Produced in association with ASSOS
When you think of Switzerland, your mind imagines vast landscapes dominated by lush green grass and majestic mountains that sweep up to impressive summits capped with snow that look like they've been dusted with icing sugar. It is a country with natural beauty and sophisticated charm – and, more importantly, it is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts.
The countries natural beauty, and the exceptionally smooth tarmacked roads, is what pulled Arnaud Manzanini to create Race Across Switzerland – an ultra-cycling adventure that takes in the breathtakingly beautiful country. From July 12 to 16, riders can undertake three distances – 1000km, 500km or 300km – starting from the city of Lausanne, situated on the north of Lake Geneva, and explore the country's valleys, mountains and expansive green vistas.
“Switzerland is just the most beautiful country,” Manzanini told Rouleur over a video call from his house in France. “When I first rode there, the landscape was so beautiful that I decided to launch the first Race Across Switzerland there this July, and when we rode the recon of the route a few weeks ago, the landscape was just amazing.”
Boasting some of the Alps highest peaks, Switzerland has become an alluring destination for cyclists with climbs such as the Gotthard Pass, Umbrail Pass and Col du Sanetsch becoming bucket list climbs. But Manzanini's race uncovers more than just the mountains.
Inspiration from across the pond
Manzanini was inspired to create this ultra-cycling race after taking part in Race Across America several times. Taking a slice of the American race, he brought the concept across the pond to his home country, where, six years ago, he hosted the first edition of Race Across France. The ultra-cycling race in France has four options for riders, starting from 300km and going up to 2,500km. Now classed as a true test of endurance, Race Across France attracts hundreds of riders looking to push themselves above and beyond, racing 2,500km and summiting the Col de l'Iseran – Europe's highest summit. With the success of the French race, Manzanini decided to expand the race and create special events in Belgium and now Switzerland.
Arnaud Manzanini was inspired by his experience at Race Across America
"My goal is for every rider to discover a new landscape," he said. "I don't want riders to experience big roads with lots of traffic. Instead, I want people to experience new landscapes on small roads. It's very important to me that every rider has a quiet and secure experience on the road."
And the route for Race Across Switzerland has been carefully thought through by Manzanini's colleague, who lives in the picturesque country, to ensure that it is just that. From Switzerland's big hitters like the affluent, influential and international city of Geneva to the off-the-grid regions where only nature's beauty is on the menu, Race Across Switzerland will help cyclists discover every part of this country in a unique way.
Between the lakes, mountains and alpine valleys
With the aim of showcasing as much of the country as possible, the Race Across Switzerland route is split into three loops – with the longest distance of 1,000km covering all three. Each loop starts and ends at the race base camp in the city of Lausanne, home to the International Olympic Committee headquarters.
From the race base camp, the 500km loop heads north to the picturesque town of Martigny in the canton of Valais, passing the famous Pissevache waterfall. The route then skirts itself around the awe-inspiring mountains of Nesthorn and Firehorn as it makes its way north to Meiringen. The route takes in one of Switzerland's most iconic climbs – the Grimsel Pass. Located 2,164m above sea level in the Bernese Alps, with a gruelling 26km length and an average gradient of 6%, it is extremely demanding on the legs, but the views are a feast for the eyes. The pass connects the Valais region with Bernese Oberland and has been witness to many editions of the Tour de Suisse. Making its way back down to Lausanne, the route snakes through nature parks in the Alpine Valley that house little chalets crowned with wooden roofs and cows meandering around the fields, dwarfed by the mountains that surround the valley.
Arnaud Manzanini, Nathalie Baillon, and the ASSOS team cycling the roads that will host hundreds of riders in July
Slightly shorter at 300km, the second loop from the city heads north past the city of Bern and through the Chasseral Nature Park. Situated in the Swiss Jura mountains, Chasseral is the highest point, nicknamed the summit of enjoyment. In the region, riders will find all the tasty delicacies Switzerland is renowned for, including cheese, wine and, most importantly, chocolate – the perfect place for a quick refuel.
The shortest route, but by no means any less spectacular, heads west, and the 200km loop first makes its way towards the French border, where it edges the largest lake in the Jura region – Lac de Joux. The stark beauty and unspoilt nature of the high valley and the lake attract countless visitors all year round. It then travels further south to Gland on the outskirts of the glamorous city of Geneva before turning back towards Lausanne.
Although high mountains and gruelling passes come to mind when you think of Switzerland, it is actually a country that can cater to everyone's taste – whether you want a long day climbing in the double digits or a more relaxed day in the saddle. Manzanini’s favourite part of the route is in the Geneva area. He added: “I am not a big climber, so the area of Geneva, where it is flatter, is my favourite because it is quiet, the roads are perfect, and the landscape is very green.”
ASSOS ambassador and Race Across Series rider Nathalie Baillon joined Manzanini on the recon before the inaugural race in July. “My favourite part of the route was the Grimsel Pass,” she said. “For the recon, we did not do it all the way as it was closed, but I have done it before, and the landscape is really beautiful with mountains and some waterfalls. During the recon, there was even snow. There was also a climb out of Lausanne, which was really nice. It runs by the vineyards with a view of the lake on the other side – an amazing start to the route. But every part of Switzerland is beautiful.”
Switzerland is iconic for it's mountain passes that have featured in the Tour de Suisse
Sharing the spirit
A big part of the race for Manzini is the shared experience with a like-minded community. That is why when riders sign up for the race, they can choose to complete the route by themselves, or in a team of two or four riders. They are also automatically invited to the pasta party the night before and the finisher party after everyone has completed their chosen route.
"We wanted to include these events into the race experience because everyone can then share their stories, what problems they perhaps had and the beautiful sights they saw," Manzanini said. "These two pre- and post-event parties are big moments that will write the future of this event."
Community is a big part of the race experience for Arnaud Manzanini
Baillon added, "That's what is nice about events like Race Across – there is a small community of people who share the same interests. You also see familiar faces at the different events as it expands to new countries."
Volunteers are also a big part of the Race Across community. Without those people who commit their free time to the race, the race would not be able to happen. "In the future, we would like to have a team of 20 volunteers who go to all events. But we are very lucky to have a big team of volunteers anyway who are all super motivated and share our passion. I think in the future that could be a big part of our success if we build our volunteer teams with our mindset and values," said Manzanini.
Race Across Switzerland is partnered with ASSOS. Switzerland is home to the cycling apparel brand, and those who work there know how demanding it can be cycling in Switzerland.