Saturday, June 09, 2012

Little Giro -- from pass to pass

A short trip to Switzerland -- a epic cycling tour from pass to pass.

Wednesday, landing in Zürich around 10:33. Efficiently heading to the SBB railway travel counter to get all tickets needed in advance. Easy going with minimal carry on luggage only. Catching the train from Zürich airport to Rüschlikon via Zürich main station. Visit of former colleagues at the IBM Zurich research group - good to see most of them again. Always a great working atmosphere at this place. Thanks for hosting Py on his way. Heading on from Rüschlilon to Winterthur using the S8. Arriving on time around 19:00. Waiting for his cycling buddy Ben to pick him up for a ride to Trogen, Appenzell (how could I get this wrong as one of my favorite cheese is coming from Appenzell!!).

Happy to see Ben again and meeting his family in this gorgeous tiny village in a old but remodeled house typical for the region Appenzell (right here :-). Many thanks for hosting Py for the 1st night. Pasta dinner.

Final preparations:
Setting up the bike with pedals, saddle and computer, a nice Ti Lynskey road bike with an almost classic Campy Record 9 speed 12-25 compact he thinks it is.

Finishing the day with a little discussing of the route and the weather to be expected while having home made rhubarb cake. Packing all items as now finally decided on what exactly to take along ending up with these items packed into his favorite Dakine “drafter”back pack:

  • 3x Cliff bar, 3x Hammer Perpetuem just to get started each day, 2x whey for eventual post ride drink.
  • Arm and knee warmers, team jacket, Assos intermediate evo long sleeved Jersey, 2x socks. Packed in waterproof bags, as everything else to stay dry for sure. Shorts, short sleeved Jersey and light base layer, socks, gloves, helmet, road bike shoes on the rider. Computer/Garmin. Spare cable ties.
  • Post ride minimal outfit: ultra light shorts, boxer shorts, T-shirt, Flip-flops.
  • Miniature toiletries: toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, detergent, sunscreen, chamois crème, miniature deo, skin lotion, all in smallest possible package and quantity.
  • Phone, camera, wallet and passport.
  • Varying amounts of food as purchased or eaten on the way.
  • Tools/3x tube/CO2: shared. Ben was so kind to take care of those.
All together about 4kg plus the varying food items purchased on the way. All set and ready for the morning now, bed time. A good night sleep at about 1000m elevation. Müesli for breakfast.

Thursday, Day 1: Leaving a few minutes to 7am by car to the starting location near the train station Landquart (500m). Weather looking great for the first day, most likely the best day to be expected for the next few days. The radio guy was talking about a good “Föhn” situation what is a strong warm and gusty wind over the mountains. Expecting gusts of up to 80km/h at it's peak intensity – meaning headwind for us most the time.


Pumping up tires getting ready to roll at about 8am. Heading towards Chur they noticed a strong head/cross wind as expected. This Föhn wind is particular strong blowing into the valley. Just little hiding behind Ben plus the pack is not really enhancing aerodynamics. From Chur the first climb up to Lenzerheide (1550m) began. Starting with a pretty sustained 10% ramp and a first set of switchbacks, short steeps up to 12%. About 2/3 up leveling off to 5..8% with false flats... and as now less protected by the mountain additional headwind. Passing a few small villages before reaching the top and rolling into Lenz. Quick shopping, bananas and few biberli... For those who not know, water is always available endless and for free at public running water fountains in every village.

Putting on the long sleeved jersey for descending down into a very pretty valley at about 950m directly towards the start of the Albula pass on a very nice nearly traffic free road. But also the road climb is pretty and meeting/passing a few more cyclists on the way made it a little more interesting. There was a organized group of about 10 riders they got in between. Climbing up the Albula pass (2315m). Starting the climb together with Ben as usual for the first few switchbacks but at some point every one did his own climbing pace and Ben waited at the summit. However, they passed one rider, chatted for a moment... he was belonging to this group doing a 10 day supported "riding camp", he later caught up and was hanging on to Py.  And again followed by a quick descent into La Punt, Engadina, Switzerland and going for lunch. Very much needed for what still was to come!



