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Ultimate Trip Runner-up: Geneva to Pisa

A couple of summers ago, Simon Schofield and his friend sat down at a computer and spontaneously booked flights to Geneva and home from Pisa. With the sense of adventure and abandon that is the hallmark of long university summer holidays, they had no plan but to cycle between the two. In ten days. 

The route they took was 1,100km and started by heading up into a slightly hilly region known as The Alps. With fully-laden panniers and a tent strapped to their bikes, the pair earned jokey remarks from fellow riders who told them that they'd never make it.

...17,020m of elevation gain later they had, and their account of brutal ascents, thrilling descents, stunning scenery, cyclist camaraderie and beautiful cyclists earned their ride a place in our top 10 rides in Europe. 

 

Quick facts

Highlights

Hitting the top of ten mountain passes

Length

1,100km 

Terrain

Tarmac 

Difficulty

★★

When to go

Late spring for long days and cooler temperatures

Why is it Europe's best?

The Alps.


 

Overview

Best friends Simon and Jamie had both been cycling for a few years and had a good few 50-milers around the Essex countryside under their belts. But they dreamed of a bigger challenge and jumped in at one of the biggest of them all. How did they prepare? 

They popped pannier racks on their bikes, put cassettes on the back of their bikes with more teeth (39 front, 32 back) to get the lowest gear ratio they could manage and Simon went for a 100 mile spin to check that he could do it. 

Day one was a huge challenge, day two too, but by day three they had got into the swing of things and felt like they might just manage it.

Many, many miles of thigh-bustingly tough climbing later and their advice to anyone considering doing the same is this:

'The biggest barrier to cycling across the Alps is not the time, the money, the resources, or the fitness but the 10 minutes that it takes to book and buy the flights to go do it. With a bit of courage and problem solving (and maybe a bit of endurance) everything else just falls into place'.

It does, and it did. 


 

The ride

Simon and Jamie got their wheels rolling out of the Swiss city with a few flat kilometres to get their legs going before they headed up into the mountains. 

Wearing t-shirts, shorts, and trainers (no clip-ons here!) the duo soon came across a 'lycra-clad-dude' with whom they discussed their plans for the trip. He told them that they'd never make it over the Alps but, nevertheless and with raised-brow, wished them luck. 

On day two chance meetings with naysayers continued and Simon and Jamie met another lycra-clad group. The plan for the day was to get to Val d'Isere, stopping briefly for a photo-op at a summit with other people's bikes, because they 'looked cooler' than Simon and Jamie's. The lycras, bemused by the naivety of the pair, gave them an energy bar and told them that making it to Val d'Isere was simply 'pas possible'. 

With fire in their bellies (and thighs) Simon and Jamie continued undeterred and did reach Val d'Isere before the sunset and in time for a delicious three-crepe meal at Crepe Val. They didn't even need the energy bar to get there, instead deciding to keep it in their bags until they reached Pisa as a trophy of defiance. 

Further delight came from bumping into a very surprised and congratulatory 'lycra-clad-dude' twice more - once while eating Haribo in flip-flops at the top of Col de l'Iseran and a second time at the top of Cime de la Bonnette.  

With roughly two passes to top each day, Jamie and Simon camped in villages and rose early to make their first ascents before the heat of the day. Reaching the top of their second ascents later in the day, they would descend before turning in for the night. One day they timed this just right and Simon's top moment of the trip was undoubtedly the glorious sunset descent from Col d'Izoard. 

Sometime around this point, the pair's tiny two-man 'coffin tent' was the victim of an unfortunate pole snapping incident and they found themselves taking it in turns to sleep under the collapsed side. Not the best thing to happen on day four of a ten-day camping holiday but the pair soldiered on. 

Once out of the Alps, the pair arrived at the French coast looking forward to a flat-ish roll across the border and around the Mediterranean into Pisa. Of course the route would flatten out...a little...once they'd made it over the Maritime Alps. And, while the switch-backs of the French roads made ascents just that tiny bit more forgiving, the Italian roads took a direct route to the top, leaving the duo with some 'extremely steep' ascents and descents. 

Large hills and mountains often have roads tunnelled through them and one day in Italy saw Simon and Jamie cycle through five two-mile long tunnels. With timed entry and a minimum speed limit to make it through the one-lane tunnels before traffic started coming the other way the guys waited for the light to turn green and then blasted through at 25km/h. They made good progress until they were eventually stopped by the Italian police and made to walk through the fifth one. What's an adventure without a run-in with the men in blue?

Simon and Jamie rolled into Pisa after 10 days in the saddle, stops in several beautiful coastal towns, a detour to Monte Carlo...and that energy bar still in their bags. 

They wrapped 100m of loo roll around their bikes and crossed their fingers that they'd make it back to the UK in one piece. They did!

 


An epic challenge for which they were mildly unprepared but which they wouldn't change at all. Except, maybe, taking some extra water to explore the Cinque Terre National Park a little more. Chapeau, Simon and Jamie!