On the Valais Cycling Tour roads - Stage 1
In collaboration with Alain Rumpf and Grand Tours Project
Some only dream of doing what Beth has done: after 6 years working in the Middle East and London, this Welsh woman, passionate about all types of cycling, quit her job this spring and headed straight for the Alps to ride, write, and reflect on the direction she wishes to take in life.
I met her by chance, via social networking. She was interested in the activities of Grand Tours Project, for whom I organize bike holidays; she joined us for the Giro d’Italia before spending a few days with her boyfriend at my home in Gryon, in the Vaud Alps.
Like many, Beth dreamed of climbing the Alpine passes made famous by the Tour de France and the Giro, but she knew very little about the Swiss Alps. “Show me your country” she said while we ate a fondue. A beautiful challenge for a passionate cyclist like me. I am a bit spoiled with all the possibilities: with its smooth roads and little traffic, Switzerland is a cycling paradise. All of this in the midst of magnificent and beautifully preserved alpine scenery.
I wanted to use this occasion to discover some new parts of my country as well. It’s the reason that I called Guillaume and asked him to take us on the most beautiful Valais roads that he knows so well. Why? As a neighbor of this grand canton, I have climbed all of the well-known passes. But I know there must be some hidden treasures. Guillaume would certainly reveal them.
Thus, behind my camera, I followed Beth and Guillaume, accompanied by Yves and Sarah for three days. We were not disappointed.
We meet up in Le Bouveret. “I didn't know that the Valais bordered Lake Geneva” Beth declares. First surprise of a trip that would include many more.
As usual, the weather in Valais is magnificent and the group begins its journey on the bike path along the banks of the Rhone River, the iconic river that runs through the canton. This flat section away from traffic is a perfect way to begin to discover the region and warm-up before tackling the main challenges of the day.
A first stop is required in Saint-Maurice where Beth immortalizes her bike in front of the Abbey that was founded in 515, making it the oldest monastery in the West that is still active. The Valais is a land of history!
We then take a coffee-croissant break on the central square in Martigny. Here we check out a map showing the Valais Bike Tour, of which we will ride a few sections during our tour, and study the first difficulty of the day: the climb to Verbier, site of a stage finish of the Tour de France in 2009 with a superb victory by Alberto Contador.
It’s hot when the group leaves Le Châble but the air cools as the road rises. Lost in amazement at the incredible view, Beth climb off alone at her own rhythm.
The switchbacks link up and soon Beth reaches the entrance to Verbier, where she meets up with the others. We then head off towards La Marlenaz, at the upper end of the resort, to discover the cuisine based on local products of this renowned restaurant. Beth leaves nothing on her plate and is still tempted by a rich dessert. She known she will need the energy to reach the end of the day’s stage!
After the descent back into Martigny, the road climbs again. Beth, Sarah, Guillaume and Yves attack the road to the Col de la Forclaz (1,527m), whose lower slopes offer a magnificent view of Martigny and the Rhone Valley.
The boys reach the summit first before descending into Trient and then heading towards Finhaut and the Emosson Dam, arrival site of the 17th stage of the 2016 Tour de France.
Sarah and Beth climb together towards Emosson. Sarah takes the opportunity to tell Beth all about the history of this imposing dam inaugurated in October 1976. The artificial lake measures 5km long and contains about 225 million cubic meters of water.
Upon reaching the summit at an altitude of 1,965m, Guillaume and Yves ride across the dam surrounded by a majestic landscape. The day is over. Guillaume wants to point out the Mont Blanc to Beth but it is hidden in the clouds. Perhaps another time!
Today’s stats: 124 km and 3300 m of climbing.
Alain Rumpf and Grand Tours Project
Cyclist, photographer, and writer, Alain Rumpf lives in the Swiss Alps. He is also the Chief Cycling Officer at Grand Tours Project, organizing biking holidays in the Alps. It is a way for him to promote cycling not only as a sport, but also as a healthy lifestyle close to nature.