When you hear Switzerland, you might think Matterhorn, cheese and Heidi. Maybe cows or watches. But cycling? Probably not. Which is a shame, because this is a country is nestled in heart of the Alps, the same mountain range that’s home to the most famous climbs of the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. And the passes on the Swiss side are every bit as good, all they’re missing is is a little bit of racing history.
But maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Riding in Switzerland is a bit like tasting an unknown wine, or discovering an up-and-coming restaurant. Some people need the name recognition, but a true connoisseur knows a good thing when they see one. Take the Sanetsch Pass: it starts in the vineyards of the Rhone Valley and ends at the foot of a glacier. With its 25 kilometers and 1700 meters of elevation gain, it is the equivalent of the Stelvio. On a deserted road where the most intense traffic you will encounter is a herd of cows with noisy bells crossing the road in front of you.
There are several great cycling hubs you could use as a base for an adventure in Switzerland, but in this Swiss rider’s opinion, Gstaad is the pick of the bunch. As a ski resort, it’s been popular with celebrities and the jet set for decades, but in summer it turns into a cyclist’s dream, providing the perfect gateway to lots of passes that all have one common feature: smooth roads. It is as if potholes were illegal in Switzerland, much to the delight of its riders.
The Sanetsch is one of these passes, which we will tackle on the queen stage of inGamba’s Swiss experience. There’s also the Col du Pillon, the Col de la Croix, the Mittelbergpass and the Jaunpass. Strangely, some of these names sound French, others German. For a reason: Gstaad stands on the border between Suisse romande and Deutschschweiz, two of the four (!) language regions of Switzerland. The country is small but has a diversity of cultures that you won’t experience anywhere else. This is expressed in the language but also in the cuisine or the architecture, which can change several times during a single bike ride.
Another of the passes is the Col des Mosses, which connects Gstaad with Aigle. This quiet town in the Chablais vineyards claims to be the center of world cycling – and rightfully so. Why? Because it hosts the headquarters of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). The federation has taken up residence in a futuristic building on the banks of the Rhone that also houses a high-level training center for young talent from emerging cycling countries. You can visit it and watch the champions of tomorrow train there or simply grab a coffee at the restaurant where you might rub shoulders with the UCI President, Frenchman David Lappartient.
Luxury hotels abound in Gstaad, but none offer the same level of hospitality as the Palace. This fairytale castle-like establishment perched above the village has been in the hands of the Scherz family since its opening in 1913. With its 4 restaurants, luxurious rooms and 1800 square meter spa, it is the perfect place to recharge after a day on the bike and sample the local food and wine. Because Switzerland is more than just cheese and chocolate. Each region has its own specialties, influenced by the countries that surround it: France, Italy. Austria and Germany. One more reason to spend a vacation in Heidi’s country, if it were necessary.
Come and ride with us in Switzerland this summer, you won’t regret it!
Born in Switzerland, Alain Rumpf has been riding his bike in the Alps since he was 12. In previous chapters of his life, he was an enthusiastic (but mediocre) elite racer and worked 20 years for the UCI, cycling’s international governing body. He attended many meetings, wrote and rewrote countless rules and met awesome people – including inGamba’s founder, João Correia. He also ran a bike race in China that everyone has forgotten about. In 2014 he lost his job and decided to leave the corporate world to become a professional bike bum. An ambitious career change that sees him work as a guide, photographer, writer and consultant for brands, media and destinations. With his wife Lillie and their son Ben, Alain lives in Gryon, in the French speaking part of the Swiss Alps.