After being given the OK to travel to Gstaad, Switzerland as Fat-Bike.com’s European Bureau Chief to cover this year’s Snow Bike Festival I was expecting some fantastic scenery to greet me. After stepping off the train following the most scenic train ride I’ve ever had, a winter wonderland certainly did greet me in the luxurious Alpine village of Gstaad.
The Snow Bike Festival is a four-day event, with a prologue, three stages of racing and an exciting eliminator night race. However, to make the 2017 event more interesting, the organisers have received Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) accreditation (Stage Race Class 2). The addition of the Snow Bike Festival to the UCI race calendar makes the event the very first UCI race that takes place on snow!! So this was a good incentive for some European professional riders to take to the field on their skinny tired bikes.
For the mere mortals, fat-bikes were plenty. Bike brands from across Europe graced the ski slopes and some were given custom Vee Tire Co Snowshoe 4.8’s with the side walls in the colour of the Snow Bike Festival, which looked pretty cool. There was even a local rider from Switzerland who was riding a KHS 1000 with the monstrous 2XL, what a beast!
So, Thursday saw riders from across Europe, South Africa and Asia take on 3 laps of the 3km flat course. Blue skies welcomed the riders from 19 different countries to the start ramp on their designated start times. At one-minute intervals, the riders had the chance to check out the conditions for the forthcoming days racing.
As the day progressed, the snow was being churned up as the riders made their way along the long straights and tights turns.
Some fell foul of the ever decreasing conditions but everyone made it to the finishing line to the applause of the spectators near the fleet of Land Rovers at the end of an introduction to what lay ahead.
Friday morning saw 30km in stage one of the Snow Bike Festival start in the snowy alpine village centre of Gstaad. The riders were now in start order according to the prologues’ finishing times and saw the riders head down the shaded valley alongside the river were the temperatures headed down to -18°c. The riders were soon warmed up though as they had the first climb of the event. The 780 metre climb to Eggli ski station filtered the pack. After a refuel at the feed station the riders made their way down the fast twisting descent. The riders who were tempted to take their eye off their line to admire the view were soon taken out by the soft deep snow at the edge of the trial. Swiss female rider Katrin Leumann took the stage win to add to yesterday’s prologue win. In the men’s race Nicola Rohrbach took the win to establish a 1’30” lead over fellow Swiss Florian Chenaux.
All the riders were full of tales of how they challenged themselves on the days first stage. In the evening in the local sports hall, once the riders had been feed and watered, an excellent debrief was shared with the packed hall. Zoon Cronje (www.zcmc.co.za) put some excellent video’s together showing the ‘best’ bits from each days racing.
Saturday’s 33km stage involved a climb from the word go again up to yesterday’s summit of Eggli but via a different ascent as compared to yesterdays. The leaders were soon spinning at a high cadence as they kept close together to make the summit virtually all together. As the rest of the pack tackled the ascent they soon found their own rhythm to survive the tough climb.
After taking in some valuable calories at the feed station the riders tackled the toughest descent of the race, the descent of the Red ski slope back down to the spectator point in Gstaad. Many riders fell victim to the tough conditions of the off camber descent with many tales of sliding into an abyss of deep snow to numerous over the bars tales! Those who survived the decent had an undulating track to Gsteig where they would soon turn 180° and ride through a cow shed and make their way back to Gstaad on groomed Alpine walking trails. In the women’s race it was Katrin Leumann who took the win again after hauling Ester Suss back after a fine display of climbing early on. Florian Chenaux improved on yesterday’s result by taking the stage win and closed the gap to Nicola Rohrbach who finished 5th to just 45 seconds. Stage 3 was now going to be a close affair. However, before stage 3 kicked off on Sunday, Saturday evening saw riders take on the Snow Bike Festival’s Night Eliminator Race.
This action packed race was great for the spectators who witnessed a randomly pick of 4 riders take on the short partly lit course. Short steeps climbs, twisting chicanes, jumps and obstacles made this one of the highlights as novice riders were seeing themselves on the same starting line-up as the likes as former UCI Down Hill World Champion Tracey Moseley and former south African Rugby World Cup winner John Smit.
After a thrilling couple of hours the German rider Marcus Bauer took the men’s race after a thrilling encounter with a stunning display of speed. Meanwhile Tracy Mosley added another victory to her impressive CV to take the women’s race.
All was to be decided on the 35km of the final stage which had 700 metres of climbing.
With the overall lead being so close, Nicoli Rohrbach opened up a lead that he was never going to let go. After passing through the picturesque village of Lauenen he left the field in his wake to take his second stage win and the men’s overall title for 2017 with Chenaux securing 2nd.
In the women’s race Hielke Elferink held an early lead to take the stage win. Leumann takes 2nd to secure the women’s 2017 title.
As the remaining riders battled through to the finish the smiles said it all, a fantastically organised event in a truly magnificent part of the world, Gstaad, Switzerland.
The date for next years event is January 18th-22nd 2018. For more information on the 2018 event visit: http://www.snowbikefestival.com/