The Queen of mountain bike stage racing, Annika Langvad once again showed her class as she and Haley Batten stormed to victory on the opening stage of the 2020 Swiss Epic. The Specialized – Racing pair controlled throughout, capitalising on a fall by Sina Frei to build-up an 8-minute advantage on the 60-kilometre stage, which started and finished in Laax.
The experience of Annika Langvad was clear on the opening stage of the 2020 Swiss Epic, in Laax, on Tuesday, 18 August. The undisputed queen of mountain bike stage racing kept her young partner, Haley Batten, calm; despite the Centurion Vaude Radon and Swiss Cycling Teams racing into an early lead. This allowed the Specialized – Racing pair to capitalise on a crash by Sina Frey and storm to a dominant stage victory.
The introduction to the trails of Graubünden was a challenging one, in the seventh edition of the Swiss Epic. Leaving Laax, the route headed straight uphill, for a typically alpine climb to over 2 400 metres above sea level. Once at altitude, the teams were tested and treated by a series of natural and mountain bike specific singletracks. These wound their way past iconic landmarks; like the Vorab Glacier and the Tectonic Arena Sardona. It was the trails that proved decisive on Stage 1, however, as the advantage teams managed to gain on the long climb were quickly whittled away in the singletrack descents.
On the climb to the Queen of the Mountain point, at the Crap Masegn ski station, Centurion-Vaude Radon set a pace which none of the other women’s teams were willing to match. Stefanie Dohrn and Elisabeth Brandau summited the climb with a 53 second lead over Frei and her Swiss Cycling teammate, Nicole Koller. Langvad and Batten, meanwhile, were 2 minutes and 39 seconds off the pace.
The descent that followed shook up the standings almost immediately. Dohrn and Brandau lost their lead to Frei and Koller, before slipping further down the field and eventually finishing in fifth position. Once the young Swiss cross-country specialists were in the lead, one would have expected them to hang onto it. Especially given their technical proficiency.
That was not to be however, as the BULLS e-bike pilot Stefan Sahm explained: “Conditions were really, really, tough today. The singletracks were very slippery and I saw a couple of crashes. It was challenging for everyone and helped split up the women’s field. Sina Frei fell on her hip and looked to be hurting mid-stage.”
Frei’s crash allowed Specialized – Racing to regain parity with the leaders. Soon the under 23 World Champion was struggling to keep up with Langvad and Batten, though. The gap then inexorably grew over the remaining kilometres, until the Danish/American combination held a commanding 8-minute advantage.
“We really maximised our teamwork today” Langvad said, analysing their performance. “The more we got going, the more we rode ourselves into the race; into a flow with the course and into a flow as a team. Riding with Haley [Batten] was a pleasure. I must admit I even let out a few whoops while following her down the flow trail. That was so much fun.”
Fun is fast, is a well-used adage in mountain biking and that proved to be the case for Specialized – Racing on the day. Their stage win hands them an 8 minute and 2 second advantage over Swiss Cycling’s Frei and Koller. Nina Benz and Kim Ames finished the stage strongly, claiming the final podium place on the day. The jb Brunex Felt Factory Team were 9 minutes and 26 seconds behind the leaders.
Langvad’s erstwhile Absa Cape Epic and Swiss Epic teammate, Ariane Lüthi, was fourth on the day; alongside Alice Pirard. The Andermatt Spur team were just 13 seconds off the podium places and remain a team to watch as the race unfolds. Dohrn and Brandau rounded out the top five; though their deficit of just over 13 minutes must be concerning given their strong start to the stage.
The Swiss Epic’s exploration of the scintillating trails of Graubünden continues on Stage 2, when the race moves from Laax to Arosa. Route highlights for the day include the spectacular Rhine Gorge and the Domleschg Valley. It is a course backloaded with climbing, gaining over 1 000 metres in elevation on the 20-kilometre climb from Chur to Rot Tritt. Given that the long climb was Langvad and Batten’s only weakness on Stage 1, the rest of the women’s field will be looking to put pressure on the Specialized – Racing pair late in the stage.
To see if Frei, Koller, Benz, Ames, Lüthi, Pirard, Dohrn, Brandau and Co. are able to do just that, tune in to www.swiss-epic.com. The racing action starts at 08:00 (Central European Summer Time/GMT +2).
Results: 2020 Swiss Epic | Stage 1
1. Specialized – Racing: Annika Langvad & Haley Batten (3:48:57)
2. Swiss Cycling Team: Sina Frei & Nicole Koller (3:56:59 | +8:02)
3. jb Brunex Felt Factory Team: Nina Benz & Kim Ames (3:58:23 | +9:26)
4. Andermatt Spur: Ariane Lüthi & Alice Pirard (3:58:36 | +9:39)
5. Centurion Vaude Radon: Stefanie Dohrn & Elisabeth Brandau (4:01:59 | +13:02)