Sunday 24th October,9h30, Gstaad, at the heart of the village. In the middle of the posh boutiques of the ski station, the studs on the bikes clatter on the paving stones. About a hundred equally excited and apprehensive bike enthusiasts get ready to write the first pages of a new discipline: the snow bike.
Amongst the riders, the majority of whom are experienced in cycling competitions, are a handful of novices, that includes the ranks of myself. A lamb amongst the wolves, I have chosen the least arduous race of the weekend. This third and last run of the Snow Bike Festival spreads over 25km, with an uneven 500 meters, whereas the runners have just swallowed 64km, three mountain passes and a 1950-meter strand in just two days.
The race aside, the equipment belonging to my flatmate for the night, a fifty-year-old Swiss German scares me: two enormous sports bags, around twenty technical items of sportswear; three pairs of shoes; an assortment of edible gels, fluorescent drinks and energy bars.
Painful behind or sore butt.The race being launched, I rapidly found myself at the tail end while facing the hills at my rhythm. During the ascension, and as the beauty of the surrounding nature revealed itself my weariness lessened and a second wind gently pushed me on. With its14kgs and large tyres (97-114 mm), my snow bike confirmed it’s stability. Having lost time during the mounting, I attacked the descent briskly. There, once again, the scenery was breath-taking with the steep slopes surrounded by the woods giving way to winding roads overhanging a sun soaked river.
Drunk with the speed and the places I gained, I replied with a large smile –oh yes, that is the Gstaad spirit –to a female member from the ski patrol who warned me of a steeper slope with a hand sign. A tackle later at 35kmhr over a plate of ice on the ground, I find myself with a painful backside.
Calmed by the fall I finish the race more prudently, in 2h05, not forgetting to show a constipated smile for the photo-finish, nor even to make a well felt rear. This attitude, added to the sparkle of my baggy tracksuit and my bulging baskets, was literally spellbinding for the young women in fur coats who had come to admire the professionals.
Full-pink LookWorrying about being just as polite; I handed the microphone to the other participants. Julien C., a Frenchman on the podium, gave the general impression of the riders without using any form of verb. “Super sensations, exceptional surroundings, top organisation. The only difference with the mountain bike: the tyres.” He who, like me, is the subject of all jealousy for his look full pink is called Kuii. “I came from Thailand for the race 4 days ago and I had never seen snow before! ”
South Africans, Americans, Spanish, English…the competition attracted amateurs from all horizons. The prestige of the place Gstaad play a role in this. Herman Coertze, the events director, insists on thanking all the residents for their welcoming attitude. If this sport is practised in North America, where it was born around 10 years ago, “It is the first time that an event of this size has happened in Europe: It has been televised all over the world”, he continues.
This South African, owner of a winery, has the ambition to make Gstaad the European Capital of this sport by making the race an annual event . Even more, he told me me that he claimed an official accreditation at the International Cycling Union to make snow biking become, one day and “why not”, an Olympic discipline.
For more information Snow Bike Festival
Crédits photo : Zoon Cronje, Nick Muzik, Joakim Faiss