Book A Cycling Tour
Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on Google Plus Share on LinkedIn Share on Email
Cycling from Geneva to Milan: a diary of day 2, Sierre to Airolo

Cycling Blog

Cycling from Geneva to Milan: a diary of day 2, Sierre to Airolo

Tweet This
Share This
Day 2 feat

July 14th, 2015

Day two of the trip saw us continue along the valley we mentioned in part 1, up the river, gradually approaching the formidable Nufenen Pass which would be our crossing over the Alps. 

Planned / actual mileage and elevation (feet) for the day:

72.3mi / 74.5mi & 9970.5ft / 8638.5ft

And the map:

Geneva to Milan elevation and route

A ringing phone in my hotel room woke me up, and I knew straight away what had happened.

I’d overslept after accidentally setting my alarm for 7pm. Everyone else was fed and ready, waiting for me in the car park downstairs.

I felt like an absolute chump.

Christina grabbed me some stuff from the breakfast buffet which I crammed into myself as quickly as possible, guaranteeing indigestion for the first few miles.

Then we headed out onto the first proper hills of the ride, which took us up through the vineyards lining much of the nearby hillside.

Down the hill

Up the hill

img by Steve Reynolds

A hiccup with the Strava route led us to a gravel section which was unsuitable for anything other than mountain bikes, so we swung round and took a smoother route that took us along the river (it’s all part of the adventure!).

The mountain-lined riverside path was punctuated briefly by a tour of the industry of the valley, an aesthetic labelled as ‘picturesque sh*thole’ by one of the riders.

After the morning refreshment break, the serious uphill sections began. 10% gradients and hairpin turns wound us up the sides of the mountains we’d been skirting so far; a train-track was winding around up there too – probably the second best way to see the area (after cycling!).

Alternating villages of chocolate-box houses and hair-raising tunnels provided an interesting contrast on this section of the ride. When your eyes are used to blaring sunshine, the first few seconds in a tunnel leave you quite disorientated!

Also during this section, the road signs had also switched to German without anybody noticing. This happened again in the afternoon with Italian, and was the source of much confusion about which country we were actually in (luckily the Ride25 pocket maps provided the answers).

We ate lunch a few miles before the ominous Nufenen Pass (or Nurofen Pass, as people had began aptly calling it). I’m not exaggerating when I say that this climb had been weighing on my mind since I first started writing for the Ride25 blog, so the lunch (or the last supper) of pasta Napolitana was accompanied by a knot of nerves in my stomach.

Hills on the horizon

Beautiful, portentous views

The stretch from lunch to Ulrichen (the village of the base at the pass) felt like purgatory. Two church’s bells rang as we cycled past – a sign which, along with the various statues of Jesus scattered about, seemed to be a last minute invitation for us to atone for our sins and be spared the hellish climb ahead: 3,635 feet of climbing in 8 miles, with an average gradient around 11.5%.

Heading up the pass

img by Steve Reynolds

On the way up there were plenty of distractions from the pedalling: vintage cars from the ’40s or ’50s were driving down the hill, their drivers donning old fashioned driving hats and gloves. Snow-banks became increasingly frequent, and bizarrely, daddy long-legs had stuck themselves onto them (probably involuntarily?). The views were incredible in every direction.

Then, on the final hairpin, after 90 minutes of constant climbing, a svelte guy in a Swiss flag jersey appeared, saying “doing vell, uh!” as he powered past. I think he waits there, just out of sight, so he can sprint past all the visiting cyclists and leave a lingering image of Swiss excellence in their heads as they reach the peak.

Then we finally saw the sign I thought I’d never see:

Nufenenpass sign

It was a real privilege climbing the pass, especially after the months of dread (it should be noted that I am exaggerating for comic effect, but only just). Learning good climbing technique from Emma definitely helped, as did occasionally refreshing ourselves by dunking our heads in the streams of melt-water from the snowdrifts.

Flags atop the pass

They had beer inside!

As every cyclist knows: what goes up must come down. We absolutely stormed the final 10 miles of descent into Italian Switzerland. We’d moved from French to German to Italian since breakfast.

Night 2 was spent in a wonderful hotel in Airolo, and sleep came more easily than the night before, especially after seeing tomorrow’s almost entirely downhill elevation graph!

Leave a Reply

Sign Up For Updates

* indicates required