For the first time in the history of the race, the Tour De France visits Bern, Switzerland. The capital city of both the Bern Canton (the equivalent of a county in Switzerland) and the country as a whole, the old town of this medieval city of 120,000 was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983. The city constantly ranks highly in both quality of life and cost of living rankings internationally.
The city is filled with water fountains that sprout up from freshwater springs lying underneath the cobbled streets. During the summertime, the adjacent Aar River is filled with swimmers and bathers, floating and frolicking to their hearts’ delight in a clear river filled with Alpine runoff. The Münster Cathedral sports the tallest bell tower in Switzerland, shooting up above the walkable, tranquil old city.
This trip to Bern will be forever remembered as a farewell event for the retiring Fabian Cancellara. Bern is the hometown of Cancellara, one of the most celebrated riders on the circuit today. The man known as “Spartacus” has held the yellow jersey for 29 days, a Maillot Jaune record for someone who has never won the race. In addition to his success at the Tour the former world champion Cancellara is also a noted classics rider, having won the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix three times each as well as Milan-San Remo. The cycling world will miss a true legend.
The Canton of Bern is one of Switzerland’s true cultural delights. Nutty Emmental cheese and Toblerone and Nestlé chocolates serve to treat any palate. The Eiger and Jungfrau Massifs are two of the most iconic mountain collections in the world, and are both protected by UNESCO status. Finally, the famous Swiss watchmaking industry is especially strong in Bern, with Rolex, Omega, Longines, and Swatch headquartered in Bern.
Beginning in Bern, Stage 17 of the 2016 Tour passes through the Canton of Vaud before the mountaintop finish at Finhaut-Emosson in the Canton of Valais. The end of the stage could not be more different than the start: Valais is known for Pinot Noirs, liquors produced with local peaches and apricots, and Raclette cheese on rye bread. Valais is the site of the famed ski areas of Crans-Montana and Zermatt, and ice hockey and alpine mountaineering rule the day. Additionally, a massive hydroelectric dam called the Nante de Drance supplies a majority of the region’s electricity, setting a model for sustainable energy the Swiss should be proud of.
Stage 17 should be a great opportunity for the climbers to attack on one of the few uphill finishes in this year’s Tour. The final 35 km/21 miles are mostly climbing, with the riders summiting the Category 1 Col de la Forclaz before tackling the uphill, Hors Categorie climb up to the finish at Finhaut-Emosson, an especially steep jaunt with an average gradient of 8.4%. Look for Colombia’s Nairo Quintana, England’s Adam Yates, Australia’s Richie Porte, France’s Romain Bardet, and Spain’s Alejandro Valverde to challenge the yellow jersey of Chris Froome in an attempt to unseat the Kenyan-born Englishman and cut into his imposing lead. Should be a fun one in the Swiss Alps!