Team Spur kicked off a Sunday to remember on 12 August in Grindelwald, Switzerland, when Swiss marathon mountain biker, Ariane Lüthi, claimed victory in the brutal 88km, 3900m Eiger Bike Challenge. Lüthi beat fellow Swiss rider and former Marathon World Champion, Esther Süss by two and a half minutes after a ding-dong battle through stunning trails in the picturesque Bernese Alps.
“I’m really, really happy with this win,” Lüthi admitted after the race. The diminutive Süss is known as one of the best climbers in the world. “To beat Esther on this course is super hard, as it feels made for her. Some sections might have actually been too steep for her. But the race is not very technical, so you normally win here on the climbs.”
Lüthi knew she was in good shape for the race, after a very good training session early last week. “I had super good legs in the week, and my weight was going in the right direction,” Lüthi laughed, acknowledging the disadvantage that a relatively bigger rider faces when tackling Alpine races. “I was ready, and excited to start the race. I was calm and not nervous at the start.”
The Eiger Bike Challenge ramps up from the starter’s gun straight into the Grosse Scheideg – a tar climb of around 1000m vertical ascent. Ariane put her tactical nous to good use immediately, allowing the hard-charging Süss to get in front up the climb. “You can benefit a little from slipstreaming,” Lüthi said. “So I let Esther lead and she definitely took a little more wind there.”
Across the flat sections Lüthi also played the tactical game, conserving her energy in the bunch, while she watched Süss dig a little deeper to follow wheels. “I then led up another short climb because I wanted to lead into the first downhill, where I managed to pull quite a gap. My technical skills are definitely an advantage, and I went down as fast as I could,” Lüthi admitted.
The long Feld climb loomed and Süss closed the gap to Lüthi very quickly but paid the price as the gradient ramped up near the summit, where it required more power to combat gravity. Lüthi opened another gap near the top, and again on the descent.
“It just seemed to go on like this forever,” Lüthi laughed. “Esther caught and passed me on the next climb and I couldn’t make any impact on the downhill, as there were a few little kickers in it, so she stayed ahead.”
“Going into the very last big climb, which was the 1100m Kleine Scheidegg, Esther had about a 15-second lead at the bottom and I kept checking to see how the gap was changing. It blew out to two minutes at one stage! I could still see her most of the way and kept thinking she was absolutely flying up the climb. I lost sight of her in the steeper parts towards the top and then suddenly I could see her and the gap had come down. That was all I needed to think there was still a chance!” Luuthi said. “So I kept pushing hard and it looked like Esther was fading a little bit, so my motivation went up a lot!”
“I trailed by only eight seconds off the top and I thought to myself it was now or never! I chased her into the downhill and when I’d passed her really went for it. I managed to drop her and knew with three more shorter climbs left – two in the descent and one to the finish line – I’d have to keep hammering.”
Lüthi returned to Grindelwald in a red and blue blur, elated with her victory: “I can’t believe I managed to finish ahead of Esther! It’s really a big thing for me – she’s won I-don’t-know-how-many of the past editions of this race! I’m super happy.”
Lüthi chose to tackle the Bernese Alps on her superlight Specialized S-Works Epic hardtail, but with an ace up her sleeve. “It’s the first race I’ve ridden with Specialized’s Command Post XCP dropper seatpost, and it was really cool. It helped a lot!” she admitted.
Ariane Luuthi continues to prepare for the XCM World Championships in Auronzo, in Italy’s spectacular Dolomite mountain ranges in mid-September.