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Cycling from Geneva to Milan: a diary of day 1, Geneva to Sierre

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Cycling from Geneva to Milan: a diary of day 1, Geneva to Sierre

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Day 1 feat

July 9th, 2015

Today’s account follows yesterday’s travels and wanderings (see the Prologue). A great day of cycling in Switzerland and France (then Switzerland again!) to start the trip. Lakes, mountains, hills, espressos and chamois butter…

Planned / actual:

Mileage: 96.2 / 100.5

Elevation (ft): 5767.7 / 3257.9

Geneva to Milan elevation and route

The riders congregated in a shaded courtyard near where the Rhône joins Lake Geneva.

Initial conversations were about degrees of readiness of each others’ muscles, constitutions, and undergarments. There was a sprinkling of inevitable and innuendo-laden chamois cream banter.

Bike tags and jerseys were issued, all emblazoned with names to negate awkward introductions.

Lots of looking at bikes

Image by Steve Reynolds

The crew officially introduced themselves:

  • Smudge: chief mechanic, bike fitter by trade
  • John: ex-triathlete, owner of a spinning dungeon
  • Emma: cycling enthusiast with a penchant for hilly sportives
  • Christina: professional celeb entertainer with a taste for innuendo

Then, with introductions complete and bags loaded into the van, we hit the road.

John led us along out of the city, via the shore of the wonderfully picturesque Lake Geneva. The smell of the sea (even though it’s a freshwater lake..!) accompanied the endless commuters on their bikes and scooters. It felt generally healthy and clean, and set a good tone for the trip ahead.

Mountains were on the horizon all morning, their various peaks keeping the daunting climbs we’d yet to face fresh at the front of our minds. They’d be our riding buddies all the way until the afternoon of day 4.

As the group got used to riding together, roadside etiquette lessons took place. Regional variations in gestures and calls were settled: should you point at or shout about hazards in the road? Or wave at them with jazz hands? And is the call for a car coming towards you “car down” or “car forward”? From behind, “car up” or “car back”? Or do you just yell ‘CAR!’ and watch everyone get flustered as they try and spot it?

A rhythm established itself and we made the first refreshment stop in good time – espressos all round!

The snack box made its first appearance at this stop: bananas, sweets, water and energising powders to top up our energy levels. (This would continue to be an especially popular part of the day.)

I’d brought a kilo of flapjack with me on the ride which I augmented with snacks whenever possible. The plan was to avoid bonking by filling every pocket at every opportunity. It worked!

Lunch Lake Geneva

A pasta lunch under a canopy


Saint-Gingolph, across the lake

At lunch, the first snowcapped peak became visible on the horizon: another ominous reminder of tomorrow’s rowdy elevation profile.

Occasionally roadworks would force us to deviate from the planned route. At one of these stops, a builder shouted “la gauche!” at us while we were searching for directions. I forgot that it meant “go left!” in French, and thought he was calling us unsophisticated and socially awkward.

Mild fear set in as we turned each corner, too. The elevation profile for the day showed the post-lunch ride to be entirely uphill, but in reality it was barely noticeable. No one had looked at the scale bar: we only climbed around 600 feet over 60 miles which is laughably small.

A small hiccup in the afternoon saw us beat the support crew to the afternoon refreshment stop, and continue 2 miles up the road before we realised we’d overshot the stop. We had to turn around and go back to get our caffeine and sugar fix – although it turned out to be a fortuitous mistake as most people were planning to cycle around the block a few times on arrival at the hotel to bump the day’s mileage up to 100.

Most of the afternoon’s riding followed a river that wound down through a valley, lined on both sides by mountains. Apples, cherries, grapes, corn, maize (are they the same thing?), strawberries and sunflowers were growing. It was beautiful to ride through, and felt like an area that could happily sustain itself.

The view in the valley

Around 6pm we hit the final corner, and the hotel was visible for the last half mile or so: a beer-giving beacon to motivate us on the final stretch.

After 100 miles pints and showers were both welcomed (although there was some understandable grumbling from the maître d as sweaty cyclist after sweaty cyclist tried to pay with the wrong currency).

Dinner matched the 1970s décor of the hotel: melon and ham for starter, tinned fruit cocktails for dessert, all served by a Manuel-esque waiter. Everyone recounted the day’s ride and sheepishly discussed tomorrow’s, then headed to bed for well-earned sleep.

Click here for day 2!

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