Sunday 30 September 2018

Tour du Mont Blanc

I remember very well when I was starting with road cycling. At that time I dreamed to ride 100km in one go. It sounded unreal and impossible. However once I did that, it seemed to be not that difficult so I was raising the bar higher and higher. Alpenbrevet Silver then Gold, Gotthard for lunch, Furka for dinner. Cycling from early morning till late dusk in mighty Alps... the limits are only in our heads. So what could be next?
Well, for example ride around Mont Blanc. Over 330km and 8000m climb. That looked good to me as a cycling challenge for 2018 ;-)

Before reading further, I have to disappoint you: I didn't ride that distance in one go during official race. I had those that kind of thoughts but then I came to the conclusion that even if somehow I'd be capable to do it I wouldn't have time to enjoy the scenery and the trip itself. Therefore the plan was to do it in two days with one overnight.
I shared that idea with BBVC folks and soon I had Isabelle and Matthias joining this trip. Going with friends is always easier in case something goes wrong so all my fears went away and I was ready for Mont Blanc!
Two days trip is already a micro bikepacking adventure. I was very lucky to have a frame bag from Triglav which was just perfect to carry all my stuff.
I must say that collecting and selecting all necessary items was not that easy as it sounds like. Preparing a list before and several packing tests were very helpful to get what was really needed and to keep the weight down.
Finally I decided to take the following: 
  • Shorts
  • T-shirt
  • Pair of socks
  • Flip flops
  • Wet napkins
  • Spare tube
  • Two Cliff bars
  • Two energy gels
  • Power bar magnesium shots
  • Shower gel
  • Shampoo
  • Tooth paste & tooth brush
  • Sun cream and chamois cream
  • Deo
  • Laundry soap sheets
  • Some USB cables and charger
  • Power bank
  • Go pro holder
All went in without any issue. As the bag was made exactly for my ritchey road logic I had good access to the bottles and the bag was sitting very tightly and securely on the Ritchey's road logic frame:

Go pro and the stronger lamp was a must for this trip:

Very solid straps from Triglav - zero movement of the bag even during steep climbs out from the saddle. Yellow accent matching very nicely to my yellow bar tape:

The trip. Day #1
Saturday 7:00 we took a train from Vevey to Martigny. The plan was to start from there and go through both Bernard's cols up to France and spend one night in Bourg Saint-Maurice. In this way we would do exactly half of the loop with the most difficult climbs during the first day, when the legs are still fresh.
Talking about the legs and power, I have to mention something about Isabelle. Although I was riding with her for the first time I already heard some legends about her endurance. Ultra run marathons in Swiss alps of the 100+ km distance, official Tour du Mont Blanc where she basically didn't stop for 18hours and did 330km / 8k km climb in one shot... 

that's impressive... and yes I made the same face ;-)

With Matthias I ride pretty often and I know he is very strong rider. So all in all I was the weakest from our trio but what a heck, it wasn't a race, it was an adventure!

From Martigny we started the first climb heading Chapex-lac. 11% climb gradient was a nice wake up in the morning. I could feel very well the additional weight of the bag and started to think if I really need all that stuff ;-)
After a while we were on top of the col and started our first descend during that trip.

The weather was simply beautiful. The sun rays were crossing the small clouds, creating a spectacular view on the valley down below.

After that nice warmup the hard work was about to start. The first real climb was ahead of us - the Grand St. Bernard

This one is a real beast, especially the last part close to the top. I did it several times but now, with the bike loaded it was really hard to climb up.

I guess the important thing is to not think about the climb itself but feed your head with those amazing views. Watching the mountains allows you to keep your attention away from your legs and somehow it goes easier.

While the road up to the top was very quiet, the col itself was totally different story:

We were welcomed by some kind of race from Italian side so the mountain was full of cyclists, motorbikes and cars...

Trying to regroup on the top we realized that we lost Isabelle. She already went down so we had to do the same.

We've got Isabelle just before Italy so our trio crossed the Swiss-Italian border together

Next and the last climb of the first day was Petit St. Bernard. Before taking the smaller brother of the Grand St. Berdnard we decided to stop for a lunch. This was really good decision as the temperature was really high. Matthias did a fantastic job by finding a perfect, true Italian restaurant just after Aosta. We sat there in a shadow for about 1.5h hour and took full menu of delicious Italian cuisine.
After lunch and strong Italian espresso we were ready to continue. We went to the bikes which were left on the sun and Isabelle noted 48 Celsius degrees on her garmin. It was hot!
The last climb started very slow. The heat was so strong that I had a feeling that my tires are melting. Water was vanishing from our bottles really fast so we had to stop very often to refill. Fortunately we could find fountains on almost regular basis.

Finally we arrived to the start of the last climb. The road got nicer, covered by some trees giving some shadow and relief to our bodies.

I don't own any bike computer and didn't check in details all the climbs but I thought that by the name the "Petit", meaning small, will be indeed smaller than Grand St. Bernard.
I was very wrong. The third and the last climb was definitely the hardest one. And it could be that we were already tired but the road was done in the way that it was going to the final top of the mountain. You'd think that it's the end but it wasn't. