In the second edition of the Carpathian Mountain Bike Epic, hosted near the city of Brașov in central Romania, Team Spur’s Ariane Lüthi showed her class through the challenging mountainous terrain to claim the overall victory after four days of intense racing.
The race village was based at the holiday resort and biathlon center, Cheile Grădiștei, a few hours drive north of Bucharest. A small field of professional riders contested the four-day stage race, which kicked off with a 10km Prologue on Thursday evening, 16 August. The Prologue course was a rude introduction to the wild local terrain, and featured a very condensed 550m of climbing. A brutal test, straight up or down for just over half an hour!
“It was a really tough and technical course, and the Prologue gave us a taste of what to expect over the coming days,” said Lüthi. The remaining three stages all clocked in at around 60km in length, with climbing varying between 2500m and 3300m.
Lüthi’s main competition for the weekend was Serbian XCO specialist, Jovana Crnogorac, who finished just 49 seconds behind Lüthi in the Prologue. The stage was set for an exciting few days of racing.
Stage 1 was dubbed the Queen Stage, featuring a 60km route and 2500m of climbing. “The track was so raw that we had to find our own path between the route markings as there was no clear path to follow,” explained Lüthi. Having distanced herself from her rivals early in the stage, Lüthi maintained the pressure to finish the stage in a time of 3:58:13. A solid performance that increased Ariane’s margin to a comfortable 8 minutes and 42 seconds.
The elation of a stage win and comfortable buffer came to an abrupt end after the podium celebration as Lüthi twisted her ankle. “It was really painful and gave me some uncertainty going into Stage 2,” Lüthi recalled. “I struggled to clip in and out of my pedals. This would normally be okay but the day included a few sizable hike-a-bike sections.” Struggling to concentrate, Lüthi suffered two small crashes and time-consuming detours after missing route markers. “That saw me lose the overall lead, which was disappointing. Jovana rode so strong that day and having raced against her before, I know she is a powerful climber and good descender,” said Ariane.
The resultant time loss from Lüthi’s mishaps on Stage 2 meant she entered the final stage 14 seconds behind Crnogorac. Ariane left nothing to chance and set off from the start with fire in her eyes, determined to wrestle the lead back before the fial finish line. “I knew I had to suffer in the early kilometres, Jovana starts so hard,” Ariane recalled. “I hung onto her wheel and when we got to the downhill sections I started taking some risks.”
Using her years of experience racing across South Africa, Lüthi powered down the fast gravel roads and was able to secure a gap over the chasing Serb. “The elastic broke at some point and I just continued to push. I didn’t dare look behind me until the final kilometre,” Lüthi explained. “The benefits of such a small gap is that if you’re not in eye contact you’re probably safe.”
Ariane entered the Biathlon Arena of the race village in Cheile Grădiștei, having turned a 14-second deficit into a 14-minute winning margin, and took her third stage win. It was enough to win back the Overall lead. “This was such a sweet victory after the setbacks on Stage 2 and having to fight back so hard,” a relieved Lüthi admitted after the final stage.
“It was a beautiful stage race and I want to thank the organisers and Team Spur’s Tim Bassingthwaighte for all the help here in Romania.”