Col du Sanetsch - The Longest Day©Federico Vandone Dell'Acqua
When my friend and riding partner Stefano approached me last summer with the idea of riding Col du Sanetsch, admittedly not only had I never heard of it, but I had no idea we could turn it into a great adventure.
In summer 2021 we embarked on a long, gruelling trip across the Alps—four friends, four road bikes, some custom-made bags strapped to our frames—to ride the 1,300 kilometres from Venice to Nice, while racking up elevation equivalent to climbing Mount Everest four times over.
Saying that trip was at my personal peak of cycling would be an understatement—little did I know that a few months later it would come to a grinding halt.
Later that summer I had a crash on the bike, after which I started experiencing pain and inflammation in my right leg, ending any further long rides for the year.
2022 started with a theme of recovery and getting back on my bike and, in early spring, Stefano came up with the idea of Col du Sanetsch once again.
In part as a goal for summertime cycling fitness, in part as a challenge for ourselves, we decided to craft a route that will take us across the Alps, once again, to the top of what many define as ‘the best climb you have never heard of’.
Day 1 | 305 km 4,880m+
We rode out of Milan along the canal cycle routes of the Ticino River to Lake Maggiore— on its shores we completed the first 100 kilometres of the day. We then traversed the Ossola Valley and start our first big climb up the Simplon Pass from Domodossola. This is a long, demanding ascent, often trafficked, as it’s one of the oldest and largest mountain passes between Switzerland and Italy, crossing vast Alpine landscapes, and punctuated by villages and pastures. After crossing the Swiss border at the top of the pass, a fast descent brought us into Brig, crossing the 200 km mark into our ride.
From Brig, we turned west towards Sion for 75 kilometres of smooth, flat roads through forests and villages. In Sion we stopped for a final break before the real adventure begun.
From the vineyards of the Rhone Valley, the climb to the peak of Col du Sanetsch in Valais finishes at the foot of Glacier de Tzanfleuron, 1,745 metres high. A sinuous, 30 km climb, defined by those who have ridden it as a mix of some of the world’s most famous cycling roads into one, it is the length of the Madeleine, has the steep pitches of Monte Grappa and the narrow roads of the Gavia, and the open wilderness of the Col de la Bonette.
A dead-end for motorists, the climb tends to be quiet and relatively devoid of traffic— the only way to the other side is by cable car into Gsteig.
After the long climb we were met by amazing views of the Sanetschsee, marking our arrival at the Auberge du Barrage where we spent the night.
Day 2 | 135 km 2,420m+
Day 2 Started with a descent of Col du Sanetsch into Sion on the same road we rode up, turning towards Martigny and climbing the Col du Grand Saint-Bernard into Aosta.
Although this may seem an ‘easy’ day, we faced another infamously long and gruelling mountain pass, offering spectacular Alpine sights along the way.
From Aosta we returned to Milan by train.
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