Proceeding to the Bernina pass what is very famous for it's amazing railway build over this pass featuring looping tunnels and gorgeous via ducts...


Again putting on the long sleeved and wind protecting Jersey for the really long and fast descent into Tirano.


Following SS38 and Via Roma towards Mazzo di Valtellina finding the entrance (500m) to the Mortirolo Pass (1852m). This was going to be a challenge at km 160. Pretty much sustained 12% on average with sections longer 1..2km not easing up under 14% but ramping up to 20%. Py was wishing for at least one more gear... Not to mention standing up just about surviving trying to keep his shoulders as relaxed as possible still suffering from his crash not even 2 weeks ago. Diagnosed as a AC separation 2nd degree. Well excuses... but he had to stop once or was it twice?? for just a few seconds to grab a water what was hardly possible while climbing this way.


Any one knowing the Devils Kitchen climb in the Catskills, NY? Remove the few leveling off sections and take the steep part times 10 -- must be about a like.

Citing from there: “In May 2004, while training in Italian Alps, Lance Armstrong said that it was the hardest climb he had ever ridden.”

Winding up to the first switchbacks "tornante" which started with "tornante 33°". First a little wondering about the number but as the next one was labeled "tornante 32°",... Py realized the story. Near hiking speed at times grinding up this beauty of nearly traffic free small road nicely shaded by woods. May be one or two motorcycles passed him on the way and one car came down hill and he had to stop and step to the side of the road as it was too narrow to pass safely. He barely remembers how he made all the turns but this: He took every switchback at the most outward path where the gradient was little easing off for a few turns of the cranks. He dose remember a runner coming down greeting and saying appreciatively something like "almost done" and then the sign "tornante 3°" what felt like some relief, then shortly 2° and 1° and then finally his buddy coming into sight at the summit sign. He must have been waiting for some good time already, 20..30 minutes or such... You can try to check out on Strava the difference -- VAM (Vertical Ascent Meters / hour) about 907 for Ben and 705 for Py at this one.

Again preparing for the decent. A really great and in general very enjoyable descent if only his hands, neck and shoulders won't get into some discomfort after a while of descending... Some work not really used to! Part down little debating for at some albergo to move in but deciding to continue to reach the next bigger town.


Reaching Ponte di Legno with the last left over energy. Rolling up town along a roaring river to find a one star "bike" hotel.


Are they the only guests? -- it looked like.

Very tired, seeking for quick energy. Glad Ben had two Snickers left. Quick shower. Little rudimentary... Rinsing out the cycling shorts.

Late Dinner at the only open pizzeria restaurant, good dinner. Walking back up the road to the hotel, a quiet night, only the loud roaring river and a slight moist chill in the air.

Friday, Day 2:

Simple breakfast, coffee latte, plain rolls, butter, jelly. Walking up and down the stairs to there room at 2nd floor the legs felt a little heavy...

Dressing up, pants were still a little moist adding a brief chill for a few minutes only... Proceeding the journey as planned. Rolling out of town on a few cobbles. Pretty much dry but overcast so far and Neptune was good to us.

Heading towards the classic Gavia pass. One of the historic Giro del Italia passes, unpaved that time, not so today. Little tired riding along and hoping to get back into rythm... little destroyed by the hard and inefficient work (way too slow cadence) on the Mortirolo pass the previous day... Every part of the road beyond 12% felt like hell reminding on the day before. Py needs some distraction.

Finally, the road narrows, a family of hares (big bunnys) jumping over the road!


Winding up and leaving switchback by switchback behind, looking ahead. A longer flat looking but actually 8..10% climbing sections winding smoothly along side the mountains, several motorcycles passing. Almost no cars! Also a herd of sheep was around and later a mountain goat. Not hesitating to stop for a quick photo any time today, not in a mood to break records but just enjoy. Around 2000m the road and view opened up and the tree line was left behind.


