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Roads to Ride: Torgon

The summit finish of the Tour de Romandie this Saturday, the climb to the ski village of Torgon isn’t a celebrity summit finish, it’s just a quiet but enjoyable climb and the chance to take look at the UCI, cycling’s governing body.

The Route: the Route du Torgon starts in the small town of of Vionnaz in the canton of Valais in Switzerland. The climb is 12km long and averages 6.4%. Profile via salite.ch

The Feel: the valley floor is windy and there are large wind turbines nearby to capture the energy. The road is signposted straight out of the village of Vionnaz, passing its two bell towers. There’s no introductory slope, it climbs at 7% from the start and in no time you’re looking down on the buildings below and passing vineyards on slopes so steep they’re serviced by miniature cable cars, best get into a climbing pace and hold it. By now the wind has gone, the climb is tucked into a side valley and sheltered. The road is smooth like you’d expect from Switzerland but varies in width, one minute wide enough for two buses, the next tight for a car to overtake a cyclist but there’s little traffic as the road above is a dead-end. There are over 20 hairpins to come and the early ones come in quick succession, for a race it pays to be near the front early especially as they’re engineered with a gentle gradient even at the apex so you can take the racing line when you’re climbing up, just as well as down. The lower slopes are agricultural, and cows graze with their decorative leather collars and clanging brass bells.

A few houses, it’s too much to call it a village, mark a place called Bonne Année (“Happy New Year”) and briefly inspire a Krabbé-esque inner monologue about how the place got its name, helped because it’s quiet, there’s little traffic even if the climb has regular bus stops along the way. Keep climbing the view of the Rhone valley gets better and down below a metallic building glints in the distance, more of which later. By now the rate of hairpins slows and the number of chalets increases but the slope feels constant all the way up. You reach Reveurelaz and a church and here’s a brief descent which isn’t on the profile above and the road picks up again and in time you get a view of Torgon the ski resort, called La Jorette where the large triangular apartment buildings look like cruise ships beached at altitude, that’s where you’re heading. The village of Torgon appears, it’s got a handful of shops and bars but the kind that are open irregularly according to the season and here the road levels out. There’s one more kick up behind the town before a brief dip and the road rises by La Jorette. You can carry on and pick up the descent back to the valley.

The Verdict: a steady 10km climb and, apart from the brief descent, if you change gear its more down to your mood and feeling than the gradient. It’s an enjoyable, peaceful climb with nice views of the valley but nothing spectacular compared to the nearby the Col de la Croix and Pillon, the Emosson Dam which offer more drama and challenge. But if it’s just a road up the valley walls, if this road existed in say, the Netherlands, Britain or Denmark you could charge visiting cyclists a toll and become a millionaire, it’s an enjoyable ascent and the steady gradient and smooth surface make it satisfyingly fast.

History: the Tour de Romandie came here in 1979 and Giuseppe Saronni won the summit finish here before going on to win the race overall and then take his first Giro d’Italia and then plenty of one day titles like Sanremo, the Worlds and more. Longtime the general manager of the Lampre team and then the UAE team, he’s now an advisor to the team with his son Carlo taking up the reins for the team.

The Future: it’s hard to predict who’ll win this Saturday’s stage so let’s take a broader look ahead… Torgon connects to the Portes du Soleil ski area, an interconnected area of 13 ski resorts shared between France and Switzerland, apparently the world’s second biggest ski area. Whether it’s climate change threatening the winter season or just efforts to broaden the calendar of events throughout the rest of the year, there’s now a drive from the Alpine ski resorts to expand tourism in the summer. This isn’t new but it is becoming more pronounced and cycling is a big part of this and the large Portes du Soleil area can afford, or perhaps has to, get in on this. Later this year it’ll host the finish of the Critérium du Dauphiné and the likes of Morzine and Avoriaz are regular hosts for the Tour de France. We’re likely to see more ski areas across Europe and beyond look to cycling, both pro racing and amateur events to boost summer tourism.

