Alain Rumpf is our man in Switzerland. After spending two decades working for the UCI, cycling’s governing body, he left the office world behind him to become a freelance cycling guide and content creator, working hard to spread the word about his homeland’s excellent potential as a cycling destination.
When we decided to explore the Swiss Alps, Alain was the first person we called because he and our founder João Correia go way back to João’s days as a pro rider. Alain also knows these mountains like the back of his hand, so we knew that he’d be a good fit for inGamba, and that he’d help us uncover the very best riding experience that this Alpine paradise had to offer. We caught up with him to find out more about his life on the bike.
What’s your earliest memory of cycling?
I was always active as a kid and I tried many different sports, but none of them stuck. But in the summer of ’83, for some reason I got absolutely hooked watched the Tour de France, Laurent Fignon won that year, and from that I got a bike and started riding a bit. But it was really the following spring when things got serious, my mum found an article in the paper saying that the local cycling club was organizing some training for kids. I went, and fell in love with the sport immediately.
So the bicycle has been a lifelong love…
Completely, and one that has changed over the years. As a kid, it was about being with friends, then training and racing, building your personality and traits like determination and perseverance, but after university I stopped racing, but kept riding and it became something else. It was more about exploration and meeting new people, and now it’s developed again and it’s all about guiding, sharing my knowledge with people, and the storytelling side of it.
What did you do before becoming a guide?
When I finished university in 1993, I was racing at elite level in Switzerland. I was doing ok, but not great, and it was time to decide what to do with my life because it was obvious that I wasn’t going to become a professional rider. I quit racing and started looking for a job, but I had no idea what to do. I chose Political Science as my degree, but only because it was only 20 hours a week, so I had lots of time to ride my bike. I had no idea what to do with the degree, but the International Olympic Committee is based in Lausanne and as a result there are lots of federations and sports organizations nearby, so I thought that I might be able to find something in sports.
The newspaper proved important again, because I saw a listing for a job at the UCI. I was only 22 at the time, but I got my foot in the door and grew from there, eventually staying for 20 years. It was a very different organization compared to today, there were eight employees when I joined, I was number nine, in a very small office in Lausanne. But by the time we moved to the World Cycling Centre in Aigle, there were around 80 employees.
What motivated you to go your own way?
When Brian Cookson replaced Pat McQuaid as the president of the UCI in 2013, there was a lot of upheaval in the organization and one way or another, around two thirds of the staff left within 18 months. I lasted about a year, and when I left, I had no idea what to do. It had been my first and only job, so it was an interesting period for me trying to adjust to the idea of doing something new.
Ultimately, it was a great opportunity for me to try something different and while I wanted to stay within the cycling world, I was ready for a fresh start. I got an offer to work in cycling travel and it went from there. It was a one-man operation in the beginning, so I did everything from guiding and logistics to marketing, but I absolutely loved it. Helping people reach new goals and showing them new places is a real pleasure. Everyone is equal on the bike and I love that, regardless of what we do in our day jobs, once we’re in Lycra we’re all cyclists. Now I’m freelance, guiding, writing and taking pictures. I like to say I’m a professional bike bum these days.
Give us your elevator pitch for Switzerland!
Switzerland is just as beautiful, and as suited to cycling as France or Italy, but without the crowds. We have amazing mountain passes, incredible landscapes, but not many people know about them. The Col du Sanetsch is every bit the equal of the great climbs like the Stelvio, but without the traffic. It’s just as big, just as dramatic, but it’s a dead end at the top with a cable car that takes you down the other side, and the only things you’ll see aside from cyclists is cows and hikers. To me, it’s actually better than the iconic climbs of the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia. I’m really excited about sharing it with the inGamba family!