In what is arguably the most difficult year in the history of endurance sports and mass-participation events, the recent success of the Swiss Epic mountain bike race operated by The IRONMAN Group served as a much-needed boost to riders and organisers alike.
“It is good to be back to racing. Our teams worked tirelessly around the clock to provide athletes and everyone involved in the event with a safe and enjoyable racing experience,” said Thomas Veje Olsen, Head of Operations Europe, Middle East and Africa for The IRONMAN Group. “We are delighted that we delivered on our promise of conducting a safe event under COVID-19 guidelines and restrictions. The knowledge we gathered before, during and after Swiss Epic will carry over to all our next events in 2020 and 2021.”
The “Return to the Trails” programme – built upon The IRONMAN Group’s “Return to Racing” programme – highlighted key measures for riders to consider when arriving for registration and throughout the five stages of the race. This was underpinned by the five guiding principles of enhanced hygiene, screening and education, density reduction, touchpoint minimization and rider personal responsibility.
“Hosting the Swiss Epic in the canton of Grisons was a team effort,” said Reto Branschi, CEO: Destination Organization Davos Klosters. “The Swiss Epic team collaborated with some of the best-known Alpine resorts in Europe, Davos, St. Moritz, Lenzerheide, Arosa, and Laax, to stage this annual event. In 2020, we implemented strict safeguarding measures against Covid-19 to make the race possible. The safeguarding concept was communicated to organizers, host towns, athletes, and volunteers upfront, so that everyone involved knew what to expect ahead of time, and what was expected of them. Everyone understood, accepted, and fully complied with the measures and as a result, we were able to stage an event where everyone felt safe to enjoy the fantastic racing experience. Great teamwork made for a great race and the 2020 edition of the Swiss Epic turned out to be, once more, a unique adventure in the stunningly beautiful landscape of the Swiss Alps,” he added.
The race was contested over five stages from 18 to 22 August 2020 in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden and attracted the most star-studded professional rider line-up in the event’s six-year history. The event was headlined by multiple world champions and Absa Cape Epic champions, including Graubünden’s own and a member of the men’s winning team, Nino Schurter who shared: “In regard to the COVID-19 situation, the Swiss Epic felt very safe. The organisation has taken the issue very seriously and put the right instruments in place in order to make it a very enjoyable event yet being safe.”
This was echoed by Hayley Batten, a member of the women’s winning team who said: “The security concept was very detailed and implemented all-around. We received all the information before the event, so we knew what to expect and what was expected of us, that’s why we were able to start the race with a lot of confidence. The Swiss Epic was excellent.”
Striking the balance between delivering the world-class rider experience the Swiss Epic is known for, team members worked to ensure not only the physical safety of riders, volunteers, staff, and the local communities, but peace of mind for all remained at the core of the organisers’ plans. Looking further ahead, mountain bikers will now be able to plan for 2021 and the return of the Swiss Epic next year as well as the global series’ pinnacle event, the Absa Cape Epic in South Africa.
The professional riders were not the only participants to note the efficacy of the measures with Tamara Burkhardt from Switzerland, who participated in the Mixed Category saying: “I always felt safe. The ‘Safe Return to the Trails’ measures were communicated very clearly and were carried through until the end. The topic was omnipresent on site and there were enough face masks and disinfectants for everyone. Also, all volunteers and staff members wore masks during the whole race week which encouraged all riders, even more, to stick to the rules. Adding the amazing scenery to the great riding experience, it was once again an awesome event.”
Former artistic gymnastics European Champion, Ariella Käslin from Switzerland, also competed and enjoyed the experience: “The situation was taken seriously; the measures were clearly communicated and manageable to implement for us riders. I felt very safe, also because there was consistent control.”
The IRONMAN Group now shifts its focus to the upcoming events, the Hamburg Wasser World Triathlon Series (September 5 and 6) in Germany, IRONMAN® Tallinn and IRONMAN 70.3® Tallinn (September 5) in Estonia, IRONMAN 70.3 Les Sables d’Olonne in France and the Enea IRONMAN 70.3 Gdynia in Poland on the upcoming multi-event weekend, the first one since the outbreak of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“I can only give kudos to our teams but most importantly the athletes on their perseverance, dedication and understanding for the measures we need to take. Obviously, this year is very different for all of us and we will take these events one by one,” said Stefan Petschnig, Managing Director of Europe, Middle East and Africa for the IRONMAN Group.