Thursday 26 June 2008

My Favourite Climbs: The Klausenpass

Profile of the Klausenpass: 25 kms of pain!
(graphic Tour de Suisse)

I love the challenge of climbing by bicycle and I was reminded recently, while following the Tour de Suisse, about one of my favourite climbs ever. On June 21st the TdS had an uphill time trial, and the hill of choice was the famous Klausenpass. The winner that day, a near-unknown, 22 year-old Czech named Roman Kreuziger, smashed the field, riding the 25 kms (15.53 miles) in 1 hour and 22 seconds, finishing 16 seconds ahead of Jose Rujano and taking the yellow jersey from Kim Kirchen, who blew up on the course, finishing three minutes back and winding up in 7th place in the GC.

The time trial course
(graphic Tour de Suisse)

The Klausenpass (elevation 1948 m/6391 feet ASL) is in the Swiss Alps and links the Cantons of Uri and Glarus. It is 24.6 kms long, with an average gradient of 6.1%, and a total ascent of 1497 m (4911 feet).

Monument to William Tell in Altdorf

There is a great story about the Klausenpass (courtesy of Wikipedia): According to legend, the border between Glarus and Uri was determined in 1315, following prolonged disputes. The two cantons agreed that at first cockcrow, two runners would start from Altdorf and Linthal, respectively, and the border would be where they met. The people of Glarus decided to feed their cock well, so that it might be sympathetic to their cause, while the people of Uri gave theirs nothing to eat at all. The result was that the Glarus cock overslept, while the Uri one, driven by hunger, crowed exceptionally early, and the runner of Uri crossed the entire Urnerboden before the Glarus runner even set out. On the pleading of the Glarus runner, the man of Uri agreed to let him carry him back uphill as far as he could, and the present border between Uri and Glarus is where the Glarus runner fell dead.

I actually could imagine this. In July 2002, as part of my first attempt to ride passes and be a Truly Heroic Cyclist, I took the train to nearby Erstfeld and on a beautiful summer day I headed to Altdorf. I took a break there as Altdorf is famous as the hometown of the mythical William Tell, Swiss National Hero and he of the famous crossbow and apple incident. I visited the charming museum in the charming town and the two people at the reception were genuinely delighted that a Canadian was there to see the exhibits. Or perhaps just anyone, since I was the only visitor there. I lingered for quite a while but I had a big climb ahead, so I got back on the Marinoni and soon was headed uphill. There was a sign directly in the village warning of what was to come. I guess they are red to warn you but to Truly Heroic Cyclists it is like waving a red flag to a bull. Onward and upward.

The first part of the road was very pleasant but soon I ran into a series of impressive hairpins and it was an odd sensation as I kept seeing the same view below but the houses and the waterfall just got smaller and smaller.

I caught up to a young Swiss couple, two cycletourists who were loaded up with all their gear. We stopped at a little bakery along the road for some tea and then I said goodbye and headed up on my own.

The road, which was built between 1893 and 1899, was in perfect condition and the vistas were amazing. At the time I had basically no experience in serious climbing except for what I had done on this trip to Switzerland and I found that I was needing all the gearing that my triple chainring would give me. Luckily I was not having to race but the climb did require a lot of concentration.

A cyclist, not me

I was twice passed by racing cyclists who seemed not to have any issues with the road but I kept on grinding away, stopping more frequently than normal to take pictures, but the scenery made this excuse believable. The Klausenpass is very popular with cyclists but there were also interesting cars that went by, including a Lamborghini, since the pass is also the site of a famous automobile time trial for antique cars. It was used for racing between 1922 and 1934, and then the time trial was revived in 1998 and every four years since. There are apparently 136 curves on the route, so it is a good test of handling and driver skill.

The heights, the cows...

I continued upwards, enjoying the fine weather and passed a little hotel at the top of the climb. A stop for a photo at the elevation sign but on this weekday there was nobody to photograph me with the bike so I had to be satisfied just with a picture of the Marinoni. The climb to the top was followed by a series of sharp hairpins as I descended the other side and soon came to a long, flat section of road, nicknamed "the Runway" and I swiftly passed happy Swiss cows wandering around, and the small mountain huts where Alpine cheeses are made in summer. The road was descending very gently and I was holding a steady 40 km/h (24.8 mph) with no effort at all.

I was a bit disappointed that the descent was not much compared to the labourious climb I had just done, but my lack of familiarity with the local topography certainly meant I was unprepared as I crossed a small ridge and saw the whole valley 2000 feet below my pedals. This was pretty scarey, but I got comfortable and began to really descend at blinding speed on the excellent road. Then I went around a corner and went straight into a tunnel that must have been four kms long, followed, somehow, by a large transport truck. Wearing sunglasses and unable to slow down, this was a lot more frightening than any climb! I made it to Linthal on the other side feeling pretty shakey. But a good kind of shakey, I guess.

Them's serious rocks!

I had climbed the Fluela Pass the day before, and that had been very difficult. The Klausenpass was seemingly much easier but it has to be one of the most spectacular rides I have ever done. If you find yourself in Canton Uri with some time to spare (at least 1'00"22 from the sound of it!) you will want to do this. There are a number of challenging climbs in the area and now that I can actually ride up more than one climb a day and enjoy it I plan to go back!

For more information about the Klausenpass, you can check out here.

And you can even take a look at what's happening on the Pass via webcam.

1 comment:

Groover said...

What a nice post. Thanks for sharing the stories in history and time. Makes me wanna pack my things and leave for good old beautiful Europe ... NOW! :-)