Team Bulls return to the Swiss Epic, en masse, for the first time since 2014 when Karl Platt and Urs Huber placed fifth. With three teams in the 2020 race through Graubünden, the German outfit will be aiming to place multiple teams in the top ten.
Despite being one of the dominant teams in the Epic Series’ flagship event, the Absa Cape Epic, Team Bulls have failed to warm to the Swiss Epic. The German team have only made one start in the race in their neighbouring country. That was back in 2014. Now, six years later they return in force; with three squads ready to contest for the title. The Bulls Heroes, Bulls Legends and Bulls Youngsters.
Urs Huber, who along with Karl Platt finished fifth in 2014, will partner Simon Stiebjahn for the Bulls Heroes. The pair are Team Bulls’ best bet for a podium position. Both riders are seasoned stage race campaigners and are looking forward to showcasing their skills to an Epic Series audience on terrain they know well. Platt, meanwhile, will partner multiple Marathon World Champion Alban Lakata for the Bulls Legends; while Martin Frey and Simon Schneller line up as the Bulls Youngsters.
The Team Bulls riders unanimously agreed that the cancellation of the Absa Cape Epic affected them all. “The Absa Cape Epic cancellation was a big disappointment” Lakata, one of the squad’s most senior members, allowed. “It took me some time to digest that. But I found new ways to motivate myself to train. I did different challenges and projects to keep myself motivated, without any races in sight. Now, finally, we have a new provisional race schedule and with the Swiss Epic, there is also a big goal ahead of us, to work hard for.”
“The first weeks after the Absa Cape Epic was cancelled was a strange time” added Stiebjahn. “We had worked hard for our season’s highlight. Not being able to showcase how hard we’d worked in the build-up to the race made the cancellation harder, initially. But then, when all the other races started to be cancelled, it became increasingly difficult to motivate myself.”
“So, taking a little break turned out to be really important” Stiebjahn clarified. “Now a racing calendar is slowly taking shape again. It obviously includes the Swiss Epic and my motivation has come flooding back. I believe hindsight will show it was the right decision to take it easy in April and rather to start focused training once the motivation of having races to peak for returned.”
The usual flow to the season has been disrupted by the Coronavirus pandemic, but that has meant a shake-up to the way many elite mountain bikers have scheduled the later part of their year. “It has resulted in a different style of season and that makes it exciting” Stiebjahn said, looking for the silver lining. “It’s a new situation for everybody and everybody has to handle the situation. Honestly, I would say I’m even more excited to race now than I was at the start of any previous season for years.”
The restart to racing will not be an easy one for the German team. They have been unable to fit the Swiss Epic into their programme in the last six years. “I would have been interested to race the Swiss Epic regularly, in the past years” the only Swiss rider in the squad, Huber, revealed. “But our calendar is usually more than full, between May and September. The Swiss Epic is not an easy race either. It’s definitely not an event which you can just add on top of a busy schedule. Now is the perfect time to come back, however. It will be great to have an Epic Series race to ‘start’ the season with. Instead of the Absa Cape Epic in March we have the Swiss Epic in August, which is sure to make this year even more unforgettable.”
“The Swiss Epic is a very tough race” Lakata said, echoing Huber’s sentiments. “In previous years, with too many hard races in the summer time, I simply couldn’t fit it in. I had difficult decisions to make in the years since 2016 when I last took part. But I enjoyed my three previous Swiss Epics and I’m looking forward to racing it again.”
Martin Frey, of the Bulls Youngsters, agreed: “We’re looking forward to taking part in a well-organized and highly prestigious stage race, especially one that should suit our strengths. After so many events had to be cancelled, we’re glad such a prestigious event will be run. We expect steep climbing, technical descents and a competitive field; all the ingredients a great mountain bike stage race has to offer.”
Though Huber has always performed well in Africa and Australia, where he has won the Absa Cape Epic and five Crocodile Trophies respectively, he is eager to showcase his talents on home soils. “The style of track would be nothing new for us, because it’s more natural for us to ride in this kind of terrain than outside of Europe” he stated. “For me it’s a great feeling to race against the best teams in the world in my own country. I think it’s a little advantage to be on home terrain, but the competition will be super strong. In every race Simon [Stiebjahn] and I try to focus on ourselves and it will be no different in the Swiss Epic. We will be happy if we can give our 100% every day and enjoy racing again. If we reach that, the result comes naturally.”
To see if the results that the Team Bulls riders’ motivation levels suggest they are capable of come tune in to the Swiss Epic, from 18-22 August. The event’s website will feature racing updates, highlights and all the stories from the trails of Graubünden.