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Verbier bike tour, 1999
The Mad Milers' first annual outing in 1999 saw all founding MadMilers roadtripping to Switzerland in July. Buster had checked Verbier out the year before, and Andy and Simon were planning a practice run for the Cristalp, so we knew challenging terrain lay ahead. Met by a posse of locals from Geneva, we had three days of glorious sunshine, big hills, and wicked downhills. Not to mention loads of fondue and pasta (in the same meal in Simon's case), watered down with unknown and under-rated Swiss white wine.

On day one, the MadMilers rode the first half of the Cristalp, allowing Andy and Simon to realise how much trouble they were in. We set off from Verbier towards the Croix de Coeur, above Savoleres. The first climb and downhill were uneventful, eventually coasting along fire roads into the town of Tzoumas. Another coast along and up the hillside led to Veysonnaz where we stopped for lunch and turned back towards Verbier. Click here to see a large and very snowy map of the area. So far, the Cristalp route looked uneventful: after all, the first half was just designed to drain riders before the serious stuff started. The first alpine downhill inevitably led to the first alpine wipeout. Along a wooded single trail, I slowed to warn the others of a narrow turn and promptly toppled over. Crashing through the undergrowth, I was relieved to discover we were riding along a steep incline, and not a 1000m cliff-face. As the others turned the corner, they were treated to the amusing sounds of my wipeout and the sight of my bike propped up upside down against a tree with me lying under it, 15 feet below the track. Andy had to perform a delicate extraction operation, including removing brambles from my clothing. Decending into the Rhone valley, we then decided to ride the train back to Verbier, having already completed 80km. After a luxurious train and bus ride home, complete with the obligatory negotiation with the drunken bus driver to let us load bikes into his bus, we arrived home in time to enjoy a beer on the hotel terrace whilst the sun set and in time to welcome the girls to Verbier.

Day two was a dedicated downhill day for the MadMilers, with all members buying a lift pass for Verbier. This is an excellently organized (very Swiss!) cable car system where you load you bikes onto a modified cabin whilst you ride up the lift in all the comfort which Andy's rancid arse allows. Theoretically, you can cover hundereds of kilometers in a day (either on skiis or by bike), without ever having to do any climbing. We began by taking the lift up from Verbier village at 1500m to Attelas at 2800m, and downhilling to Ruinettes along gravelled roads. Here, we joined the official Swiss MTB downhill run and scared each other witless. Despite needing a change over underpants, we decided we had been far to tame and needed another (several?) go, somewhat brought about by the 10 year old kids who screamed by us, yelling obsentities like "move over, Granpere". Taking another lift up, we decided on the second run to cross from Attelas to Le Chable via La Chaux, a vertical drop of some 2000m. This necessitated the start of a new sport of snow biking as shown here. Petra began the day's wipeouts by sliding over a water supply pipe whilst crossing a small stream: she ended up on her back in a small bog. After La Chaux, we headed down the valley towards Le Chable where the lads took a separate track. Somehow we managed to lose the girls, so they were not around to witness Andy's wipeout and subsequent bruise analysis. We rode back up to Ruinettes, where, fueled with new bravado, we vowed this time to conquer the downhill run. As you can see below, bravado in the face of certainties such as the effect of gravity is misplaced. Again, we were back at the hotel in time to enjoy a beer or two in the setting sun whilst we swapped war stories and inspected injuries. The pain of these injuries was soon annuled by the effects of a few pints of Pilsener followed by a barrel-load of white wine.

On day three, Andy, Jens and Simon decided to ride the second part of the Crisalp, but Buster set off with Michael, Dom, Nicolai and Sylvia to ride towards Nendaz. The plan was to ride across the Croix de Coeur, and then down and across the valley into Nendaz where we would get a lift to Tortin and downhill back to Verbier. Of course, even the best laid plans can go awry, so a half-backed, cobbled together plan was bound to go badly wrong. We set off in sunshine (as shown below) and cruised up to the Croix de Coeur. After a brief downhill into Tzoumas, we coasted across the hillside towards Nendaz. At this point we strayed from the original route, and having given the map to Andy and Co., we couldn't decide on which route to take to get back on track. Erring on the side of caution, we decided at several junctions to head uphill, so avoiding uneccessary loss of height.Or so we thought. After several wrong turns we realised that we had climbed much higher than we needed to, and were nearly in Siviez, the half-way point on the lift back up to Verbier. Unfortunately, the lift would have been much quicker, so if we had gone downhill and taken it, we probably wouldn't have missed the last lift home by 15 minutes!At this point, Sylvia was flaging and all of us were desperate for some food, having eaten all my power gels for novelty value in the first half-hour of riding. Badly deteriorating weather persuaded us to spend the next couple of hours in a Pizzeria, hoping the rain would slow up. Naturally, it didn't. At five, we realised that we would have to venture into the rain, so Nic and I (complete with rain gear) decided to ride into Sion whilst the others took the last bus. As Nic and I enjoyed our hot chocolates in the Sion train station, wondering whether the others would make the train, in rode Michael , Dom and Sylvia: the final bus had only gone half way down the valley, so they had to get wet with the rest of us. For the second time in three days, we had to negotiate a lift on the postal bus back up to Verbier with the irate and drunken bus driver. At least this gave an amusing anecdote to share with the Cristalpers over dinner in the Fer-a-Cheval. In fact it almost matched their story of Andy's parking job on a hillock in such a way that it needed an hour of puzzle solving and mechanical trickery to work out a way to get home!

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