Event Recce Report: Suisse Gravel Explorer
Taking place at the beginning of September next year, the Suisse Gravel Explorer is a must do for gravel and gradient junkies alike.
We got Hotchillee ride regular Tinks to fit some low gears, engage his climbing legs and prepare for some fondue action to discover what this three day event entails.
What’s you overall impression of the three days?
Gruelling riding but always more than off-set by the stunning location. A lot of the time it didn’t feel like we were in a real place, it was like riding through the set of a Disney movie – I half expected the cows to start singing!
The daily distances don’t appear to be that daunting but they seem to pack in a lot of climbing.
Yes, I think the three days average out at about 2000m a day and, on the last day, all of that is packed into the first 30km.
Is so much climbing hard to get your head around?
A bit but you get to gain a lot of those meters on blessedly smooth tarmac. However, you often see the gravel trails scarring the landscape above you and you know you’ll be winding your way onto them. Despite the big climbs, you never feel remote or exposed, there’s always a picture postcard village around the next corner – often with a snow melt fed water fountain or a café.
And the accommodation on the first night is a bit special?
Yes, you stay in a converted monastery which is an event in itself. It’s beautifully restored into accommodation that makes for a really special and unique experience. The building is a real landmark that constantly appears on the vista throughout the three days and it just feels really fitting.
What goes up must come down, are you rewarded by some fun descending?
Yes, definitely. It’s ear to ear grins all round with some stunning singletrack trails more than payback for the uphill effort. If you’ve got any sort of mountain biking background, you’ll fly but there’s nothing too technically challenging or sustained for most riders. We have also come up with some escape routes if some riders want a smoother ride down.
The Queen Stage is the final day, topping out at well over 2200m. What’s that like on two day fatigued legs?
Tough! Ride Captain Ian was alway a couple of switchbacks above me and you ride right up to the Alpine meadows where paragliders are launching from – you feel as though you’re riding into the sky. You do then get the reward of a 30km descent which is predominately gravel and one of the most epic I’ve ever ridden on a gravel bike.
So, how physically hard is it?
Out of five, I’d rate it as four and a half – you definitely need to enjoy and embrace climbing on this event.
And technically, what off-road skills level do you need?
I’d say two to two and a half. There are a few sections where some MTB skills would be useful but definitely not essential. On the whole, it’s mainly wide flowing trails and fire roads.
Bike set-up and kit wise, did you get it right?
I ran 40mm GravelKings which were perfect. I ran pretty wide gearing with a 1X set-up with 34t on the front and a 52t on the rear – basically a SRAM mullet set-up. Even with this though I was occasionally looking for that non-existent dead man’s gear but, on the whole, I had plenty of gears – I just need to get a bit stronger! Kit wise, the main thing, as ever in the mountains, is to have layers. We had everything from freezing rain to 40C sun. You’ll have a support vehicle so don’t be shy about bringing plenty of spare clothes.
Any final thoughts?
Yes there’s a lot of climbing but you’re riding in one of the most stunning locations on earth. Don’t just ride chewing your stem or fixating on your computer with your head down. You’re not racing, they’re relatively short stages, you’ve got all-day to ride them so look around and take it all in.
Places on the Suisse Gravel Explorer are limited to 30 riders. For more information on stages and to book a slot go to