Riding the Etape Suisse with Michael Vaughan

Luxury Swiss Cycling


Like all good bike rides, Etape Suisse started with a fry-up. But this being a cycling trip of some certain distinction, Greasy Vera’s cafe was off the menu, and we instead met in Mr Blumenthal’s Perfectionist café at Heathrow airport. I warily eyed my competition, sorry, I mean fellow guests. Taking note of who had opted for the whole nut granola over the full English. Who had cyclist legs of polished marble tucked under table? I dolloped HP on my sausage and eggs and kept my hairy, monkey legs hidden away.

We were off to put ourselves, and our legs, in the very capable hands of Etape Suisse, creators of the world most luxurious cycling sportives. I was lucky enough to be attending the Gstaad event, cycling around the achingly picturesque mountains in the western side of Switzerland

Etape Suisse founders, Robert Simpson and Stephen Fryer, combined their love of cycling and extensive business experience to create a series of cycling sportives providing a unique mix of challenging rides that can be enjoyed by riders of all levels and luxurious, post-ride relaxation and fine dining in exceptional hotels.

Robert and Stephen have put together a team of highly experienced individuals, all passionate about cycling, and they have forged partnerships with companies like BMC Switzerland cycles, Stromer ebikes, Swiss Air and some of the very best hotels in Switzerland’s most beautiful locations to provide a luxurious cycling experience on every level.

Cricket legend, Michael Vaughan joined us on behalf of Laureus, a charity partnered with Etape Suisse. Laureus share a passion and belief in helping children all over the world to enjoy a better life through sport. Michael is one of the many high profile sportspeople to generously give their support to Laureus. I don’t know if he was impressed by my athletic prowess as we cycled up the Swiss mountainside or my foolhardy optimism, but it didn’t take him long to talk me into another exhausting exploit in aid of Laureus on our return to the UK. You can read about this in Riddle later in the month.

Chatting over breakfast it was clear this was not going to be a do-or-die race weekend. Our group was a friendly collection of former pro cyclists, enthusiastic two-wheel commuters, runners, a golfer and a retired cricketer.  I rather optimistically planned, of course, to beat them all out on the road!

As you might expect, the Swiss Alps are a stunning backdrop for a bike ride. The roads are quiet and silky smooth, the air is invigoratingly crisp and clean and the Toblerone peaked views are majestic. Etape Suisse provide beautifully engineered, carbon fiber BMC racing machines for you to slice through this pristine mise en scène. As they strive to give an opportunity for cyclists of all abilities to access and enjoy this experience, there is also the option of an electric bike.

Dedicated cyclists can skip this paragraph…, there is something about derailleurs or Eddy Merckx later on which you’ll find much more interesting. This is TOP SECRET: don’t tell anyone, Stromer electric bikes are absolutely brilliant! After completing the etape on a BMC road bike and with absolutely nothing left in my legs I tested one out. This was the first electric bike I had been on and I started first around the car park, then with an ever widening grin, up and down the ridiculously steep, alpine road in front of the hotel. The Stromer is an ingenious mix of traditional peddle bike with an electric motor. The steeper the road is, the harder the peddling becomes, the more assistance the electric motor gives you. This means that you become deliriously excited searching for steeper and steeper hills to go faster and faster with the giddy freedom of a toddler let loose on their first bike. Like a Formula 1 racing car kers system, the Stromer bikes can harvest energy from breaking to charge the battery. And if all that is not impressive enough for you, the round the world solar plane, Solar Impulse, can’t keep its wings level on the ground so when it takes off a couple of brave chaps riding off-the-shelf Stromer ebikes, cycle along next to it supporting the wings – and then they have to catch them again as it lands! Presumably, that is if it’s found enough sun to make it back to a runway and not ditched in the Atlantic.

However, I relished the opportunity to test myself and peddle over the alpine peaks with visions of my cycling heroes running with the sweat into my eyes and out on the road.  As our peloton snaked out along the roads we mixed positions and soon forgot who was using legs or electricity, enjoying idle conversation and a shared awe of our surroundings. 

Our luxurious accommodation was in Switzerland’s only family-owned 5 star hotel, The Palace Hotel in Gstaad.  A Swiss chocolate box dream, its turrets stand proudly above the surrounding spruce trees (one of these turrets is the penthouse sauna). This grand establishment is clearly loved and run with care and great pride by everyone. Its history and tradition can be felt resonating throughout its sumptuous rooms and corridors. Indulge yourself in an extra spin around the revolving doors at the entrance in homage of Inspector Clouseau in the Return of the Pink Panther, which was filmed at the hotel.

The hotels devotion to their loyal clientele extends so much that when they renovated they created a dossier with photographs and records of the original rooms. So for certain customers who prefer to slip back into their familiar, seasoned surroundings, the old furniture can be retrieved from storage and the room recreated exactly as it were. The Heathrow Ibis I stayed in before we left looked exactly like every other Ibis room I have stayed in before, but I get the feeling this is not a special service done just to make me feel at home!

Deep down in the belly of the hotel, the feet of the swan, is a World War II bunker constructed by the National Bank of Switzerland. If the Germans invaded, the chairman of the board was to hide here with the countries gold reserves. Apparently, Swiss intelligence services thought the Germans would be too distracted by the sun loungers to notice a hotel full of gold, or something like that. After the war the bunker was converted into a bowling ally where Iranian Princess Soraya reportedly broke her finger in a particularly exuberant attack on the pins after one too many glasses of White Russians (Although, the white Russian bit may have been a film I saw once). Music then took over as the bunker became home to the hotels vinyl club before alluring, cheesy aromas filled the air as it became the hotel’s Fromagerie. Four tonnes of the creamy goodness are enjoyed every winter, mostly melted with champagne in the hotel’s signature fondue. 

After cycling over lofty alpine passes, the spa proved every bit as good as you can imagine. On our last evening we were invited out to a lake side bbq where we discovered that the Simmental cows we had cycled past, with bells gently playing out a tune to the rhythm of their chewing, were as tasty as the cheese and chocolate made from their milk! We replenished the proteins in our weary legs and happily chatted about cycling, mountains, and a little bit about cricket.


Etape Suisse – www.etapesuisse.com

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