Twilight Zone On The Road Bike
The region around Crans-Montana is a large playground for racing cyclists. It allows them to move in two worlds: In the valley, the landscape is characterised by extensive vineyards and orchards. A little further up, the Swiss Alps offer breathtaking views.
Two more long curves until we can see them: Europe’s highest mountains. Although we have already conquered quite some kilometres and a pretty impressive altitude difference, the anticipation of the panorama that lies ahead motivates me to tackle the final sprint. After the first turn I get out of the saddle and pedal up the last serpentine to the viewpoint. The mere sight of the Mont Blanc massif makes me forget all the efforts of the last two hours. The rocky giant towers above me, covered in snow and surrounded by a few clouds. I know this guy all too well, having come dangerously close via Chamonix in winter, but it is the first time I see this alpine landmark from this angle. Further east, the Matterhorn is peaking out of the clouds, accompanied by the unmistakable Weißhorn. Europe’s most impressive mountains at a glance – only in the Swiss Valais, or, more precisely, in Crans-Montana!
Passes over passes
After a fast descent we finally arrive back in the valley. The Rhone valley runs through almost the entire Valais. From here, cyclists are spoilt for choice: A total of 20 Alpine passes are within reach. Those who prefer it a little less extreme can stay in the valley and enjoy the alpine landscape and a little of that southern flair. Crans-Montana lies a few hundred metres above the valley floor and is the ideal starting point for some magnificent tours in the region. The ultimate tour is the Valais Velo Tour, a stage tour with over 740 kilometres and 18,500 metres of difference in altitude that can only be completed over several days. But there are also easy one-day tours. It takes, for example, less than an hour to get from the town centre to the highest passable point, the Col de Crans-Montana with breathtaking views of the village and the Rhone valley.
Through the wine labyrinth
We are, however, going up again now. After rolling down to the Rhone valley from Crans-Montana, we have to pedal up the mountain again. The gear shift lets our chain jump onto the lightest gear and up we go, working our way up, serpentine by serpentine. The last kilometres of our tour take us through the vineyards around Crans-Montana. Fruit and wine are the biggest economical factors in this region. In between there are small villages, their red clay roofs contrasting the lush green landscape. The many small side streets are hardly used, only now and then we meet an old tractor or a car that got lost in the labyrinth of vines.
Under the sun of the Valais
Besides the many passes and mountain roads, there is another plus to cycling in the Valais: The sun, because it shines particularly often around here. Even in autumn, when there is fog in the valley, late summer temperatures still prevail on the southern slopes of the region. And in spring, right after the skiing season, locals jump on their fine racing bikes for their first laps through the Swiss mountains.
And so we finally arrive at the hotel and can’t wait for a hearty dinner. Swiss raclette or the famous cheese fondue quickly bring our energy levels up again. And we will need it tomorrow, as we set out to conquer more steep passes around Crans-Montana.
Starting point: Plaine-Morte
Finishing point: Les Barzettes
Length: 39.7 km
Number of participants: 1-8
Equipment: racing bike, helmet, cycling attire, drinking bottle
Altitude covered: 1,100 metres ascent
Suited for: strong cyclists
Difficulty level: intermediate
What makes this tour appealing: nice tour over Col de Crans-Montana and the vineyards of the Valais
Challenges: long ascent from the valley back to Crans-Montana
Fun: 8 out of 10
Adventure: 7 out of 10
Text: Heiko Mandl // friendship.is
Photos: Heiko Mandl // friendship.is
Jan. 15, 2019