The grand finale of the 2023 SPAR Swiss Epic saw the leading UCI Men’s and Women’s teams wrap up their titles with stage victories. Canyon Northwave added a third win to their haul from the race through Graubünden, while Elysator Efficient Infinity Insure made it four from a possible five on the last day.
Stage 5 brought the 2023 SPAR Swiss Epic to its conclusion in Davos – on Saturday, 19 August. Canyon Northwave, in the yellow CIOVITA UCI Men’s leaders’ jerseys, and Elysator Efficient Infinity Insure, in the orange CIOVITA UCI Women’s leaders’ jerseys, won the stage and sealed their respective category titles. Martin Stošek and Marc Stutzmann again used the climbs to prove that they were the strongest men’s team in the race, while Kim le Court battled through the aches and pains of the previous day’s crash to dominate alongside Vera Looser again.
For the second time in the race the course was shortened slightly, with the final stage taking in 59 kilometres of racing with 1 750 metres of climbing, rather than the initially slated 66 kilometres with over 2 000 metres of elevation gain. Stage 5 did however still feature some of Davos Klosters’ most famous trails, highlighting why the region is known as a singletrack paradise. These includes a section of the longest singletrack in Switzerland, the Alps Epic Trail, as well as the Junkerboden and the Ischalp Trail.
These singletracks provided a fitting finale for the race, but did not make the difference between the top UCI men’s teams on the day. Once again, the climbs were where the stage was decided. Initially, on the climb to the Alps Epic Trail a group of the top teams were contesting the stage together. Canyon Northwave and Wilier Pirelli, as had been the case all week, were present at the front; as were Bulls, BUFF MEGAMO and Team Laax. Torpado Factory Racing were also in contention through the half-way mark, as they fought for another top stage result after shipping nearly an hour on the general classification on the first two stages.
The Bulls and BUFF MEGAMO were locked in a battle for third place overall, and were marking each other as much as they were making the racing for stage honours. Again, when the climbs became steep and long, no team was able to match Stošek and Stutzmann. Daniel Geismayr and Wout Alleman, along with Casey South and Jakob Dorigoni were best able to limit the advantage the men in yellow were able to establish.
In fact, it looked like the Torpado Factory Racing might be able to bridge back across to the leaders on the Ischalp Trail, within the final 10 kilometres. Sadly, for South and Dorigoni, a puncture put them out of the pursuit of Canyon Northwave and relegated them to eighth on the stage. Ahead the smoother and risk-free riding of Stošek and Stutzmann allowed them to race through the final kilometres without incident and seal a well-earned stage and overall victory.
“We didn’t come into the race expecting this,” Stutzmann allowed. “I didn’t know how my legs would respond so soon after the Swiss national championships, so I’m just really happy with how the SPAR Swiss Epic played out.”
“I knew we had a good chance when Marc placed fourth at the World Marathon Championships,” Stošek, who had won the silver medal in Scottland two weeks before the race, added. “It can be hard to find motivation late in the season, especially after good performances at the World Championships, but when Marc and I both did so well I said to him ‘hold that form’ and I thought we could achieve a good result here at the SPAR Swiss Epic. We’re very happy with the race and the overall victory!”
Canyon Northwave’s final accumulated time for the five stages was 14 hours, 32 minutes and 34 seconds. Wilier Pirelli crossed the line second on the stage, sealing second position overall. Geismayr and Alleman’s SPAR Swiss Epic included two stage victories and three second places. They ended the race 7 minutes and 38 seconds down on Stošek and Stutzmann.
In the battle for third, Simon Schneller and Axel Roudil Cortinat prevailed. They completed not only the podium on the day but also the general classification podium places, relegating BUFF MEGAMO’s Hans Becking and Peeter Pruus to fourth. Team Laax’s Fadri Barandun and Konny Looser were fifth on both the stage and the overall standings.
For the UCI Women, the final stage began with uncertainty. How Le Court’s body would perform after an uncomfortable night’s sleep was the primary question, and one which had Katazina Sosna, Irina Lützelschwab, Monica Calderon and Tessa Kortekaas circling in anticipation. “When I got onto the bike this morning, I realised my legs were fine,” Le Court revealed. “My body was sore and my coccyx was painful when I sat, but my legs were good.”
“The plan was for me to sit behind Kim and we would ease into the stage,” Looser elaborated. “But on the first climb already she went to the front of the group and I knew I was going to be in for another hard ride today!”
Once on the front the Elysator Efficient Infinity Insure gradually but inexorably rode away from the Torpado Bulls and CANNONDALE VAS ARABAY WOMEN. Initially Monica Calderon and Tessa Kortekaas were best able to follow, but a couple of crashes on the descent from the Äbirügg, the highest point of the stage, knocked the wind out of Calderon’s pursuit. Sosna and Lützelschwab passed the Colombian/Dutch pairing to claim the second place on the stage and wrap up second overall in the UCI Women’s race.
Looser and Le Court’s ride secured their spot in SPAR Swiss Epic lore. Not only did the Namibian/Mauritian squad add the race through Graubünden’s title to their Absa Cape Epic and FNB Wines2Whales crowns, but they won the hearts of mountain biking fans around the globe in the process.
“Yesterday was a survival game. To be honest, I don’t know how I made it to the finish,” Le Court confessed. “Today I was really motivated to finish and push through the pain. It was sore. It was really, really sore. But we wanted it so badly and I’m really, really happy. It shows that if you want something you can work for it, but you have to push through…”
The Elysator Efficient Infinity Insure team’s winning time was 18 hours, 30 minutes and 35 seconds. This was 42 minutes and 7 seconds faster than their nearest rivals, Sosna and Lützelschwab of Torpado Bulls. CANNONDALE VAS ARABAY WOMEN’s Calderon and Kortekaas completed the podium, ahead of Chrystelle Baumann and Sandra Stadelmann, of Next Ride, and The Triskelions, Amy Henchoz and Jane Barr.
With the 2023 SPAR Swiss Epic drawing to a close the Epic Series attention shifts to the Cape to Cape three-day stage race in Western Australia and South Africa’s FNB Wines2Whales. These Classic status events are the ideal stepping stone for teams preparing for the longer and tougher Legend status races or the Pinnacle of the Epic Series, the Absa Cape Epic. Riders inspired by the performances of Le Court, and the rest of the UCI fields, who would now like to conquer the Alps themselves, can bookmark 21 to 24 August already as the 2024 SPAR Swiss Epic’s race dates. For more information mountain biking fans can visit www.epic-series.com/swissepic or click through to www.epic-series.com to learn more about the Epic Series and the global mountain bike stage races it hosts.