Imagine riding in terrain that you are not familiar with at all, unpredictable surfaces, extreme weather, fat tyres, snow-covered mountain peaks, single track and scenery … and the fun factor goes up a notch or three!
This year saw the 5th Snow Bike Festival take place, held annually towards the end of January in the ski town of Gstaad, Switzerland.
The Snow Bike Festival is a UCI sanctioned event that has valuable points on offer to those UCI riders wanting to get a head start early in the year. The world’s first stage race on snow that was awarded UCI status!
The race is a four-day stage race that includes the prologue starting on Thursday in the town centre. Gstaad is a magnificent winter wonderland, surrounded by miles of ski slopes, endless sports activities, boutique stores, luxury hotels, vibrant nightlife … an adrenaline junkie’s paradise!
The prologue is a 13.3 km time trial course alongside some of the most beautiful hiking trails just outside Gstaad. Don’t let the distance fool you, with 465 metres of altitude gain, it is just enough to get the snow melting off your boots.
Stage one was an exciting new start venue for the Snow Bike Festival. Riders were transported by train and then by cable car, to the top of Rinderberg. A ski slope with a decent of 1050 metres in just 6 km, how is that for a start?! Visibility was questionable halfway up the mountain during the cable car ride but as soon as we broke through the mist, the view was magical! A sea of clouds surrounded by snow-covered mountain peaks with the sun breaking through to start baking the peaks in golden rays! The 35 km stage had 1079 metres of climbing and … 2007 metres decent!!
Stage Two on Saturday had 42 km in store with 1363 metres of climbing. Riders gained 590 metres early on in the stage with the 7 km climb to the top of Eggli. The climb gets steeper and tougher towards the summit but the reward of the magnificent view meant that the sweat and suffering tears, were quickly frozen. At water point two, riders went through a cow shed much to the surprise of the cows busy having their winter sleep. The winning time on the day was 1 hour 50 minutes, with the backmarkers finishing at around five hours.
The final stage on Sunday was 35 km with 1363 metres of climbing. Starting with a 6 km climb right out of the gates meant that this was still a business day where the race could be won or lost. With only three and a half minutes separating the top three podium positions, the racing up front was fast and furious. Claiming overall victory on the day was young Swiss, Ramon Lauener and Nadine Rieder from Germany in the woman’s category.
Riders have the option to change bikes in between stages, adding a different dimension to the strategic choices of the day. Choosing a fat bike, plus bike or normal bike might be more beneficial in some stages than others.
There are so many new and exciting elements added to the Snow Bike Festival, that this is a must-do-bucket-list event for sure!