The UCI: cycling’s governing body is in Aigle, the next town across the river. It’s a short ride from the foot of the climb, poetically it’d be nice to say you could freewheel off the climb to the UCI HQ but there’s a railway bridge and the Rhone river to cross so it requires a few pedal strokes to reach but it’s so close and the development team of riders from around the world that the UCI hosts often uses the Torgon climb as a test, the even slope and duration of over 30 minutes make it an ideal climb to measure performance. The building can be seen from the climb, the metal-clad velodrome with its white roof make it a landmark. But that’s the velodrome and you need sharp eyesight to spot the actual UCI offices. It’s the wider view that perhaps tells us something, while you look down on the valley floor the UCI isn’t occupying prime real estate next to the International Olympic Committee, with satellite offices of ASO, RCS, the teams, the rider union, the trade manufacturers and cycling media clustered nearby for essential access. No, cycling’s governing body is a small office on the side of a small velodrome that sits behind a small retail park outside a small town in Switzerland and that ought to tell us something about its power. But the flipside is a governing body with its own velodrome and the staff can climb a mountain in their lunch hour, something a city location couldn’t offer.

More roads to ride at inrng.com/roads

 

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  • Kevin Friday, 3 May 2019, 1:44 am

    Awesome post!

  • Will Saturday, 4 May 2019, 12:52 am

    There are quite a few great climbs from Aigle like Emosson, Croix and Pillon that you mention. One of the best unknown climbs would be directly opposite Torgon. Through the vineyards above Aigle to Lac d’Hongrin and its dam. https://www.cycling-challenge.com/lac-de-lhongrin/

  • Gregario Saturday, 4 May 2019, 6:54 pm

    When is the best time to visit the Swiss Alps? I have been planning a trip for years to visit the Berner Alps around Meiringen and maybe also go the area around Sion and Aigle but the thing which worries me is the weather which seems to be a lot worse in this region than for example in the French Alps. Watching the Tour of Romandie and Tour de Suisse (May and June) you get the impression that it rains all the time here. Maybe someone living in the area can give some insider tips when it is statistically the safest bet to visit without being soaked in rain.

    • The Inner Ring Saturday, 4 May 2019, 7:20 pm

      Romandie seems unlucky each year. It’s similar to the rest of the Alps, aim for sometime between the end of May until early October with July and August usually the warmest, hottest months… but more tourists. You’re never guaranteed good weather but it’s more likely in this time. Fingers crossed anyway as am planning a weekend around Meiringen too for the Grosse Scheidegg (apparently it’s just been resurfaced) and more in June.

      • Gregario Saturday, 4 May 2019, 7:28 pm

        Thanks. Grosse Scheidegg is on my bucket list too, together with the Mannlichen. The view of the Eiger Nordwand from there is certainly one of the highlights in the Alps. And then obviously a loop around Meiringen with the Old Tremola road. You just need good weather to make it a perfect day 🙂

      • Will Saturday, 4 May 2019, 10:08 pm

        Grosse Scheidegg is so beautiful.

        Three thoughts:
        1. Both sides are very worthwhile.
        2.. If you have sightly wider tires you can take a road that starts exactly at the summit and ride to the top of the First cable car. And then even higher to the Bachalpsee (bikes used to be banned beyond the cable car as hikers get off there, but now allowed). None of this too bumpy and will give some of the best views in the Alps.
        https://www.cycling-challenge.com/bachalpsee-via-grosse-scheidegg/
        3. As Gregario mentions, Männlichen is great and fully paved if you carefully pick the route.
        Deserted road climb with Eiger North Face directly in view. .

  • Cedrik Monday, 6 May 2019, 6:15 am

    A wonderfully Krabbé-esque post. Thank you.

  • Marcel Monday, 6 May 2019, 3:45 pm

    You know you are in Switzerland when you get a warm welcome by a dog poo bag dispenser (pink cross on the Trogon road sign) :-]

  • Mountain Yak Tuesday, 7 May 2019, 10:32 am

    Great write up. I am long time daily reader of your blog and this is my first post as this climb is very local to me. Thank you for taking the time to write about the Chablais region. We are based in thw Abordance Valley just over the ridge from Torgon and I agree that a lot of investment is being made by the PDS in publicising this area as a great road riding destination – already very popular with mountain biking. At the head of the Abordance Valley there is the ‘chocolate box’ village of Chatel which is the doorway into CH via le Pas du Morgins which is being visited by this year’s Dauphine on its way to Champery. This is great news for the locals and the second visit of race in the teenies. The mayor is road cycling friendly and the valley putting on two grand fondos this year that have the backing of Greg Lemond and Thomas Voeckler. There is still hope the tour will visit go beyond Morzine one year and visit us. Little know fact is that Team Sky base themselves in Chatel in the weeks leading up to the TDF for their final preparation camp. The riders are often seen riding up the valley to the dead-end Col Du Bessachaux and their staff uniform and cars have have a strong presence in the village during that week. We hope this continues in the new team and the lure of the TDF continues to bring investment to the region for road cycling.

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