Heaven for mountain biking

The Valais mountains offer a magnificent playground for mountain biking – and electric bikes now make this activity accessible to a wider public. Two top riders from Valais, Florian Golay and Steve Morabito, show the way forward.

In Saint-Luc, in the Val d’Anniviers, you feel you could almost touch the sky. At the ultramodern astronomical observatory, you can admire the most distant galaxies; along the Planets Trail, 2,500 metres above sea level, you ride all the way across the solar system. This alpine environment promises mountain bikers a heavenly experience of earthly delights. The region around the picturesque village of Chandolin, one of the highest settlements in Switzerland inhabited year-round, offers ideal terrain. Today, thanks to electric mountain bikes, riders of all levels of fitness and ability can enjoy such excursions, too.

Florian Golay and Steve Morabito with their electric bikes in the Val d’Anniviers.

“Electric mountain bikes make this sport accessible to a whole new public,” says Florian Golay. “Even people who haven’t ridden a bike for decades get the hang of it in no time.” This 41-year-old mountain biker barely needs an electric motor to get around on two wheels; nor does his colleague, Steve Morabito, also from Valais. Golay is one of the world’s top enduro mountain bikers, while 36-year-old Morabito has been a professional road cyclist since 2006. In his first year as a pro, Morabito won a stage of the Tour de Suisse and, in 2018, he proudly wore the Swiss champion’s jersey. Today, as President of the Valais Cycling Federation, he plays an important political role in promoting cycling. Morabito also rides an electric mountain bike from time to time, and is amused by the prejudices surrounding e-bikes. “The idea that e-bikes are just for older or less sporty people isn’t true at all. I’ve been riding an e-bike for three years, too. It lets me do long rides or difficult routes on a lower level of intensity.” On their e-bikes, the two top riders climb narrow singletrack trails with ease before launching themselves straight down the next descent. According to Florian Golay, “this diversity is typical of Valais. The routes pass through all kinds of natural landscapes, with all levels of difficulty.”

For training, Golay particularly enjoys the mountains and hills around Verbier. This region is one of Switzerland’s hotspots for mountain biking, and offers an enchanting variety of alpine scenery. The routes, all clearly marked, range from an easy 11-kilometre ride to a grand tour of more than 38 kilometres. “Here, everyone can find their perfect route,” he says. 

Golay is a natural trailblazer. Together with Phil Meier, a freeski pioneer, he runs a shop in Martigny called CrossRoad Cycles, which serves as the meeting point for a booming scene. The workshop here is adorned with awards that bear witness to the sporting success of the two proprietors. A glance at some of Golay’s videos on YouTube gives an idea of the demands of his sport: crazy jumps, precision control, virtuoso moves and descents to take your breath away. He was one of the first e-enduro athletes to win the Enduro Epic three times, and is still a member of the Lapierre team.

Extreme performances, maybe, but for Golay it is all about pleasure. Since he retired from elite sport, he has adopted a different pace – as a young dad. “The power of the motor on e-bikes is limited to a speed of 25 km/h for safety,” he explains. Golay says his favourite route leads via the Col de la Forclaz, between Martigny and Le Châtelard. But then he adds: “Actually, best of all, I like spending time with my family.”

Although on this lovely ride among the splendid chalets of Chandolin, it is hard to imagine anything more delightful. This is Valais at its most beautiful. The sun is shining in a pure blue sky; the gentle, refreshing breeze is perfect for exploring by bike. Steve Morabito sums up: “If you come to ride in Valais, you’ll get to know our magnificent region in a completely different way.”

And of course, Valais has plenty of gastronomic delights to reward sporting efforts. “Add our fine wines and cheeses, and our region is more wonderful still!” says Morabito, before mounting his electric bike and gliding off, as if carried along by the happy thought.

Text: Thomas Renggli
Photographs: David Carlier

Published: July 2019

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