UCI Gravel Switzerland: a taste of alpine gravel

June 19, 2024

I love gravel biking, for many reasons. First and foremost because my gravel bike takes me beyond tarmac, to places I didn’t know – even in my home region. But there’s more to that. In the mountains where I live, gravel biking comes with a distinctive flavor called “alpine gravel”  which spices up the experience. What is this and why do I enjoy it? That’s what I intend to explore in a series of articles.

To begin with, the first edition of the UCI Gravel Switzerland, to be held on 6 July in Villars, is a very good illustration of an alpine gravel event. Set in the Alpes vaudoises, the 2 courses are inspired by a collection of loops I designed and that will soon be available as Switchback rides. They cover a mountainous territory already well known to road cyclists thanks to its counterpart: the UCI Granfondo Suisse, which will be held for the third time on the same weekend.

Recently, the Lausanne Gravel gang came to recon the main course. Of course, the weather was bad, just like the miserable spring we’ve had in Switzerland. I rode with them to capture their experience and here is what you can expect from the UCI Gravel Switzerland:

4×4 roads

This is the preferred terrain for gravel, and it makes up a large part of the event’s courses.

Small tarmac roads

The kind you wouldn’t ride a road bike on because they have cracks or potholes… or they lead to a dead end.

A few technical sections

Some will negotiate them on their bikes, while others will do so in hike-a-bike mode. Don’t be scared: they’re short, and underbiking is a major component of alpine gravel.

Climbing and descending

Like, lots. Just like on the road, because we’re in the Alps!

Breathtaking scenery

If it’s spectacular when it rains, you can imagine what it’ll be like in the sunshine.

You’ll be able to experience all this on 6 July on the two routes on offer, which are aimed at both top riders and occasional cyclists who want to discover a new facet of gravel.

The Big Loop: 102km and 2600m of ascent

Between the Rhone valley floor and the Villars-Gryon-Les Diablerets ski area, “the most alpine course in the UCI Gravel Series” according to the event website.

The Small Loop: 60km and 1800m ascent

The same ingredients as the Big Loop, but in a more easily digestible form.

Here are the routes in a komoot collection (provisional tracks subject to minor adjustments. The final gpx will be sent to participants):

As its name suggests, the UCI Gravel Switzerland is part of the UCI Gravel World Series. Since its launch in 2022, the series has visited venues as diverse as South Africa, Denmark, Australia and the UK, but until now no event has been held in Switzerland. So this will be a first.

But what does this UCI label mean? Quite simply, participants will be able to qualify for the 2024 UCI Gravel World Championships. To do so, they will have to finish in the top 25% in their respective age group.

As such, we can expect the participation of some of the big names in world gravel racing, who compete in UCI events. There are even rumours that a big team with 3 capital letters in its name will be at the start…

But the UCI Gravel Switzerland is open to all gravel enthusiasts, whatever their level. To register for one of the three courses and find out more, visit the event website.

And stay tuned to learn more on alpine gravel!

Alain

Follow me on Instagram and head over to the blog to read more cycling stories. Looking for inspiration on where to ride? Check out our favorite road and gravel loops.

More images from the recon with Lausanne Gravel:

  

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