'A hidden secret' – Exploring the canton of Vaud, Switzerland

Velocio ambassador Alain Rumpf grew up in the Vaud region, but when tasked with creating a set of routes for newcomers to the area, he fell in love with his home all over again

There's someone who is proud of where they live, then there is Alain Rumpf, who has come to dedicate his life to educating others on the beauty of the area he calls home. It’s not that Rumpf simply hasn’t experienced other places in the world; he spent 20 years working for cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, where he travelled around the globe to do his job. “I rode my bike on almost every continent,” he says.

“I love the Dolomites and Tuscany. I love the French Alps, and so many other cool places but when I look at where I live it's certainly as good as many of these places. It's just not well known, because we do not have the Tour de France to showcase our mountains but we do have great passes,” Rumpf continues. 

“When you ask a cyclist: where are your dream destinations, they say, I want to climb the Stelvio, I want to go to France or I want to go to Flanders and for very good reasons. But what I'm passionate about is bringing people here and saying, hey, let me let me share secrets with you, let me show you how good it is.”

When Rumpf left his job at the UCI in 2014, he helped to set up a company for cycling holidays creating trips, doing marketing, nurturing customer relationships and guiding logistics. “I got to ride my bike as a job,” he says with a smile. In the present day, Rumpf is working freelance, organising some private trips but mostly doing content creation for brands and is an ambassador for cycling apparel company Velocio.

“We call it content creation, but I don't like that because 'content' is bland and doesn't really mean anything. I’d rather say that I like to share experiences about cycling, I write and shoot stories for media and brands about destinations,” he says. “I own a website for the local cycling community and it’s a very grassroots website, sharing local news and ideas on where to ride, helping local events for promotion and things like that.”Rumpf’s most recent project has been one of his most time-consuming, but rewarding. He describes it as a sort of labour of love, creating a series of rides showcasing the very best of his canton (region in English), the Vaud in Switzerland. It was all part of the region’s Année du Vélo in 2022, a year celebrating cycling as the Tour de France visited the area, the inaugural edition of the women’s edition Tour de Romandie would pass through and the men’s equivalent event was celebrating its 75th anniversary.

“They put together all of these events and there were also some activities like a pump track travelling around the region and staying in different towns for a few weeks, as well as social media campaigns, etc. That was to capitalise on the visit of the Tour de France,” Rumpf explains.

“About a year ago they called me saying: our politicians have decided it is the year of cycling, what can we do? Let's figure out what this means and how to do it. So we came up with different ideas, and this collection of rides is actually something I pitched. I thought we should have something that leaves a legacy. It's not just an event but something that stays after.”

Rumpf explains that this was a kind of dream project for him, something that would help him rediscover his own backyard, the area he has loved for so long. I ask him why he thinks so highly of the Vaud region as the perfect place for cycling and his answer is convincing.

“We have a lot of roads, meaning that we can find quiet roads. I'm able to ride all year long, even in the peak tourism season, on quiet roads,” he says. “There's also legendary quality, the Swiss quality, which applies to the roads. We have good roads, all with a good surface which I think is an important part of the cycling experience as well. Also great landscapes, there are lakes, vineyards, mountains, country lanes, it's a very diverse and really beautiful place to ride.”

So, once his idea to create a series of cycling routes around the area was approved, Rumpf set to work on the project. He planned to ride every single route to check each road was as he remembered, then he’d plot it on the navigation app, Komoot, for anyone who was visiting the Vaud to access. Rumpf also would be taking photos while out on the roads, hoping to entice people to the area with stunning visuals. 

“At first, it was a lot of time spent at my desk researching. Although I am familiar with all these roads, there were some parts where I wanted to speak with someone from a local club, because they train there every day, so might know an alternative to a busy road or something like that,” Rumpf explains.

“That was the first phase, to come up with a first draft online. As soon as that was over, it was about going there myself. I wanted to ride every loop myself, even if I knew most of the roads, I went and did them one by one just to get a feel of the experience and made some tweaks here and there. Then, as the weather got really nice and there were leaves on the trees and flowers in the fields, the next phase was shooting the loops.”

To take the photos of the landscapes that could be discovered on his treasured routes, Rumpf needed to find two models. With a lifetime in the cycling world, there were plenty to choose from, but the Swiss man first decided on someone he knew very well indeed.

“I chose Luca, my best friend and my neighbour,” he says. “We live in the same village, and we're together a lot, guiding photography and different things. He was my go to person.”

But Rumpf wanted a male and a female rider in the images, so explains that put out a call on Facebook for a keen female cyclist. He was put in touch with Valentina, a Ukrainian refugee cyclist who had only arrived in Switzerland a few weeks before.

“It's a story in the story because we got to know each other and learn about her. It was great to have that connection and understand what she had been through. I think we also gave her this opportunity to disconnect and spend some time in this environment with us and maybe stop thinking about her situation and everything she was going through”

The three riders had plenty of kilometres to cover ahead, while also stopping to take photos on route. This experience led to a special bond between the group, something that Rumpf says he’ll treasure forever. He speaks fondly while sharing anecdotes about some of the tough and funny moments that shaped the experience of riding the routes with his companions.

“In the north of the canton, there’s a very small road in the woods. It's known by the local cyclists but no one else. Luca has been living here for 15 years and I remember riding up with him and suddenly he told me: I had no idea this road existed, this is so great, this is so cool,” smiles Rumpf. “That stays with me. I was like, that's exactly what I want to share with everyone who will discover this collection.”

Like with any big challenge or adventure, there were some points where the trio struggled, though. Rumpf explains that the weather was a big challenge, and they had to be flexible with early starts and late finishes to ensure they caught the light at the right time of day. 

“These were all long days. The loop in my region is a little bit over 100 kilometres with 2500 metres of climbing. That was a very, very long day. We had one final climb to get back home and that was hard. Valentina was struggling a bit, Luca was supporting her and I did my best to take pictures but not stop too much and allow them to keep going and get home,” he explains.

Rumpf describes the feeling once the group had completed all of the rides as one of relief. They’d all been on a journey of discovery. For Rumpf and Luca, it was about rediscovering the area they thought they knew so well and finding new gems along the way. For Valentina, it was learning about this new place she had found herself in, discovering the beauty it had to offer her in a turbulent and disturbing period of her life.

Perhaps Rumpf’s experience tells all of us that beauty and adventure can sometimes be found right on your doorstep, and that we should all spend a little bit more time appreciating the nature and landscapes where we ride our bicycles. Rumpf now finds great satisfaction in seeing others use and follow his routes, allowing more people to discover the secret of the Vaud’s beauty which he holds close to his heart.

“I went back to places I hadn't been in 10 years,” he says. “Some roads I’d never even seen because they were recommended by me to friends. I rediscovered so much and then to be able to share that, it was amazing.”

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