• Switzerland is picture perfect. (Images by Steve Thomas)Source: Images by Steve Thomas
As the Tour de Romandie sets off Steve Thomas takes us on a ride around his one time hunting ground, the Valais region of the Swiss Alps.
Steve Thomas

Cycling Central
25 Apr 2017 - 11:54 AM 

Romandie (Romandy) takes up the north-western corner of Switzerland and is often referred to as the French-speaking part of the country.

In all just under 25 per cent of the population live here (the majority are on the German speaking side). To say the surrounding Alpine scenery here is jaw dropping is no understatement, and the riding (on and off road) also lives up to that highest of Swiss standards.

The annual Tour de Romandie is a true Swiss treat of a race with a bit of Australian topping. It is very hilly, often lashed with heavy rain, and traditionally ends up with a hilly ITT through the streets of Lausanne, where Cadel Evans has triumphed twice and Phil Anderson once.

The race is an undoubted form pointer for the impending Tour de France, with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome both having taken victory on their way to the Tour glory. Last year it was Nairo Quintana who stole the show and this year Australian eyes will be on BMC's Richie Porte as he looks to emulate his now retired countrymen.

Tour de Romandie next for Porte
Richie Porte continues his march to the Tour de France with the 25 - 30 April Tour de Romandie next on his stage racing calendar.

This year the race starts in Aigle (home of the UCI), which is in the Valais region of Romandie and is also predominantly French speaking (German is spoken at the sharp end of the valley). The Valais is famous for its white wines, ski resorts, and cheesy foods.

Having lived nearby and trained on these spectacular and mountainous roads for two years I hardly ever travelled more than 50km or so from home base at Sion but spend a week or so exploring other roads and rides in the valley, and on its steep sides.

Although there’s some great riding both north and south of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman), the serious riding is spliced in between the town of Aigle and the Simplon Pass, at the opposite end of the flat-bottomed valley of the Valais.

A huge freeway carves its way down through the middle of the valley, but there are plenty of side options for good and traffic light riding, even along the valley base. A weeklong loop around this valley would make for a superb and easy to arrange place-to-place tour. The northern valley side is painted with terraced vineyards, which are all served by steep and narrow roads, perfect for riding.

Dip further into the hills and you’ll find an endless selection of epic climbs up to the various ski resorts, most of which are around 8-12km in length and feature regularly in the Tour de Romandie and also in the Tour de Suisse, although this year the route largely flanks the north of the region.

Unlike many of their French cousins, many of these climbs can also be looped and make for good circular single day rides. There are numerous link roads traversing the mountains between the resorts, and outside of weekends most of these roads are also super-quiet during the summer months.

I’d also planned on heading across the border into France for a week of riding, but it was just too good in the Valais so I decided to stay a little while longer, exploring the easily accessible slopes of the Col des Mosses (the Queen stage of the 2017 Tour de Romandie, which passes through on the way to a summit finish in Leysin) and beyond.

There really can’t be too many places to match the Valais for guaranteed great riding. If only Swiss life was a little cheaper, you could easily settle on a mountainside and ride these dream routes forever.

In the main valley, the routes through the vineyards between Aigle and Sion are superb, and the route besides the Rhone makes for a great easy ride.

For other major climbs head to Col des Mosses, Leysin and the Col de la Croix (from Aigle), the ski towns of Anzere and Crans Montana or the climbs to Evolene, Grimentz and Nendaz on the south side of the valley.

There are some superb cycling-specific maps to the region too (Kummerly+Frey “Suisse” being a very good map), which are easily available locally. Most local towns also have free route maps, and there are even marked road routes all through the Valais, it really is hard to go wrong.