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Swiss rides: Vaud-Lake Geneva region

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6 Feb 2018
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There are surely few places more fitting to begin a ride out of Lausanne than the Olympic Museum.

A collaboration between Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez and Swiss architect Jean-Pierre Cahen, this striking building was named European Museum of the Year in 1995, just two years after its conception, and today houses the largest collection of Olympic artefacts in the world.

It’s a true totem to sporting endeavour, but like so many buildings in this area it runs the risk of being upstaged by its own view.

Opposite are the opaque waters of Lake Geneva, so still this morning as to appear like blue china.

To tear ourselves away and focus on the journey that lies ahead to the wineries of Aigle is a difficult business, but my legs feel emboldened when I’m told that aside from its wineries, Aigle is also home to the UCI headquarters. That I have to see.

This information is supplied by Luca Gadotti, a seasoned guide from the Grand Tours Project, a cycling tour operator that specialises in giving amateurs the chance to ride Grand Tour stages just hours ahead of the professionals. The man’s legs look suitably seasoned too.

Taking our leave of Lausanne we head east and within a few kilometres our tyres are rumbling over the cobbled streets of Lutry, a town still very much asleep in the cool morning air.

Yesterday was the closing night of its Grape Harvest Festival, in which a significant amount of the previous years’ vintages are imbibed.

Luca, who also moonlights as a wine seller, explains that Lutry is the gateway to the Lavaux vineyards.

Drystone walls hem the road that twists and turns through impossibly steep – and impossibly neat – vineyards with a few eager workers already picking their way through the vines.

The unmistakeably heady musk of grape hangs in the air, creating an experience so immersive that I almost forget I’m pedalling a bike – until, that is, Luca suddenly yells, ‘Coffee!’

We’ve arrived just in time for the opening of one of his favourite spots, Le Deck, which as the name implies is a terrace perched high over the Lake to give spectacular views of Mont Blanc, today wonderfully conspicuous in the clear skies. 

It also marks a turning point, as from here we swing north, and it’s as if we’ve left the beach and headed for the hills.

It’s unquestionably warmer here, the grass is more green and lining the roads are copses of trees whose leaves are beginning their own journey towards a deep, fiery red as autumn approaches.

I want to ride my bicycle

On the outskirts of Attalens we reap the rewards of a steady ascent since leaving the shores of Lake Geneva, hunkering down in the drops through a series of lazy switchbacks that roll back down to its edge.

We pick our way through the narrow streets of Vevey before coming to the foot of what will be the queen climb of the day, Blonay to L’Alliaz, a 5km, 7% knuckle on the scenic route to Montreux.

Again the landscape changes, and we can add ‘Alpine’ to the list of environments we’ve pedalled through. The trees are changing colour almost before our eyes, like vast yellowing stems of brocolli.

Luca explains that in the spring large swathes of mountainside turn snow-white under a carpet of narcissus flowers, giving rise the expression ‘la neige de printemps’ – the May snow.

Another superb example of Swiss road engineering flings us back and forth as we wind our way downwards and into Montreux, where we stop to pay our respects to the statue of Freddie Mercury, who became one of Montreux’s most famous adopted sons, recording seven albums at Queen’s Mountain Studios nearby before settling here in his latter years.

The shoreline road is suitably busy given the multiple attractions the region has to offer, which include the Château de Chillon, much of which dates back to the 11th century.

But we only stop for a few moments to admire it. We have work to do before reaching the UCI.

Wine makes it fine

The final throes of our ride in many ways echo its opening. Mountains loom up in the background with arable lands in their lee.

Our garish Lycra jars against the lush surrounds, which is possibly why we are hailed down by a group of farmers, who are taking a break from harvest by drinking some of last year’s spoils at the side of the road. Genially they offer us both a glass. And then another…

Thus with warm heads we zip back down through the rush of green vines and grey stone walls and on to Aigle, where the UCI HQ awaits, another totem of impressive form to cement an equally impressive day out.

