With rains falling overnight, riders welcomed the cooler temperatures on Stage 4, especially with the long climb between Täsch and Sunegga to come. 61 beautiful kilometres transitioned the race towards its final destination – the mighty Matterhorn – navigating the coveted trails of Europaweg and Sunegga-Flowtrail.
Into the penultimate stage of the 2018 Perskindol Swiss Epic, there is still everything to play for in the overall GC in both the Men’s and Women’s categories, with spots on the podium at Europe’s premier mountain bike stage race up for grabs. Stage 3 saw the overall GC leaders consolidate their advantages, and also the rise of new teams that had a slower start to their 2018 campaign.
At the start of Stage 4, Scott-SRAM lead the men’s GC by 12 minutes over BiXS, with Team USA lying in third. Breathing down the American’s necks, Buff Scott were still in it for a GC podium at little over a minute and a half.
The women’s three podium places on GC are all but decided with Team Canada, Team Thömus RN and Ghost Factory Racing in contention, all within 19 minutes. The final two days would decide the order.
Day four of the race saw yet another winner in the men’s category, Scott-SRAM finally took the win they’d been fighting for, coming so close on stage 3. They edged out Team USA Red in a two-up sprint. In the women’s, it was Team Canada race, all the way, taking their second stage win.
The men’s race took shape in the first third of the stage on the slopes approaching Täsch. On the main climb of the day, a lead group of four emerged: Scott-SRAM’s Stirnemann and Frischknecht, Team BiXS’s Hansueli Stauffer and Konny Looser, Team USA Red’s Christopher Blevins and Swenson and jb Brunex Felt’s Litscher and Foidl. BMC Fischer Price, Scott development MTB Team and Buff Scott found themselves on the back foot, chasing hard.
Stauffer and Looser tried to make their move after the Sunegga-Flowtrail but were neutralised by the strong efforts of Scott-SRAM and Team USA Red. The white-hot pace eventually took its toll after the 50km mark at Unner Stafel – with 10km to go it was down to Scott-SRAM and Team USA Red. “We tried every day and yesterday was so close. I made an attack to open up a gap on the last downhill. Andri ‘played dead’ which forced the American guys to chase, then he attacked and l could go with.”
It was a tactical game till the end, with the two teams arriving in Zermatt together. Scott-SRAM positioned themselves better for the tight circuit into the race village, winning it in the sprint. Team BiXS were third, keeping their podium spot overall, while Blevins’ and Swenson’s efforts tore chunks of time off their nearest GC rivals Buff Scott, further solidifying Team USA Red’s third spot.
In the Women’s category, the sequence of events was more straightforward. Proving that they are indeed the dominant team of the race, Team Canada stamped their authority on the 64km course with Pendrel and Smith pushing the pace approaching the first service station, opening a gap.
Pendrel, the two-time world champion and Olympic medallist and Smith, herself a Commonwealth Games medallist ride for different trade teams on the UCI World Cup circuit and paired up specially for the race. Untested partnerships are often at risk in mountain bike stage racing when the pressure is on. However the two are firm friends and show no lack of camaraderie.
An ailing Stirnemann no doubt dulling Thömus RN’s efforts today, they were no match for the power of Pendrel and Smith, who were building on their advantage each kilometre. “We’re excited to make it here to Zermatt. Today was really challenging today, but we loved these trails,” said Pendrel, referring to the bike park, part of the route approaching the Alpine holiday resort town. With their stellar performance today, Team Canada more than doubled their GC advantage to over 24 minutes.
Coming off the high of victory on Stage 3, Ghost Factory Racing had a low-key day out, coming in third – perhaps saving their efforts for another shot at the win on the prestigious Grand Finale stage tomorrow.
Tomorrow’s stage is packed with highlights, visiting the Leisee at 2232m, the Stellisee at 2537m and finally the Fluhalp at 2606m with a 360° view of no less than 38 mountain peaks – a semi-compulsory photostop! Flowing through Jojo and Moostrail, riders look forward to a hero’s welcome and the legendary Finisher’s party in Zermatt where they’ll share a delicious dinner, tasty wine and stories of an unforgettable week in the Swiss Alps.