Inside a Swiss diplomat's cycling getaway

Swiss diplomacy is also velocipedic! In Dijon, Thursday, March 30 in the morning, the cobblestones are still shiny from a recent rain when the Swiss ambassador to France sets off on his bike through the maze of the historic city center

Inside a Swiss diplomat's cycling getaway

Swiss diplomacy is also velocipedic! In Dijon, Thursday, March 30 in the morning, the cobblestones are still shiny from a recent rain when the Swiss ambassador to France sets off on his bike through the maze of the historic city center. "The only city that the Swiss army besieged," he recalls. In 1513.

Roberto Balzaretti, 58, left the suit and tie, put on wedge shoes to embark, since Monday, in Romilly-sur-Seine (Aube), on his second tour of France by bike. Seven "stages", of 4 or 5 days each, staggered between spring and autumn. An original way to meet both the French and the Swiss living in France and determine everything that brings them together.

"It's important for me to know the country that welcomes me. The bike is made to attract attention. You can change the costume, but the function remains the same, "says this athletic man who refined his project taking care to save as much cost as possible for the Swiss taxpayer. Thus, like a famous Tour de France rider, Roberto Balzaretti is "sponsored". Starting with his bike: a revolutionary electric bicycle lent by the Swiss company Maxon, whose production site is based in Beynost (Ain), 19 kilometers from Lyon. A Swiss company based in France, the whole spirit of the Grande Boucle of the Swiss high representative is summarized here.

The Maxon motor and battery are the lightest on the market (3.5 kilograms, battery included), and are invisible. Lance Armstrong would have loved it! Installed on a Cipollini frame, the Maxon-type carbon bike weighs only 10.7 kg compared to 13 to 14 kg for its lightest competitors. So that the ambassador can happily cross the Alps whistling on his machine. “With this bike, you can climb Mont Ventoux at 27 km/h. But probably not all the way to the top,” he smiles. A misadventure he experienced in the Galibier. “I had to finish the last 7 km on the pedal. I had tears in my eyes! »

For the rest, Switzerland took over European sanctions against Russia, welcomed 80,000 Ukrainian refugees and condemned Russian aggression as any violation of international law. Neutrality is not indifference but, in time of war, it implies not arming one side against the other. Switzerland also cooperates with NATO and the EU on a military level. "There are also 150 military cooperations with France," says the ambassador.

For this Tour de France, the Swiss team also has a following car which has been made available to it by a partner. It makes it possible to make the connection between two appointments when the distances are too long, or to embark the bicycles when the ambassador covers the distance by train.

We are here, in a nature reserve, on the border with Switzerland where the issues of shared water and controlling the expansion of the wolf arise in quite different terms on both sides of the Jura ridge. Not to mention the wind turbines installed in Switzerland and which pollute… common groundwater. To provide local elected officials with a reliable interlocutor, Roberto Balzaretti has specifically invited the Canton of Vaud State Councilor in charge of international relations, Frédéric Borloz, to join him in Frasne. Everyone is on a bike but the issues raised are serious.

The region is also experiencing the throes of global warming with randomly snowy ski seasons. This year 2023 was not a good vintage. Métabief, with its twenty ski lifts, must prepare to adapt its tourist offer. The Swiss resorts face the same challenge. “We also need to discuss this new model, exchange good practices. It's not worth it for everyone to persist in reinventing the wheel on their own, concludes Frédéric Borloz, later, in Labergement-Sainte-Marie (Doubbs), where, at the Maison de la Réserve, a consultation brought together the representatives of the State, the department and the director of the station of Métabief.

The Swiss ambassador took note of the local difficulties while specifying: "I can of course escalate to Bern the issues that require a state examination. But if I have any advice for you: local problems are to be solved locally. Because the state level is not always the most relevant. From up there you can see things less clearly. Europe is not absent from the debates. Thus, its Interreg program aims to promote cooperation between regions and aims to find common solutions in urban, rural, coastal, environmental development...

A studious day, in fact, punctuated by short sessions on the bicycle: 7 short kilometers on a cycle path that winds through the peat bogs above Frasne and 19 kilometers between Labergement-Sainte-Marie and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Saône-Doubs, in Pontarlier, where the day ends with a reception and a meeting with the Swiss community. For most retirees who leave Switzerland too expensive for their small pensions and who come to enjoy the fresh air of the Doubs. So much so that Pontarlier has become the town with the highest average incomes in the department!

The deputy (Les Républicains) of the corner, Annie Genevard, a binational, who is delighted to see Roberto Balzaretti in sportswear, promises to address, during a work meeting scheduled for the next morning, some "stinging subjects". "But we have ointments!" replies the ambassador. If the border is a political place, it must be a place of passage and not a place of confrontation. »

With this cycling tour of France, Roberto Balzaretti summons the imagination of the Grande Boucle with which all French people have an emotional relationship. He grasped a certain idea of ​​France and it is in this that the welcome is therefore very different. Everyone rides or has ridden a bicycle. This sport refers to childhood, to the part of simple joy that everyone feels in this effort. If Roberto Balzaretti is a cyclist, it is because he is one of us.