The Valais Mountain Flea

Steve Morabito is one of Switzerland’s most successful racing cyclists.

His home and his training ground are Valais – or, more specifically, the hair-raising ups and downs of its winding mountain roads. It’s no wonder, then, that the super-domestique is also nicknamed the “Valais mountain flea”. This year, Steve is particularly pleased that the Tour de France is making a stop in Valais, so he agreed to tell us about some of his favourite routes ahead of the occasion.

Chandolin, tucked away on the slopes of Val d’Anniviers, is his safe haven. When he’s not racing, Steve and his wife Virginie head to a holiday apartment in the upper part of the village. “We can really unwind here. From the terrace you can see right up to the Matterhorn and enjoy the amazing landscape,” says the 33-year-old cycling pro. Chandolin is also where the couple celebrated their wedding three years ago, along with friends and cycling stars from around the world. Steve Morabito has been a professional cyclist for ten years. He started out with the Swiss Phonak team, and today he’s part of FDJ (La Française des Jeux). Between 2010 and 2014, he was a member of the BMC Racing team, where he was super-domestique for Cadel Evans, the 2011 Tour de France winner. It's fair to say that Steve had a big part to play in that victory: he was the one who helped drive his team forwards in the mountain stages of the world’s toughest tour, helping his “boss” on to a top performance. He’s reached the top ten of Tour de Suisse on multiple occasions in recent years, and in 2006 he won the stage in Leuk, in his home canton. “That was an amazing moment for me, one I’ll always remember – all the people in the village, the celebration, the happiness that I managed to win in that particular place.”

Steve Morabito cycling in Valais

The life of a cycling pro is a tough one. Training means covering thousands of kilometres of ground. And that goes for “holidays”, too: Morabito grabs his gear, lifts his bike across his shoulder and gets ready to head out. He makes his way down from Chandolin to Sierre at breakneck speed. On the other side of the Rhône Valley he heads up to Crans-Montana, before doing the whole journey again on his way back – and covering over 1400 metres in altitude between Sierre and Chandolin alone. Steve’s wife Virginie is an enthusiastic cyclist too, and they often go on cycling tours together across mountain passes, though hidden valleys and sometimes along the Rhône.Steve and Virginie aren’t just a great couple, they also make the perfect team: as a physiotherapist, Virginie makes sure Steve recovers well and heals as quickly as possible from any muscle strains or injuries he might be carrying. “Whenever possible, I’ll accompany him at races. At the bigger races like the Tour de France, though, I can’t usually reach him, so I head to the roadside along with some of Steve’s friends and we make raclette and cheer him on.” They’ll have even more reason to cheer this year: the Tour de France, Tour de Suisse and the Tour de Romandie all have stages passing through Valais, while the Swiss Championships are taking place in Martigny. “Having a Tour de France stage take place at 1960 metres altitude, against the backdrop of the Émosson Dam in Finhaut, will be spectacular.” Virginie will be reserving her spot hours ahead of time, to make sure she’s ready to cheer Steve on along his journey from Bern through to the Col des Mosses and the Col de la Forclaz. Until then, Steve will carry on training – at races, and on the mountains of Valais.

Text: Monique Ryser Photos: Sedrik Nemeth and Ilse Bekker 

Sheep in clover

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