 

 

Around the lake

Trace the outline of Lake Geneva from Lausanne to Aigle, with one or two diversions along the way

• To download this route, go to cyclist.co.uk/swissrides5

With the Olympic Museum on your left, head out of Lausanne along the shore road, through Paudex and Lutry before making a left onto Route de la Petit Corniche.

Follow the road for 12km until you reach Le Deck restaurant at Le Baron Tavernier hotel. After coffee, head north on route 140 through Puidoux-Gare, taking a right at the sign for Palézieux.

Pass through Les Thioleyres, take a right at the roundabout signposted Vevey then head south through Bossonnens, Attalens and towards Vevey. Follow signs to Saint-Legier-La Chiesaz and Blonay.

Take the Route de l’Alliaz northeast, which makes a half turn at the summit then segues into the Route du Vallon, heading south and down to Montreux via Chamby.

Hug the coast to Villeneuve before following signs for Roche, Versvey and Yvorne. From Yvorne there is plenty of signage to take you to Aigle and the UCI HQ (directions for which will appear on separate brown signs, you can’t miss them).

 

The rider’s ride

BMC Teammachine SLR01 Ultegra Di2 | £5,599 | bmc-switzerland.com

Founded in 1994, BMC quickly established itself as the premium Swiss bike brand, investing heavily in research, development and the sponsorship of a pro team that won the Tour de France in 2011 with Cadel Evans.

BMC has also taken team time-trial wins, road race World Championships and numerous mountain bike and Ironman World Championships.

The bike featured here is BMC’s redesigned flagship, the Teammachine SLR01 Disc. With the help of a Swiss supercomputer, engineers were able to test 18,000 virtual iterations of the bike in order to dial in the key handling characteristics and low weight of its forebear while incorporating disc brakes, stiffening up the front end and further integrating cables, bars, stem and seat clamp for a cleaner, more aerodynamic 

The Teammachine SLR01 Disc therefore continues in its predecessor’s highly adept, sharp handling footsteps, but has upped its descending prowess thanks to the addition of discs, and also increased rider comfort thanks to tweaked carbon layups and clearance for wider tyres.

The result is one of the most accomplished disc brake bikes on the market.

See BMC Switzerland's website for more

 

How we did it

Travel

We flew from the UK to Geneva with SWISS (swiss.com), where prices start from £78 return with cabin bags, or around £115 with 23kg hold luggage that can include a bike.

On our arrival in Switzerland we hired a van to cart our bikes and gear around from Hertz (hertz.com), which was expertly driven by Mr Jacques Tombet.

Accommodation

For our first night we stayed in Lausanne, at the 4-star Hotel Carlton (carltonlausanne.com), then for our second we overnighted in Montreux at the 3-star Tralala Hotel (tralalahotel.ch).

Both towns have a vast array of hotels to suit all tastes and budgets, however as a general rule, expect to pay more the closer you are to Lake Geneva.

Destination

The Lake Geneva Region needs little introduction. One of the largest, most picturesque bodies of water in Europe, Lake Geneva has long been a popular tourist destination thanks to vast waterfronts, superb restaurants, local wineries and arguably Switzerland’s most famous annual event, the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Set up in 1967, this fortnight-long extravaganza has hosted everyone from Chuck Berry to Pink Floyd to BB King and each year attracts more than 200,000 people from all over the world.

One of its most famous residents, Freddie Mercury, who spent the last years of his life in Montreux, is commemorated with a bronze statue on the Montreux waterfront boulevard.

Queen recorded seven albums at Mountain Studios, which they bought in 1979 and which can be visited today as part of Queen The Studio Experience (see mercuryphoenixtrust.com for more details).

If comedy is more your thing, it’s worth noting that Vevey became home to Charlie Chaplin in 1953, and his house, the Manoir de Ban, has now been converted to a living museum dedicated to the comedian (see chaplinsworld.com).

• Discover more about cycling in Switzerland at myswitzerland.com/roadcycling