Cycling in Switzerland: Set your own pace on a Swiss sportive

The new Etape Suisse takes a more relaxed approach to the Alpine cycling event. Susannah Osborne pedals off on a preview

Every cycling event has a clutch of competitive riders barging their way to the front and racing to the line. And I'm usually one of them. Imagine my annoyance then, when after around two hours of meditative tapping on my pedals, focused on being the first to the 2,315-metre summit of the Albula Pass (one of the highest roads in Switzerland), a mountain biker riding at 25kmph overtakes me.

"What?" I shout impulsively at the rider. But my annoyance soon turns to laughter at the comic speed at which she's going – it's like watching Dick Darstardly's Mean Machine fly past. "She's got an engine on that," I pant, which, as it turns out, isn't too far from the truth.

This September sees the first Etape Suisse, an Alpine sportive that aims to welcome cyclists of all abilities and their families, including those who prefer to use electronic, or e-bikes to get to the top of the mountain passes – as well as those who prefer not to ride at all.

For the purists, who want to do it the traditional, two-wheeled way, there are two options: an 80km One Pass Tour and a 120km Two-Pass Challenge. Think of them as "hard" and "harder", if you will. Compared with other cycle sportives, such as the mammoth Marmotte or the Etape du Tour, the vertical challenge and the distance covered in the Etape Suisse are relatively low. but that's the point: the aim of this sportive is to leave you nicely tired, rather than brutally shattered.

Back on the road and I'm still a little put out that I've been knocked off my podium, nevertheless the scenery goes some way to make up for it. Winding its way towards the Engadin Valley, the Albula Pass is a breathtaking road with views to rival Italy's Stelvio, or France's Col du Glandon.

We started our first climb just outside the village of Tiefencastel after a meandering descent from Davos – a town better known for hosting the world's brightest economists than Tour-winning cyclists, but one with masses of two-wheeled potential. While passing lush meadows peppered with bright, wild mountain flowers the gradient is initially relatively shallow. Here the road runs parallel to the stunning Albula Railway, a Unesco-approved narrow-gauge route that spins up and over the pass through a series of loop tunnels and viaducts.

It's at this point that some serious hairpins start to wind the gradient up to 12 per cent on the road. I find my granny gear and we roll on, skirting a deep gorge between the villages of Filisur and Bergün before entering the Albula Valley. Once we're in the valley the ride gets a little easier but the scenery is no less dramatic; there are lakes, forests and centuries-old hamlets – the original film version of Heidi, a silent movie, was shot near here. Nevertheless, it's still a 10km grind to the top, which forces me to dig deep into my mental reserves.

The summit is a patchwork of snowy banks and rusty-brown alpine tundra where the motorised cyclists are relaxing in the midday sun looking fresh as daisies. The dead straight road cuts through the imposing landscape taking on the appearance of an airstrip before it funnels you down into the lower Engadin Valley in a series of fast, tight, winding hairpins.

From here, we roll along the flat valley bottom to lunch at Hotel Cadonau, a 450-year-old hostelry pitched just above the River Inn and below the high mountain passes of the Graubünden region. Under a cloudless summer sky, I dip a toe in the spring-water organic pool. It's one of those places that makes you want to sell up and move to the mountains.

And it's here that cyclists can decide to have a quick fuel stop, courtesy of Anton Mosimann (this is a luxury ride, after all), or to put the bike to bed and settle down for a long, lazy mountain lunch and get a bus home. It's not about quitting, though. This is where the Etape Suisse is a little different; you don't have to do anything, other than enjoy the experience.

Those that do want to get back in the saddle can tackle the Two-Pass Challenge and head to the 13.5km Flüela Pass, which starts with a series of steep ramps. It's a tough opening ascent from the town of Susch to the summit at 2,383 metres and is a fearsome climb, with the jaggedy summit of Flüela Wisshorn dominating the views.

The drop in temperature makes the thrilling descent a little chilly and in the absence of a newspaper to stuff down my top pro-style, I have professional cyclist lend me a long-sleeved jersey instead (I've spent the day riding with members of the Wiggle-Honda women's cycling team, the one that Laura Trott rides with, who have spare kit.)

We've been spoilt with one of the best day's weather I've ever had in the Alps. Back in Davos the late afternoon sky is still cloudless, and the sun still delicately warm. With social events and spa treatments on offer it's been a great day for the non-cyclists too. In the four- and five-star hotels of Davos the talk at the end of the day is of the physical exertion of the ride but also of the beauty of the Alps, something that everyone at the Etape Suisse has experienced.

Ultimately, this is a pick-and-mix weekend of cycling, socialising and relaxing in a stunning location, where everyone is welcome. It might not appeal to the cycling purist but there are plenty of lung-busting challenges already out there, where the chances of being overtaken by a giggling cyclist with a motor on her bike are zero. And that's the point; the Etape Suisse takes a lighter approach to cycling.

Getting there

Susannah Osborne travelled as a guest of Swiss Tourism ( and Davos Klosters Tourism ( She flew with Swiss (0845 601 0956;, which departs to Zurich from Birmingham, Heathrow, London City and Manchester. Train travel was provided by, which offers a range of travel passes.

Cycling there

Etape Suisse ( takes place from 5-8 September 2014. Packages start from £1,400 (£1,250 per non-cyclist) for three nights of four-star accommodation, including breakfast, two evening meals, and return transfers from Zurich (excluding flights).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: MI Developer

    £35 - 45k: Guru Careers: An MI Developer is needed to join the leading provide...

    Recruitment Genius: Fitness Manager

    £20000 - £22500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leisure organisation manag...

    Recruitment Genius: Visitor Experience Manager

    £25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Delivering an inspiring, engagi...

    Recruitment Genius: Learning Team Administrator

    £17500 - £20500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for a great te...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions