Grand Raid Cristalp
From there on the route traces a jagged path through, over and round the mountains of the Valais region, with nothing even resembling a flat surface to be seen again.
The facilities are typically Swiss, and by that I mean well organised and efficient, with regular feed stations along the route. As always seems to be the case in the Alps, the support is immense, with people lining the route to cheer you on and show you a smile as you pass them; quite a marked difference from the surly and at times murderous car drivers I’m used to encountering on the Surrey and Kent Hills.
As the hours ticked by fatique slowly set in. I lost my saddle bag on the first descent and spend a while scouring the edge of the mountain, getting worked up about it and running around the undergrowth like a extra in The Hobbit. Ross whizzed past; my thoughts wandered. I talked to a tough looking French guy who ranted in a very Gallic way about the Swiss riders who just couldn’t descend like real men. He complained about the amount of fire road and even tarmac climbs, and lack of prolonged technical sections.
On this point I have to agree; whilst there were some superb views and the odd technical section (in particular the brutal rocky section before you descend into Evolene) much of the route is on mountain forest roads which offer little by way of technical rigour.
And at the sections that were steep or technical I have never seen so many people carrying bikes down a trail that is ripe for riding down. As soon as things got even remotely technical the field slowed up and you would find yourself stuck in traffic. In fact, it got a bit silly at times, with long unpassable queues of guys in lycra carrying beautiful carbon bikes on their shoulders. Surely the whole point of slogging your guts up a mountain is to be able to test your metal on the way down?
So my plan of making up time downhill was not quite working out, but I guess that will teach me for not being in better shape for the climbs; and what a lot of climbing there was. After 6 hours, I couldn’t get the phrase “death by a thousand cuts” out of my mind. It’s not just the meters gained, or even the gradients, which at times were pretty seriously steep, but more the sheer number of climbs that take it out of you.