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Touring the Alps

Andrew Sykes

Cycling through the Alps and Walking around Mont Blanc

Andrew about to talk to us
Andrew P. Sykes

Andrew has made several trips which take in part of the Alps over last 20 years.

Local town Elland is twinned with Riorges and when travelling along the route going South to Riorges, the Alps loom over the route. From the road they look not just big; they are massive.

Google maps handily shows an outline of the region of the Alps, to verify Andrew’s count of Alpine trips.

Alpine Map
Cycling and Walking trips

As well as cycling, for which he is well known, he has been hiking around the area of Chamonix in the Alps.

Of his three books so far with book four (‘Le Grand Tour’) being well on its way, book one and book two chart his progress as he cycled in the Alps and in 2022 he took in the Alps again.

Having twice hiked part way around Mont Blanc on the Tour de Mont Blanc (TMB) route, subsequently he decided to complete the whole Tour in one trip.

2006 saw his first Mont Blanc tour, taking in the Southern part of the TMB starting by taking the cable car up to 3500 metres at Aguille de Midi.

Navigation is helped by the multitude of TMB signs which include painted signs on the ground.

In 2010 he cycled as documented in book one ‘Crossing Europe on a Bike Called Reggie’ passing the Alps on the way.

Ticino side of the Gotthard Pass

Later on, in 2022 Andrew cycled up the Rhone & down the Rhine, taking in the Alps again.

Cycling up to the Gotthard pass avoids the heavy traffic on a parallel road which is easy, the cobbles being less challenging than might be expected as they are much smoother than Belgian pave. Going down is a quiet, winding road, which one can anticipate as a reward for the climb. Unfortunately he found that he had broken two rear wheel spokes so to avoid further damage the descent became a long walk pushing the bike down to Airola.

Gotthard Pass 2010

Luckily once there, to his relief, he found a bike hire place with about 200 hire bikes and a well equipped workshop and a man who mended his wheel for €20.

‘Along The Med on a Bike Called Reggie’ cycling in 2013 took him between the edge of Alps and the sea.

He went across the Tende pass, peaking at 1871 m which had no traffic as there is a road tunnel for cars.

Tende Pass 2013

The descent is a full 1871 m as it is right down to sea level but the path in places very rough and at times involved taking his bike for a walk.

2013 saw Andrew cycling Mont Ventoux to the top at 1911 m, which is a continuous climb as there are no flat or downhill respites on the way up.

Mont Ventoux is so prominent that it stands out of the Provencal skyline very conspicuously.

Although climbing starts off being hot it becomes very cold at the final ascent, famed for its bleak scenery.

The Haute Route Tour de MontBlanc in 2016: An organised tour. Chamonix to Zermatt in a group of generally pleasant people, although a small group had interesting expectations.

Haute Route 2016

The route has a lot of ups and downs as the route crosses the ridges, rather than following valleys or ridges. As they were camping in valleys the days would start with steep climbing.

Ladders 2016

The nice thing about the Haute Route is that it is not as busy, although even in August there was snow and cold as it peaks at 2900m.

Theresa May was well known at that time to be a keen walker and indeed they happened to see Theresa May at a mountain cafe who turned out to be very congenial and chatted to the group. Her security was very discreet. Andrew did wonder however if the omnipresent helicopter in the air was no coincidence.

In 2022 ‘Le Grand Tour’, his route documented on his website cyclingeurope.org and in the final stages of preparation to be published as a book took him across Alps along the Rhone valley which was a favourite of his, part of which forms the Via Rhona.

The Rhine Valley Switzerland 2022

The Furka pass at 2436 m then led him to James Bond Strasse, the setting for filming ‘Goldfinger’ and then to Andermatt which is a great place to camp.

Andermatt-2022

He met up with a Claud Butler, albeit not the eponymous bike builder. He also passed through “Heidi land”.

Descending from Furka Pass 2022

2023, having done two partial Tours de Mont Blanc, he decided to do the whole thing in one trip. This was an organised tour by Exodus, excluding travel. The tents and food were organised by Exodus, transported by a van between locations.

Tour De Mont Blanc 2023

They went clockwise with Exodus although most tourers appear to take the route anticlockwise.

Not for the faint hearted

He was able to avoid air travel and used an interrail ticket which allows for six days train travel, including being able to use the Eurostar for a small excellent value supplement.

A bonus on the return trip was to be able to do a little Tour of Paris on Velib bikes.

The valedictory ride

This was a fascinating talk, as usual delivered in Andrew’s entrancing style.

Andrew has been kind enough to send these photographs (other than the one featuring him) and of course copyright remains with him.

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