With higher altitude it got more and more chilly and little wet/foggy while entering clouds. Passing a dark not illuminated tunnel was a little weird new experience of balance -- not seeing the other end at the beginning but a dark hole, scary with no lights... but the entrance shine of light let some reflectors or paint at the side and center glow a little in a fading away manner. Some how holding a line 2/3 to the right hoping not to run into anything. With further depth a little releave as a slight bend of the road (??) at this point allowed to see the other end -- just a bright white spot to hold on to, at some point the center mark of the road appeared again. Big piles of snow on the side on the other side.


Still a few more switch backs before reaching the summit and finding Ben again waiting for at least 20 minutes already as he was climbing at about 300m / hour faster this morning and did not stopped for any photo either. Dressing up for the decent again. OK, next time I may figure a way to take my bike with way lighter wheels and better matched up gearing.


Quite a awesome long descent into Bormio. Light rain setting in while shopping for snacks.


Heading on up up up again: up the famous Stevilo Pass what is luckily no so steep at all but features an impressive number of huge switchbacks in two major sets ramping up. A good number of short tunnels and Galleries. Light rain is getting more intense and with higher altitude it's getting pretty cold again -- stopping to put on 1st time knee warmers and the long sleeved jersey. 


Ben is taking his time advantage to scout of the last 300m climbing to the summit of Stelvio and told me it's really ugly and cold up there at 2700m and as he was shivering quite a bit I was not unhappy to just skip this (see the out and back above) for this trip and we descended into Switzerland via a few km of dirt road as part of the Umbrail Pass making a little bike wash in Santa Maria, Val Munstair  necessary.


From there "just" one more "small" pass, the Ofenpass (= Pass dal Fuorn) to Zernetz, only featuring a little 2nd climb to the end before rolling into Zernez. Nice it dried up again and except the shoes everything dried up by the arrival in Zernez!


Moving into a very nice hotel in Zernez, CH. Drying up shoes, washing bike closes. Coffee Creme and some Linzertorte as reward followed by a tasty dinner :-) Good day. 

Saturday, Day 3:

Starting with a excellent breakfast for the last part day or morning to return to Landquart. Nice clean and dry bike clothes this morning. But about 2/3 up on Fluela rain and icy wind started to set in and it got freezing cold... The last 300m up were getting tedious and cold with head wind on top of it all. Little warmup and a coffee in the summit lodge before hitting the downhill on wet roads -- this was going to be even worse then the climbing into head wind with wet cold feet and freezing fingers. The last descent from nearly 2400m in clouds, rain and wind was brutal cold and Py was shivering so much
that grabbing and holding on to the brakes with icy fingers before!! the next switchback put the front wheel/handlebar in a slight wobble -- very odd feeling. But good to know the more and the faster he drops elevation it will warm up! A little sketchy and no no fun navigating and controlling the bike at speeds up to 60..70km/h (think about the wind chill with all been wet!!) between switchbacks on wet roads with freezing cold feeling fingers on the break levers and no way to let off there for too long... Just tucking down and get out of there back into the next village Davos -- still nearly 1800m. The minor counter climb to Wolfgang almost was a re leave to warm up the system a bit! From then on just flying down hill though a number a villages on a moderate grade the last 30km back to the car.


Summary of the last day: Fluelapass back to Landquart, windy, very cold, wet for the first half, then warming up and drying up -- nice! Reaching the car closed were finally almost dried up! In 3 hours Zernez to Landquart.


One more Epic ride. Great climbing, personal records and a few environmental challenges. Some ride to remember for sure! Perfect planning by Ben again. What next??


  1. corrections:
    Trogen, Appenzell not SG
    la punt in engiadina, switzerland, not italy
    gavia: giro pass, not tdf

  2. Ohoh... I need to get there more often to not forget and confuse locations -- thx for correcting -- will fix!