After two days of relative struggle Wout Alleman and Daniel Geismayr came good on Stage 3 of the SPAR Swiss Epic, winning the stage and taking back 1 minute and 22 seconds on the race leaders, Canyon Northwave. Vera Looser and Kim le Court, meanwhile, added 6 minutes to their overall lead with a third stage victory.
Stage 3 of the 2023 SPAR Swiss Epic thrilled and challenged with a loop through the trails of the Engadin, from St. Moritz, on Thursday, 17 August. The threat of thunderstorms enforced a shortening of the stage, with the highest peak Munt da San Murezzan deemed dangerous. The 2 680 metre high summit and 10 kilometres of the course were removed from the stage, but that only served to amplify the intensity of the racing.
The route still featured 2 100 metres of climbing, in just 58 kilometres, and included an ascent to Lej Alv at 2 543 metres above sea level. Fortunately, three of the world’s best flow trails remained in the course. The Marmotta Flow Trail provided the first thrill after the day’s opening climb, before the Olympia Flow Trail led downhill from the highest point of the day. Arguably saving the best for last, the Foppettas Flow Trail brought the stage to its conclusion and returned the teams to St. Moritz.
In the UCI Men’s race the day’s action revolved around the aggressive tactics of Torpado Factory’s Casey South and Jakob Dorigoni. While a puncture for Martin Stošek ensured nervous moments and a tentative second half of the stage for Canyon Northwave. The day begun however with South and Dorigoni on the charge.
South’s Stage 1 puncture had cost the team 18 minutes, which were further compounded when they lost an additional 33 minutes on Stage 2. This meant they were no concern for the top general classification teams and Torpado Factory were thus given free reign on the first climb of the day. South and Dorigoni built up a hand advantage, of nearly a minute; while in the favourites group Wout Alleman and Daniel Geismayr were working to put their rivals under pressure.
Bulls, BUFF MEGAMO and Team Laax faltered, leaving only Canyon Northwave following Wilier Pirelli. The top two teams were content to leave Torpado Factory out front, until Stošek punctured. “Martin cut his sidewall, hitting something in some long grass,” Marc Stutzmann explained. “We were only 2 kilometres from the tech zone, so we decided to ride there and change the wheel rather than try to plug the tyre.”
Sopping at the aid station to replace the wheel cost the yellow Ciovita jersey wearers roughly a minute and handed the impetus to Willier Pirelli. “We didn’t go all in after Canyon Northwave punctured, because there was still a long way to race and the altitude is dangerous. You can’t push too hard or you could blow up,” Allerman noted. “We measured out efforts until the last climb, then we went full gas.”
Before that final climb Alleman and Geismayr had caught Torpado Factory. In their chase to limit their losses so did Stošek and Stutzmann. The speed at the front made it impossible for Canyon Northwave to regain parity with Wilier Pirelli though. On the final descent, down the Foppettas Flow Trail, Alleman and Geismayr eked out a few seconds more, as Stošek nursed a rear tyre with the wrong tyre pressure home. The European Marathon Champion and his Austrian Marathon Champion teammate crossed the St. Moritz finish line first, claiming 1 minute and 22 seconds back from Stošek and Stutzmann’s overall advantage. South and Dorigoni were third on the stage.
The result means that Wilier Pirelli trail Canyon Northwave by 6 minutes and 30 seconds going into the penultimate stage. BUFF MEGAMO’s Hans Becking and Peeter Pruus remain third, despite finishing seventh on the day. Bulls and Team Laax are now 69 seconds apart, after having started the day on the same time, in fourth and fifth.
In the UCI Women’s race the pattern established on Stage 2 was followed once again on Stage 3. The Elysator Efficient Infinity Insure and Davos Klosters teams were clearly in a class apart from the rest of the women’s field. They rapidly established a select group with Adelheid Morath setting the tempo while Vera Looser and Kim le Court marked Bettina Janas.
“We aren’t worried about Adelheid’s attacks,” Looser stated. “We know what we have to do and with a good lead on the overall standings its not up to us to make the racing. We marked Bettina again today and waited for an opportunity to attack.”
This tactic worked perfectly with the orange CIOVITA jersey wearers breaking away once Janas began to suffer. “Even on the steepest sections of the climb, my legs felt pretty good today,” Le Court smiled. “I also enjoyed the flow trails! With Vera behind me and putting pressure on me I even did a few jumps, which I hadn’t planned to do, but the trails were just so much fun.”
Looser and Le Court’s margin of victory was 6 minutes and 20 seconds, taking their general classification advantage, over Davos Klosters, to 20 minutes and 29 seconds. Morath and Janas, for their part, have a buffer of nearly 30 minutes to the third placed UCI Women’s team, Torpado Bulls. Katazina Sosna and Irina Lützelschwab have now finished third on the first three days of the race, but were closer to the front of the race on Stage 3 than they had been on any of the preceding days.
Friday’s Stage 4 is the Queen Stage of the 2023 SPAR Swiss Epic. The 73 kilometre course, from St. Moritz to Davos, takes in 1 950 meters of climbing and dips below the psychological barrier of 2 000 metres of vertical elevation gain for the only time in the race. It does however include a climb to the new highest point of the race, the summit of Scaletta Pass at 2 606 meters above sea level. From that lofty peak the route is largely downhill to the finish in Davos, including a 5 kilometre blast along the Dürrboden Trail and a forestry road descent through the Dischma Valley.