Organisers of a recent mass participation race through the Swiss Alps have used their event to stage a wider Alpine Cycling Festival to highlight the positive impact of cycling events on tourism and the economy.
The Tour des Stations in the Swiss region of Valais offers riders different challenging and mountainous routes to test their climbing skills. In its second year, the Tour des Stations attracted hundreds of cyclists – including former Elite champions such as Spain’s Alberto Contador – to different mountain resorts: each race route started in a different venue, with all finishing in the ski resort of Verbier.
During four days before and after the challenging event, the Alpine Cycling Festival in Crans-Montana (starting resort of the Tour des Stations Marmotte Gran Fondo) hosted a series of presentations and roundtable discussions focusing on the positive impact and opportunities that the sport of cycling can create.
The key focus: how and what can the host region of Valais learn from a global leader in this field - the Italian Dolomites?
Alta Badia and Val Di Sole: speaking from experience
On June 26, 2009, Italy’s stunning Dolomite mountains were declared a United Nations World Heritage Site. The Dolomites comprise a mountain range in the northern Italian Alps, numbering 18 peaks which rise to above 3,000 metres, as well as nine distinct geographical areas, all characterised by spectacular landscapes. Two such areas have been using the full potential of cycling events to broaden the appeal and popularity of the region: Alta Badia and Val Di Sole. Representatives from both mountain areas were present at the Alpine Cycling Festival to share practical recommendations on how to turn a four-season mountain destination into a true paradise for cyclists.
Roberto Huber and Alessia Sora (both from the Alta Badia Brand) focused on how the region has become a true “home to bike moments”, with the key pillar of that strategy being the Maratona dles Dolomites. The first Maratona dles Dolomites was organised on 12 July 1987 and saw 166 participants cycle 175 km over seven Dolomite passes and towards the finish line in Pedraces. The race has since grown into one of the most recognised and sought-after cyclosportives in the world; in 2019, the Maratona received over 31,600 applications, from which a total of 9,000 lucky entrants from 72 different nations obtained their place on the start line. In addition to the Maratona, Alta Badia hosts other annual road cycling events with roads fully closed to traffic, including the Sellaronda Bike Day (which sees 23,000 riders explore four mountain passes) and the Dolomites Bike Day (with 108km of routes and five mountain passes). Some of the key elements of Alta Badia’s strategy to become the best summer cycling destination in the world include: holiday offers dedicated to cyclists (including bike friendly hotels), cycling schools, guided tours and kids’ races, as well as recognised Italian bike brands as key partners.
Since hosting the 2008 UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships, the region of Val di Sole has hosted and continues to host a variety of UCI mountain bike events (World Cups and World Championships). Sergio Battistini (from Dolomeet HUB and Race Director of the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup) shared practical recommendations on how to become a bike-friendly destination. Key messages included focusing on creating a spectacular and memorable product – with cycling events at its core; targeting different experiences for different types of bike users; using the winter ski season to promote the summer appeal of a mountain resort; and creating a bike culture among the younger generations. With over 25,000 people attending the Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup event every year, the event represents a key milestone to market the numerous tourism offers to a global audience.
Opportunities for cycling growth in Valais
With signposted cycling routes, challenging and panoramic mountain passes and adventurous alpine and valley roads, the Swiss region of Valais has great potential to develop into a well-known cycling destination like the Dolomites. Travelling by bike is one of the best ways to experience the Valais, both for leisure riders, mountain bikers, road racers and gravel riders.
While skiing currently still steals the spotlight in terms of regional tourism, all roundtable participants agreed that cycling offers great potential to increase the area’s international exposure. Events such as the Tour des Stations – which takes the most courageous riders through 220km of mountainous roads, with 7400m of climbing – are thus working to become the annual “product” that the Maratona dles Dolomites has become.
In addition to hosting three Tour de France stage finishes (Crans-Montana in 1984, Verbier in 2009, and the Émosson Dam in 2016), all eyes will be on Aigle and Martigny in 2020 when the two cities host the 2020 UCI Road World Championships. The key lessons shared by the Dolomites representatives thus provided practical food for thought to fully maximise the impact of such an international event on the economic, social and tourism development of this Swiss region!