Jean-Marie Henckaerts


The 5 most beautiful gran fondos of Switzerland

In the poll organized by Cycloworld in October 2020, it appeared that the majority of readers would prefer to discover Switzerland as a cycling country. And let that be my home country since 1996.... Thanks to the three grand tours, a number of cycling regions in those countries have become very well known and many have conquered the famous cols especially in France [which the pros admittedly climb twice as fast]. The Tour of Switzerland has so far been less frequently seen on TV and Switzerland is therefore less well known as a cycling country. But this seems to be changing slowly. Along with the Dauphiné, The Tour of Switzerland has become the pre-preparatory race for the Tour for half the peloton. Moreover, next to the Swiss Alps, there are other regions and mountain ranges that offer interesting gran fondos in beautiful areas. Those will be covered next time. First, let's start with our 5 top gran fondos in the Swiss Alps. In chronological order.

1. Säntis Classic (30-5)

With 130 km and 1800 meters of climbing, the Classic Tour is an excellent start for the summer season. Not too much, not too little, but just enough to get the legs used to the elevation. That's the plan yours truly, who has signed up for this event. The departure and arrival are in Weinfelden, canton Thurgau, near the Lake of Constance (Bodensee in German). From Weinfelden it goes in the direction of the canton of Sankt Gallen and Appenzell to cycle over the highest point - the Schwägalp (at 1350 m) - with a view of the Säntis massif. From there it gradually goes back down towards Weinfelden. For marathon cyclists, there is also a Radlathon of 200 km with 2200 meters of elevation. Personally, I find that a bit too much so early in the year. But there is something for everyone.

Picture Jean-Marie Henckaerts

2. Alpen Challenge Lenzerheide (13-06)

Start and finish are in the ski resort of Lenzerheide, canton of Graübunden (Grisons in French). The short course is not exactly short; since it contains 119 km and 2718 m over the Albula Pass (2315 m) and the Julier Pass (2284 m). The grand tour is no less than 194 km and 4235 meters. Thus it immediately belongs to the most difficult Alpine gran fondos. After the Albula pass you continue to the Maloja pass (1815 m) in order to ride into Italy in Chiavenna, after which you climb steeply again in order to ride back to Switzerland over the Splügen pass (2114 m). A cross-border event with breathtaking mountain scenery. These passes are known as the most photogenic in the world.

3. Marmotte Gran Fondo Valais (07-08)

This is the newest member of the famous Marmotte series, of which the original gran fondo with arrival in Alpe d'Huez is of course the best known. But this version in the Swiss canton of Valais (Valais in German) makes every effort to offer an attractive program and course and has therefore had great appeal since the first edition. In 2021, one departs from Châble and arrives in Verbier (which lies above Châble) so logistically it is now a lot easier than the previous editions (departure in Crans-Montana and arrival in Verbier). The difficulty of this gran fondo lies in constantly cycling uphill to ski resorts and back down into the valley, and up again, so there is little time to recuperate between the different climbs. The classic distance is the Marmotte Granfondo with 133 km and 4700 meters. That's 700 meters more over 60 km less distance than, for example, the Alpen Challenge Lenzerheide. Relatively high level of elevations per kilometer, which makes it a difficult gran fondo. There is also the medio fondo of 74 km and 2850 meters which is also a lot of climbing for such a short distance. For the real powerhouses there is a novelty this year, the ultra fondo Everest where you cover no less than 242 km and conquer the height of Mount Everest, 8848 meters. This requires specific preparation and some serious perseverance.

4. Engadin Radmarathon (04-07)

Another pearl in the Alps. Start and finish are in Zernez, Graübunden (Grisons in French). La Cuorta is 97 km and 1325 meters. From Zernez it goes via the Ofen pass (2149 m) towards Livigno in Italy. Via the Forcolapass (or Livignopass, 2315 m) you ride back into Switzerland. This is followed quite quickly by the Bernina Pass (2328 m) and then back towards Zernez. La Lungo is 214 km and 3827 meters. This course follows the same route as La Cuorta but at the crossing in Zernez you continue over the Flüela Pass (2282 m) and the Albula Pass (2315 m) before returning to Zernez. La Lunga thus makes a double loop, or an 8-shaped course, around Zernez.

5. Alpenbrevet (04-09)

With start and arrival in Andermatt, canton of Uri. Andermatt is located at a crossroads between several cols and the cantons of Bern, Valais, Ticino and Graübunden allowing it to offer several variants: Platinum: 5 cols (Susten, Grimsel, Nufenen, Lukmanier and Oberalp), 268 km and 6800 meters. For the enthusiast. Gold: 4 cols (Furka, Nufenen, Lukmanier and Oberalp), 206 km and 5100 m. This is the classic of the Alpine Brevet with a renewed course this year. It is also one of the most difficult gran fondos of this list. Silver: 3 cols (Furka, Nufenen and Gotthard), 103 km and 3190 m. The right challenge for the novice alpine cyclist. Bronze: 2 cols (Nufenen and Gotthard, start is in Obergoms), 59 km and 2190 m. With start and finish in a different place, this is not so easy logistically. During the Alpenbrevet you climb some of the highest cols in Europe: the Furkapass (2429 m) and the Nufenenpass (2478 m), and some of the longest: Lukmanier Pass (Passo di Lucomagno in Italian, 1915m with as much as 40 km of ascent [ where yours truly experienced one of his most difficult cycling moments in the summer of 2015 in the heat of the afternoon in Ticino), Susten Pass (2224 m, 28 km of ascent), Grimsel Pass (2164, 25 km of ascent), and Oberalp Pass (2044 m, 21 km).

Foto (Jean-Marie Henckaerts): Sustenpas 

In addition, the Gotthard Pass (2107 m) is one of the most beautiful and enjoyable cols, with an old cobblestone road at the end. An alternative takes place on July 25, 2021, the Gran fondo San Gottardo, departing and arriving in Airolo in canton Ticino (Tessin in French) with the Gotthard, Furka and Nufenen on the program. These are the same cols as the Alpenbrevet Silver but in a different order, from easiest to most difficult. Also a good challenge if you haven't done a gran fondos in the Alps yet.

After the corona year 2020 in which, except for the Marmotte Valais, the above events did not take place, these gran fondos are planned for the time being and we hope for all organizers, sponsors and cycling enthusiasts that they can take place this year. We wish all participants lots of fun and success!

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