Reputedly the highest and steepest peak in Switzerland, the Belpberg has long fascinated cyclists.
Belp: a cross between a belch and a burp,
Berg: a fearsome incline design to break the legs of the hardest.
Leaving aside the Chocolate Factory Tour disaster and the Brazilian dancer incident, both of which were only tangentially bicycle related….
…we start in Fribourg where, as is often the case with journeys, there are bridges to cross.
On a metaphor-literal scale of bridges, these bridges are fairly literal.
The bridge high up in the above photo was taken from the bridge in this photo below:
(To which we then return, after having taken the wrong turn, losing hard won altitude.) Feel free to double-click an image to see a larger version. Its hard to appreciate that the bridges are not to scale.
We negotiate the dreaded röstigraben, where the border is subtly implicit in a change of traffic signage:
(A German speaker may have some chance in understanding the French.)
We pass through “like France, but tidy” to “sounds like German when gargling”.
We acclimatise at the base camp where we employ a native Bernese cycle guide to tow us up the mountain.
Sherpa “Michü”, in his day job, is actually the Head of Radioactive Waste Disposal in the Swiss Federal Office of Energy and relaxes by running marathons and indulging visitors.
This job entails constantly fielding calls from agitated cantonal authorities who demand their share of radioactive waste to store.
I have a nagging feeling that I have I seen Sherpa Michü before, but cannot place it.
Bald head, gold ear-ring. It comes to me in a flash as he changes from helmet to bandana: He is actually Marco Pantani. Yes, “the Pirate”: one of the most feared cycling climbers. (Until he died of drug abuse, that is; or as they say in cycling: “a medical condition”)
The exponential incline allows one to run through the various cycling clichés.
“open the suitcase of courage”
“it doesn’t get easier, you just go faster”
“pain is temporary”
“you just don’t quit”
“skin grows back”
I must have something left, as I’m not even up to “shut-up legs” when we abruptly summit.
(Well, actually we just plant the sign that we brought along with us in a nearby field when we’ve had enough.)