Cycling Tour 2005: Furka - Nufenen - Gotthard


Original Gotthard passroad (Via Tremola). Left: series of hairpins; right: top view of the characteristic cobblestone pavement.

More images.


Seeing the 9th stage of the Tour de Suisse (June 19, 2005) on television has given us the motivation for this three passes daytrip. We have followed exactly the same route as the "profi's", only the point of start and finish was different (Hospental, rather then Ulrichen).

The Furkapass is one of the older passes in the Swiss Alps. The connection between Oberwald (Kanton Wallis) and Realp (Uri) was established in 1867. With a summit at 2431 meters the Furka belongs to the highest passes in Switzerland.
Halfway the west side slope the Furka and Grimsel pass roads meet each other in the small village of Gletsch. The name of the village refers to the Rhône glacier that once extended to this spot (1754 meters). Over the last century the glacier has shrunk considerably. Nowadays it ends well above 2000 meters (see photos below), and a further shrinkage of the Rhône glacier (and others!) is likely.

After the Umbrail pass (see our 2004 cycling tour) the Nufenenpass is the highest pass in Switzerland. It is also one of the youngest; road construction was completed in 1964. The west slope (ascent from Ulrichen) is fairly steep, on average 8%, while the last 9 km are continuously 9% or more. The downhill section initially drops quickly (8-11%), but after the village of All'Aqua a more gently graded slope towards Airolo follows. It is a really nice pass that fully deserves the classification HC (hors catégorie = the most challenging passes).

In Airolo there are four possibilities to cross the Gotthard massif: the old ­ 1830 ­ passroad (indicated as Via Tremola, since most of the road is paved with cobblestones), a much newer and wider asphalt road (used by too many cars), transport by train through the Gotthard rail tunnel to Göschenen, or ..... since 1980: the Gotthard road tunnel (however strictly forbidden ­ and probably lethal ­ for cyclists !). It will be clear that the Tour de Suisse and we have chosen for the classic variant (see photo below). The first kilometer of cobblestones is funny, but after another ten kilometers and many hairpins it becomes pretty irritating. Happily the Gotthardpass is not particularly steep (7% on average, max. 9%). Close to the top gusty winds took their toll. The last kilometer was a real battle with the elements, the pavement and gravity. Because the weather deteriorated rapidly locals advised us to descent as quick as possible along the asphalt road. Within a quarter of an hour we were back in Hospental. The hot shower was a blessing.

Click here for a gradient profile of the three passes round trip and detailed profiles of the individual passes.

Some figures:
Total length: 100 km, total height difference: 3048 meter
Total time Ward: 5h29', average speed Ward: 18.2 km/h
Total time Oof: 7h04', average speed Oof: 14.2 km/h

Total time Aitor Gonzalez (winner of the TdS 9th stage, 2005): 3h03'52", average speed Aitor Gonzalez: 32.763 km/h
Total time David Lopez Garcia (last): 3h31'25"
Abandoned during 9th stage: 27 runners (of 119).

Navigation: Start page | Day 1-3: Schwarzwald | Day 5: Oberalp-Göscheneralpsee | Day 6: Susten-Grimsel-Furka | Finally | Map of Central Switzerland (appears in separate window).


Profiles and more images.

The gradient profiles of the trips on respectively day 1, day 2 and day 3 have been made by Ward Oud in Matlab, based on the read out of his Polar S720i
Note that the given heights are based on the Polar readout, which may differ from map readings.

Click for detailed profiles of: Furkapass (east slope) | Nufenenpass (west slope) | St. Gotthardpass (south slope).



Summit of Furkapass (left) and Nufenenpass (right).
Photo below: cobblestones of the Via Tremola (old Gotthard passroad) and detail explaining the name Via Tremola ("tremble road").


Left: view of the Rhône valley with Grimsel passroad (foreground) and Furkapass road (yellow arrows). Red arrow indicates the Rhône glacier.
Right: Rhône glacier in former days.
Colour picture taken by Bernd Gehrmann (