How to sum up the Alpenbrevet? Painful but memorable!
In our latest “Rider’s Eye View” Guest Review we asked Brevet guest Neill to share his Alpenbrevet review, an epic first hand tale of his experience of taking on Europe’s toughest one day cycling sportive the Alpenbrevet.
Over to you Neill!
Alpenbrevet Review by Neill Weir
Myself and fellow Phoenix Cycling club mate Kevin had signed up for the Alpenbrevet cycling holiday before Christmas last year.
Kevin must have been bored one night and stumbled upon it while googling the climbs in his book Mountain High – it is not an event I had ever heard of or anyone else I’d spoke to about it. In fact the only person I found that knew anything about it was a German guy who was over in Ireland on holiday and was doing the Mourne Sportive and Inishowen 100 as a warm up – small world!
The event was on the Saturday and we arrived in Geneva on Wednesday afternoon and were picked up and transferred to our base for a few days in Les Diablerets one of Brevet’s bases in the Swiss Alps.
On Friday we made our way to Meiringen the town were the Alpenbrevet starts and finishes. I had never heard of the Meiringen before but it is famous for 2 things; firstly being the place that the meringue was created and secondly for being nearby to the Reichenbach Falls were Sherlock Holmes met his death. I didn’t see one meringue in Meiringen but plenty of evidence that Sherlock had been in town, including a bronze sculpture of the man in pensive pose and our hotel ‘Das Hotel Sherlock Holmes’.
Friday was completed with a relaxing ride down to Lake Brienz for a coffee and to admire the stunning scenery and take our minds off what lay ahead on Saturday.
Alpenbrevet – Europe’s Toughest Sportive
The Alpenbrevet has 3 routes to choose from, Silver, Gold and Platinum, all starting in Meiringen at 06.45 on Saturday morning. This was my first alpine adventure and by all accounts it is more relaxed than other events, with 2,400 odd riders taking part there is plenty of room for everyone.
Our hotel was about 30 seconds downhill from the start which meant there was plenty of time to stuff ourselves with the Bircher Muesli that the Brevet guiding team had recommended we fuel up on.
I had set my sights on completing the Platinum tour – 276km and 7,031m of climbing taking in 5 mountain passes. The Gold and Platinum events shared the same route over the first 2 passes, the Grimsel Pass (2,164) and Nufenen Pass (2,478m) before splitting in a town called Airolo.
Climb 1: Grimsel Pass 2,165m
The first challenge was to get to Airolo before the 11.15 cut off, arriving any later and you would not be allowed to continue on the Platinum route – 86.7km and 4 and a half hours to do it, surely plenty of time?
The Grimsel Pass at 26km long averaging 5.9% is an incredible climb, I set my stall out early to just climb at my own pace and keep the heart rate in check, no point killing myself on the first climb, the descent down the other side was worth all the effort to get up there in the first place.
Climb 2: Nufenen Pass 2,478m
Not long after descending Grimsel the Nufenen Pass was next on the menu, at 13km and 8.5%, it’s a tough climb and winds its way up through the tree line, regularly ramping up to over 10%.
After refueling at the top on what I can only describe as giant fig roll shaped snacks filled with like an apple strudel sauce and the Brevet recommendation of Swiss Bouillon – a stock cube in hot water – good to keep you warm for the descent apparently (the food stops were excellent all day, at the top of all the major climbs and a few others along the route), it was time to head downhill again and get that average speed up (the minimum average I needed to hit would be 19.5km/hr to meet the cut off).
At the top of Nufenen my average had dropped to below 19 but I was confident that with no more climbing to Airolo I should make the cut off OK. The descent off Nufenen was another rollercoaster ride, with the roads still pretty quiet (the event was on open roads) you could pick a good line through the hairpins and let gravity do the rest – mind you there was one major wake up call when a guy in front of me had a rear tyre blow out, I’ve no idea how he managed to stay upright.
I made it into Airolo at 10.45, 30 minutes to spare. It’s a pretty strict cut off and many didn’t make it, any mechanical trouble or one bad section and you really would be struggling, and doesn’t leave much time to enjoy the spectacular scenery!
After another refuel at Brevet’s private feed stop in Airolo it was a long transition section through the valleys and across to the Italian side of Switzerland. In the race briefing Brevet Guide Alain Rumpf (who completed the Platin Course in 10hrs 28min to finish 8th overall) had warned us that it was essential to get into a group for this section. I left Airolo with a few others and the plan was hopefully to let a larger group come together, in the end the Swiss road works done the job for me, about 200m out of Airolo the temporary traffic light turned red and hey presto we had a group of a about 30 by the time it turned green again!
Now I don’t know who was on the front of the group but they had some serious fire power and were shifting along with 3 of them doing most of the work, I was 5th in line and when they started calling for assistance the guy in front of me made it clear he had no intention of taking a turn. I decided to do the honorable thing and hit the front and hope that after showing some willingness I could soon drift back into mid pack anonymity. Luckily my willingness was rewarded when the big 3 were joined by a 4th who must have deemed my effort insufficient and swept passed me to the front and I could casually drift off into the pack, phew!
