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29-06-2022 | Frank Jansen

Nova Eroica Switzerland: where wine and gravel meet

You probably know Nova Eroica from the retro event of the same name in Tuscany. However, this organization also has numerous other events, most of which do not have a retro character. CycloWorld was at the start of Nova Eroica Switzerland, a semi-gran fondo for gravel bikes from Sion, Switzerland.

Scorching heat

It was clear beforehand that the heat wave that plagued large parts of Europe last week would be the big enemy. The organization took the wise decision to advance the start for the long distance (109 km / 2400m+) to 7:30. The medio fondo (75 km / 950m+) also started an hour earlier.

Relaxed atmosphere

The first thing you notice is the extremely relaxed atmosphere. At the start it is a cozy bunch. All 140 participants of the long distance easily fit into one section. The participants consist of a motley collection of gravel enthusiasts: from fashionistas to hard hitters to gravel hipsters to bike packers. Most of them with tires so between 40 and 50 mm.

Photo: a relaxed atmosphere at the start.

Tough course

The course consisted of a mix of basically everything you can (just barely) do on a gravel bike. Flat sections, steep climbs on asphalt and gravel, but also forest paths and steep hike a bike sections of sometimes more than 25%. In addition, a long and wonderfully fast descent on asphalt but also tricky technical and sometimes very steep unpaved descents.

Photo: the gravel climb to Leukerbad.

On the way, your time was measured on 3 sections: one shorter climb of 2.5 km, and two longer ones of about 10 km. This "semi-GF" format allowed for relaxed riding in between, and plenty of time to cool off, enjoy the scenery, or just chat with one of the mostly Swiss participants.

Raclette and wine

The 5 feed stations on this tour are also worth mentioning. Besides the usual sweets, a wide variety of (local) products was available, including raclette, risotto, broth and meat. At some of them you could even taste wine. This is of course no coincidence: the Valais region (Wallis in German) produces over 35% of all Swiss wine.

From and to Sierre, you're constantly riding right through the vineyards, often over gravel roads used by the winegrowers. These roads are often not in the best condition, so the participants were both physically and technically challenged. Occasionally it was at the limit of what a gravel bike can handle. But this certainly gave the tour something special.

Another big advantage of the endless vineyards was that there were taps everywhere where you could get some water to cool down. Because the second part of the course, the announced heat obviously hit hard - the temperature was heading towards 35 degrees in the shade.

Good legs

I can say about my own participation that I had a great time, partly due to good legs. Even at the end I still had enough power, in the wheel of the later winner Bruno Morel (FR). On the last climb I did activate my "heat plan": one bottle was sacrificed to throw over the body. That worked great. The result was not important to me, but eventually I became 52nd. Afterwards I would have liked a lighter gear than my 40x42. At the finish there was plenty of opportunity for a nice after-dinner drink, complete with beach chairs, water sprays for cooling, a pasta meal, a beer, all with musical accompaniment.

Photo: fine after-party.

Gorgeous cycling region

This trip is excellent to combine with other rides in this fantastic region. For example, the day before we rode up the wonderful Col du Sanetsch. But that's just one of the many options. Also a ride to Lac de Moiry or Lac de Tseuzier is a good option from Sion. The climbs to the ski resorts of Verbier and Veyzonnas also start from Sion. Another nearby ski resort (Crans Montana) also offers great opportunities for round trips. That's a really good place to set up camp, by the way.

Our location Sion (the capital of Valais) turned out to be not only a great base, but also a beautiful city with plenty of restaurants, hotels and terraces. The Swiss have a reputation for being rather reserved, but in our opinion this certainly doesn't apply to the Balaisans who, without exception, were very friendly. Valais has won our hearts!

+ Superb and challenging course
+ Fantastic environment
+ Very relaxed atmosphere
+ Sion is a nice town
+ Enough cycling options in the area
+ Travel distance
- Signposting could be better
- No sport drinks at the feed station

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