Mountains To Climb
Men's Fitness|November 2019
Dominic Bliss Goes Behind the Scenes at the World Cycling Centre in the Swiss Alps, but Getting There is No Easy Ride

Cycling guide Alain Rumpf – known, I’m told, as “ The Swiss with a pulse” – is by far the fittest cyclist I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding with. Whippet-thin and with an uphill acceleration that has you shaking your head in disbelief, he’s king of the roads in this part of western Switzerland.

I'm assuming his nickname is a reference to his low heart rate and supreme fitness, because right now he’s giving us a proper beasting on the steep mountain roads of the Vaud canton, aka Les Alpes Vaudoises. By the looks of it, his pulse is still fairly normal. Mine, on the other hand, is like a jackhammer.

I’ll admit I’m out of my comfort zone. With the temperature pushing 35 degrees, I’m in a group of nine riders pedalling hard to keep up on the long climbs. Our first day, a swift 25km with 720 metres of climbing, had been just a dip of the toe in the water. Our second was when the real riding began: a 94km ride with 1,830 metres of climbing over three mountain passes.

The First of these, Col du Pillon, hadn’t posed many problems. Keen and fresh, we all zipped up to the top. On the second, Col des Mosses, I was starting to feel the strain in my legs. Then there was the third: the 1,778-metre Col de la Croix. is we had to contend with just as the oppressive heat of the afternoon started to descend. Much of Switzerland – and especially our region – was under the yoke of a brutal early summer heatwave.

When it comes to Alpine road cycling, Switzerland is the poor cousin of France and Italy. Not because it lacks the roads, nor the scenery or the climbs, but simply because it doesn't enjoy the same tradition, or history, of cycle racing as its nearest neighbours.

But the roads in this part of the Alps couldn’t be more favourable for road biking. Smooth, entirely free of any litter and maintained with reassuring Swiss e efficiency, they are a joy to ride. On my hired BMC Teammachine SLR01 – a ride that would have set me back over £5,000 – I quickly get the hang of descending at speed. ere are a few surprises we have to keep an eye out for – the odd manhole cover, occasional lorries or coaches grinding up the hill towards us, cow pats where farmers and their livestock have crossed the road, bumpy railway crossings, and cracks in the tarmac where winter ice has done its worst – but in general the roads are far smoother than anything you can nd in austerity-bound Britain. And the mountain scenery takes your breath away.

CENTRE OF ATTENTION

Our third day in the saddle is much flatter. A 72km ride sees us speeding in a tight peloton across the floodplain of the River Rhone to the town of Aigle, home of sport cycling’s world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). Here, situated right next to the raging waters of the Rhone, is the World Cycling Centre, a huge coaching and training facility dedicated to all the major cycle sports.

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