Racing The TorTour Summer Cyclocross Stage Race

Three days. Three stages. Three chances to explore the gravel roads in the beautiful Lucerne region of Switzerland. The TorTour Cyclocross Stage Race provides a lung bursting, leg busting challenge.

The concept of the TorTour Cyclocross event is familiar to me; I rode the winter edition in 2017 in the Schaffhausen region just south of Zürich. That event featured snow, sub-zero temperatures, and a plethora of winter kit. This premiere edition of the Summer Cyclocross is in the foothills of the Alps, and delivers a contrasting mix of dust, grit, 'shark-tooth' climbs, and summertime temperatures.

The Prologue

The three-day event starts with a 20-kilometre prologue on the Friday evening. A chance to test the legs, or rather give them their first beating of the weekend.

Short course racing has never been my forte, and my aim for this first stage was simply to stay safe and minimise time loses ahead of the longer stages.

From the moment the start gun sounds it is a blur. Dust flies up as we bolt along the tarmac; and then brakes squeal and gravel flies as we turn onto the forest tracks. 100 riders jostle for position.

The front group are gone before I know it. That was inevitable. I settle into a rhythm of sorts, and try to put the power down on the climbs, to minimise the losses I seem to be suffering on the technical areas of the course.

It is all over very quickly. 8 laps and 45 minutes of racing, and we are back in the race headquarters. I come in 13th - it is hardly praiseworthy, but it is respectable.

Dinner in the hotel with fellow riders from all across Europe is a pasta-fuelled discussion about bike racing, past adventures, and what tomorrow has in-store for us…

Saturday - The Mountains

(100 kilometres - 2000m ascent)

06:00 is an early start, even for an endurance event. The demand for an 04:30 alarm call, and an attempt to shovel down muesli and coffee pre-dawn is already a challenging start to the day.

Lined-up on the start-line, we watch the sunrise over the distant Alps, and await the signal. On the sound of the gun we power up the 15-percent climb straight out of the race venue; if that doesn't wake up the legs, then nothing will.

Before long we are into the forest, blasting down single-track trails, and kicking up gravel in our long multi-coloured conga line. The field is quickly dispersed, and I find myself in the second group on the road; pushing on, head down, turning the gear.

The highlight of the stage comes around 08:00, when we reach the top of the highest peak on the course. The view over the Swiss lakes and mountains is breathtaking, as is the effort to reach the summit.

The descent is treacherous. The first section is too steep to ride, and we are running down with shouldered bikes. The next section is equally off-camber, and next to a barbed wire fence; having lost my rear end a few times already, I decide to walk this section too. It is a conservative strategy, and unfortunately it loses me my position in the second group on the road.

The next 20 kilometres are a solo affair, pushing as hard as I can to regain contact.

Eventually, with just 20 kilometres remaining I can see the group ahead at the top of the penultimate climb. A mammoth effort and I make it up to them, catching them just as we hit the plateau.

I hold wheels as we head into the final 10 kilometres, and then muster enough energy for an attack on the final punchy climb. It sees me finish at the front of this second group, 8th on the road, and up to 9th on General Classification.

An afternoon relaxing, and a BBQ in the event headquarters to cap off a beautiful Swiss day.

Sunday - The Finale

(70 kilometres - 1500m ascent)
08:00 is a more reasonable start time for the third and final stage, but the profile of today's stage promises no rest for the wicked.

With a 'shark tooth' profile of constant climbs and descents, I know I need to try and hold the wheel on the technical downhills if I am to get any kind of a decent finish on this stage. Unfortunately, I don't manage that…

I am in the front group at the top of the first climb, but slip back on the hairpin gravel switchbacks through the forest. Perhaps my tyre pressure is too high, perhaps it is that I can't get the hang of drifting on the 3T yet (the brakes are set up Euro-style, which doesn't help); perhaps, I am just tired. Whatever the reason, I am losing big yards on the downhill segments.

The first group disappears down the track. Then before the end of the second descent I have also been caught and passed by the second group. I desperately try to push hard on the flats and uphill segments, but it is difficult to make up ground riding solo against groups of three or four riders working together.

My only virtue is that I have stamina. In the final 30 kilometres I begin to catch riders that have been dropped from the front groups, making up places on the road.

By the final climb I have pulled myself back up to 11th, and finish 11th overall on General Classification. It was a beautiful, if slightly frustrating day in the Swiss forests.

The TorTour Summer Cyclocross provided challenge, beauty, and great racing; just as the winter edition did in the preceding year.

A chance to explore a new part of Europe, and experience the roads less travelled. A chance to meet new people, and make new friends. A tough but enjoyable weekend in the picturesque land of cowbells, lakes and mountains.


Popular posts from this blog

Recipe – The Ultimate High Energy Flapjacks

SwissStop Disc Brake Pads Comparison Test Review – Are All Disc Brake Pads Made Equal?

Review – Victorinox Bike Multi Tool Kit

Best Gravel Bike Cycling Routes on the Isle of Wight

Review – Selle Italia SLR Boost Gravel Superflow Saddle S3