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10-07-2023 | Herman Nekkers

Chasing Cancellara: from B(ern) to A(ndermatt)

The set-up of the cyclo Chasing Cancellara: Bern-Andermatt differs from that of most other cyclo's. Bern-Andermatt and Zürich-Zermatt are basically very long individual time trials from A to B. Now, I'm still not that handy in a peloton and it's generally better for me if the race is longer, so it was time to give Bern-Andermatt a try. For those who give in to the drawbacks an absolute must!

Photo: Hotel Belvedere at the Furka Pass

So let me start with the points you just have to accept: the abnormal start time and the fact that you finish 210 kilometres (and 5000 altimeters) from the start. In fact, the first participants start as early as 03:30. That takes a little different planning and organisation than normal. As a result, I went to bed extremely early and at 01:30 I was gulping down a bowl of oatmeal with a healthy reluctance. It also meant that the participants rode in the dark for at least an hour. The early start has couple of reasons. First of all, it is simply easier to get the permits this way. In addition, there is very little traffic at that time of day which makes it a lot safer for the participants, especially Bern. Now I hear you thinking that riding in the dark does not sound very safe either, and that is of course true. But the organisation provides you with a reflective vest and a whole deck of reflective stickers for your wheels, frame, handlebars and saddle. In addition, the 40 motards illuminate the route and there are large flashing lights at dangerous and important points on the route. I had high hopes beforehand, but afterwards this was indeed very well organised.

Only one hour in the dark

Especially in good weather, the first starters also really only ride in the dark for an hour. The duos (this is also a category) who start an hour and a half later actually ride in the light. Weather is also an important argument for starting early. Thus, most of the participants ride most of the time in more pleasant temperatures. Incidentally, the organisation seems to have a subscription to bad weather (the 2022 edition was cancelled early and this year too, it was beautiful the day before and after, but on the day itself it rained cats and dogs every now and then).

And finally, the tour is so long and tough that this way everyone has a chance to come in at an acceptable time. And taking ample time to get in is no luxury. The first 100 kilometres are relatively flat, after 30 kilometres there starts a well-run 13-kilometre climb to Schwanden (4.2% average), but otherwise there are only minor obstacles. The second 100, however, start with the Grimselpass, an endless climb (26 kilometres) with some irregular sections averaging 6.2%. Anyone riding the shorter distance (170 kilometres) will go directly left up the Furkapass after the descent. At the top of this climb is the finish for this route, after which it is a gentle descent to Andermatt. The long route descended a little further before turning left onto the Nufenenpass: 13 kilometres at just under 8% average. For dessert, you climb up the Passo San Gottardo, just over 13.7 kilometres at just under 7% over the iconic cobblestones to the top. At the top, time stops and it's also downhill to Andermatt for the longest route.

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Dry clothes

The second thing to surrender to is that this means you don't stop where you started. For anyone who does not have a soigneur, friend or partner with a follow car with them, this is still tricky. But the organisation has also solved this well. First of all, you can give bags to the organisation for the checkpoints along the way and one for at the finish. Due to the bad weather, they even had an extra option for this. Ideal! When I arrived in Innertkirchen (the second checkpoint at the foot of the Grimsel), I had not yet stopped or one of the volunteers came running with my bag. With no denominator-worthy delay, but with my own water bottles (which I had put in the bag beforehand) and dry clothes, I was able to continue on up the Grimsel. On top of the Grimsel the same story, I had not yet stopped or was first given hot broth and then my second bag for dry and especially extra layers of clothing. And those extra layers were just as well. The descent to the Nufenenpass was wet, foggy and cold. During the extremely fast and long descent from the Nufenen to San Gottardo, it was even so wet and cold that I went down shivering. For a while I wondered whether it was still responsible to continue descending like that, but with a motard constantly in front of or behind me who indicated the route with hand signals and came riding next to me every few minutes to check if I was OK, I never felt unsafe.

Photo: the cobbles of the San Gottardo

Cycling mecca

If at all possible, I would mainly stay in the cycling mecca of Andermatt. You can book the hotel near the finish with a discount. If you want to get back to Bern, there is a shuttle bus that you can book separately. It does take a while for everyone to get in, but you can shower for free and go to the sauna after the finish. During the fine meal, there is plenty of time to exchange experiences. Then you board and are safely taken from A(ndermatt) to B(ern) again. I really had a top day (and night), the only thing missing was the sun. That's why I should go again next year.....…

For anyone who still wants to this year: from Zurich to Zermatt is possible in September (you'll start even earlier, start and finish even further apart).

Photos: Sportograf

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