerland, but it’s always been for cross-country racing. Now I’m getting into a bit more marathon racing so it was a great opportunity to ride with an experience rider and do this one” Sheppard recounted.
Given Lüthi’s palmarès it is unsurprising that Sheppard jumped at the chance to ride and learn from her. “The Epic Series races in Australia are no where near as challenging as the Absa Cape Epic, Swiss Epic or The Pioneer. Those three are just on another level of duration, difficulty and climbing. The ones in Australia have got a bit more singletrack and more kind-of fun, playing on your bike a bit more style of riding. But it’s cool that they form part of this big series from where riders can qualify for an Absa Cape Epic slot,” she elaborated. “The vibe in those shorter races is also very chilled. You can just do it with your mate, without too much training, you just need to enjoy riding your bike. But to come over here everyone, not just the elite riders, have put in a lot of time working on their fitness. And that’s really crucial to making it through the five days. It’s a real challenge, even to the elite riders.”
Lüthi knows the challenge provided by the Swiss Epic all-to-well. She remains excited to take on the task though, aware that to the rest of the field her job of racing her bike around the globe seems ideal. “It is a great privilege to see so much from my bike” the well-travelled Swiss confessed. “I’ve just come back from a race in Romania. I’ve seen a lot of South Africa, especially the Western Cape with the Absa Cape Epic, and it’s really cool. I love the marathon racing in particular because you get to see a lot of a country.”
“You also get to meet so many people, especially at the Absa Cape Epic and the Swiss Epic” Lüthi continued, elaborating at the social side of stage racing which casual fans and non-riders miss out on. “These races bring a lot of people from all over the world together, which is absolutely fantastic. Unfortunately, at the Absa Cape Epic I’m so focused I almost don’t get the chance to talk to anyone. But I hope it will be better here. Already, we have quite an international team; I don’t know Samara so well. So, it’s great to get to meet and spend time with New Zealanders and Australians, which is really cool.”
The pair got the race off to a fantastic start in challenging conditions and managed to secure a second place on Stage 1.
Hopefully Luthi enjoys her Antipodean teammate and support crew during the week long Swiss Epic enough to pursue her racing ambitions into December this year. The Pioneer, powered by Nutri-Grain, is set to start in Queensland, on New Zealand’s South Island, on the 1st of December. The final event in the 2019 Epic Series calendar features 6 days of amazing mountain biking in the picturesque Southern Alps.