Climb 3: Lukmanier Pass 1,914m
After a water stop in Biasca it was time to hit the Paso del Lucomagno or Lukmanier Pass depending on your linguistic persuasion. Now the Lukmanier is in the Brevet Road Book for the Alpenbrevet as 27.8km at 5% topping out at 1,914m. I can tell you it is not 27km, it is all up hill for 40km until you hit the top (Ed: Sorry Neill! Yep there’s a bit of “transition” to get you to the start of the climb proper).
It just went on and on and on. I felt pretty good coming into it and passed a good few people and got working with a Swiss guy and we managed to set a good pace and caught up with the big 4 from earlier who didn’t stop in Biasca.
With the average speed having risen so had the mercury, it was now after 1pm and the sun was out and my head was throbbing under the helmet and the water bottles were now dry, I think it hit 28 degree’s, not massive temperatures but enough with what had gone before to have me starting to feel it, for the last number of km’s of the climb I just had to watch as they went off in the distance and I managed myself to the top, the 1,000m to feed station was a very welcome sign.
I hadn’t dare ask the Swiss guy how long to the top for fear of the answer, on the previous climb when I had asked one of the locals the answer was given in vertical metres to go not length of tarmac and speed was measured in vertical metres per hour – guess this is more relevant when climbing all day!
Once atop the Lukmanier I decided to enjoy the view for a while, the time pressures at the top of Grimsel and Nufenen were not so pressing now and I needed to get some liquid on board and take some photo’s to prove I’d been there!
Climb 4: Oberalp 2,044m
The descent off Lukmanier was again spectacular although shorter than the previous descents.
It quickly delivered me to the bottom of the Oberalp Pass at 20.4km long and 4.4% average topping out at 2,224m. I knew from Brevet’s Road Book that the average gradient was deceptive as it started out pretty gentle but the last 5km averaged closer to 9%. And it was that final 5km when I really began to suffer.
The Oberalp is a lot greener than the other passes had been and also a lot windier. In that last section after every left hand hairpin I was met with a stiff wind in my face, it was miserable. In the seat, out of the seat, anyway which way to get up that section. The right hand turns with the wind at my back just did not seem to compensate enough!
Eventually I made the top and grabbed handfuls of chocolate and those giant fig roll things and more of the bouillon and anything else I could get my hands on. After a few snaps at the top it was time for the descent into Andermatt and then all I had to do was conquer the Susten Pass and I was home, job done. All I had to do…..
Climb 5: Susten Pass 2,224m
I knew from the Brevet Road Book that the Susten Pass was a biggy, about 18km averaging 7.5% and peaking at 2,224m, although with the run up into it I’d say I was going uphill for closer to 25km – it’s hard to tell at this point as the Garmin had now given up after 10.5 hours!
The road stretched out for mile after mile in front of me, cut along the side of the mountain and appearing to never end. It was like the march of the cycling dead up this road. It had been every man and woman for themselves since the Lukmanier Pass. I had no idea where the road ended, all I could see in front of me was a big mountain peak with snow down it’s side, surely I am not going up there?
It was at this point I realized what the guy at the bottom of the Oberalp had been trying to express to me, once we had established that German was not my mother tongue, he had begun pointing at the peak I was now looking at and suddenly it became clear what he had meant, I was heading for the snow. It was now time to have a re-think as to how much ‘digging in’ I had to do. With the Garmin now useless I broke the climb down into 5 minute segments, deciding I was at least an hour from the summit and hoping I’d over estimated and I’d get a nice surprise in half an hour or so.
I didn’t, it just went on and on.
Eventually I met up with a few others on the climb and we slogged our way to the top of the Sustenpass – in the saddle out of the saddle just whatever worked best for that particular stretch of road. Finally reaching the top and not quite the snowline there was a tunnel to negotiate, a refuel at the top and a foggy descent back toward Meiringen, oh with one final 2km climb thrown in!
I was delighted to reach the finish, 12.5 hours after starting out and well within the time limit. There was a great set up at the finish with your certificate quickly presented and a beer on hand in the Brevet Club House from Tom the guy we had signed up with to do the event and who managed all the logistics, he did an excellent job and I would recommend his company Brevet to anyone thinking of doing something similar.
Sunday was spent packing up and shipping out of Meiringen. We visited a spa en route to the airport for a well earned dip in the pool and sauna before heading home.
Alpenbrevet 2013 Highlights
Ride The Alpenbrevet
If you would like guaranteed Alpenbrevet entry and Pro Support from the Brevet Team then join us on our Alpenbrevet Cycling Holiday.
Peloton Magazine Rides the Alpenbrevet
Peloton Magazine’s Heidi Swift was one of Neill’s fellow guests, read here experience of riding the Alpenbrevet in Peloton Magazine.