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25-09-2023 | Michelle Zacht

Eiger Bike Challenge: a beautiful marathon with huge potential

Located at the base of the vibrant mountain village of Grindelwald is the iconic Swiss mountain giant: the Eiger. This imposing peak is surrounded by other awe-inspiring summits in the UNESCO World Heritage Jungfrau Region. Amidst picturesque alpine meadows, you'll find yourself surrounded by glaciers, sheer rock faces, and the sheer majesty of nature. Against this breathtaking backdrop, the Eiger Bike Challenge celebrates its 25th edition.

The marathon has long been on the wish list for both myself and my partner, Axel. However, scheduling this race during the peak season has always been a challenge, until this year. As we embark on this adventure, perched on the edge of uncertainty, the fickle weather adds to the excitement. Following a cold and wet summer, with even a dusting of fresh snow at higher altitudes, the weather forecast finally appears stable. It's time to make our way to Grindelwald, the grand finale of our road trip!


A warm welcome awaits

The finish village, nestled in the heart of downtown, greets us with a well-organized setup featuring stands, catering, and a spacious stage. Saturday offers a choice between two marathon distances: an 85-kilometer route with 4200 meters of elevation (also hosting the Swiss Championship) or a 50-kilometer route with 2500 meters of climbing. Additionally, side events are dedicated to enduro, gravel bikes, and kids, showcasing Eigerbike's commitment to a diverse audience.

Given our recent accumulation of elevation, we opt for the shorter distance. And so, we find ourselves spontaneously at the starting line on a Saturday morning, ready for the next chapter of our adventure.

Ascending Grosse Scheidegg

The longer race departs an hour earlier, featuring 120 men and just 8 ladies. In contrast, our distance lines up with 198 other men and 20 ladies, creating a bustling start area where boxes sit side by side rather than back to back. After a tense first kilometer, the route leads us straight uphill, marking the beginning of a challenging ascent. This steep but manageable climb takes us along narrow asphalt roads and, after a few kilometers, onto gravel paths winding through the forest. Occasional sections of singletrack provide a pleasant variation, though the scenery is yet to unveil its full splendor. After the initial 1000 meters of elevation gain, we return to an asphalt road, where we persistently pedal uphill, facing gradients of approximately 11%, all the while framed by the imposing rock walls of the Wetterhorn.


Invasion of Asian tourists

After cresting the highest point on this asphalt road, we descend along a rolling gravel road, now above the treeline. I'm torn between the relief of descending after 2.5 hours of climbing and the indescribable panorama. The views encompass the Eiger, Schreckhorn, Grindelwald, and the Kleine Scheidegg. However, this segment also marks the route to the summit, which means sharing the trail with tourists, many of whom are casually strolling in sneakers or flip-flops.


Reaching Bachalpsee

The silver lining is that these tourists are on their way to a likely Lonely Planet attraction: the Bachalpsee, the highest point of the marathon. However, due to the overcast skies, crowded conditions, and the fact that the final meters of elevation are no longer automatic, the beauty of this mountain lake doesn't shine as brightly as expected. Fortunately, the true highlight of the marathon lies ahead: the Bachalpseetrail. This technical (S2) trail, also part of the enduro race, presents us with the opportunity to pass quite a few riders who find it too challenging. The demanding trail offers fantastic vistas and will be etched in our memories. After approximately three kilometers, the excitement subsides, giving way to narrow and steep asphalt roads, a few trails, and some gravel paths. A few surprising climbs later, the finish line comes into view.


After nearly 4.5 hours of effort, we've covered 52 kilometers with 2,300 meters of elevation gain. Undoubtedly, it's been a fantastic day. We linger in the finish village, savoring our consumption vouchers (one of the few items from the goodie bag) and witnessing the new Swiss Champion's triumphant finish in the long-distance race, greeted by roaring applause.


A small gem with room for improvement

All in all, this marathon was an experience we wouldn't have wanted to miss. The course, though enjoyable, didn't consistently deliver spectacular moments, with a few exceptions. However, the enchanting scenery made us feel like we had embarked on something truly special. Sportograf was present, but their photography coverage was limited, a missed opportunity in this extraordinary setting. In hindsight, the event turned out to be smaller than expected, with mainly Swiss participants and few international entries. Despite well-organized aid stations and security measures, we found the entry fee relatively high, even by Swiss standards, considering the value offered. Nevertheless, it's all part of the vacation experience, and we relished every moment!


Results

The new Swiss MTB Marathon champions have been crowned: Marc Stutzmann and Irina Luetzelschwad. You can find all the results here.

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