Well I’ve made it. I’m here in the village of Champéry, Switzerland nestled in the Swiss Alps near the French border. It’s an absolutely stunning area with no shortage of whichever flavor of riding you want to sink your teeth into. I’m here with my good mate Pat (of Ride International) who invited me to come to Europe early so we could ride the Pass’Portes du Soleil together. What is the Pass’Portes du Soleil you ask? It is a 75km mountain bike event that traverses 13th lifts throughout 6 ski resorts in both France and Switzerland with 6500m of decending. It’s not a race, but when was the last time thousands of cyclists got together where a race didn’t break out?
When Pat told me that this mountain bike event was about 75km long and we were using over a dozen ski lifts I have to admit I thought it would be a piece of cake. How hard could it be? As an arrogant roadie I brushed it off as being a punk mountain biker’s interpretation of a ‘challenge’. I’ve ridden many races over 250km where I had to pedal the whole way. All we had to do was hop on a bunch of chairlifts and bomb down to the next rest stop, guzzle a beer and a sausage roll, then ride the lift up to the top of the next mountain. Easy.
It started out easy. It took 5 minutes to cover over 1000m elevation in the téléphérique (a massive gondola). We made our way across spectacular singletrack ridges, groomed downhill runs and ripping fast fire roads. As soon as we ran out of gravity there was another chairlift waiting for us to grant us another 1000m of easy elevation. Every resort we stopped at hosted a sensational feast of food and drinks to stuff our faces with. I was in heaven.
As the day drew to a close I was overwhelmed with a total body exhaustion that I was completely unfamiliar with. Even though there was only some pedaling involved, my leg were nearly cramping they were so fatigued. My back, my arms, my chest were complete jelly. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. Have you ever heard of arm pump? It’s horribly painful. Sure we went hard and were riding on the edge for a total of 87km, but it was almost all downhill. How could this be possible?
Between Pat and I we descended nearly 6000m, punctured 5 times, ate 9 baguette sandwiches, a kilo of the best chocolate I’ve ever tasted, 3 litres of Rivella (awesome Swiss drink), multiple sausage rolls and countless other bits and bites. We didn’t even finish the whole course because the lifts shut down at 6pm and we spent too much time messing around taking photos and stuffing our faces with all the wonderful food provided.
We ended up getting home at 8pm and both crashed harder than after any of the 200+ km road races I’ve done. It doesn’t make mountain bikers anymore civilized, but I have to give them a bit more credit than I did going into this. I had the time of my life, was incredibly challenged, and participated in the only event of its kind in the world. If you ever get a chance, try out the Pass’Portes du Soleil MTB. I’ve never done anything so amazing on a mountain bike before!
Thank you to BMC for lining up the perfect mountain bikes for us to use for this event. They started out brand spankin’ new, but they’re well and surely used-goods now.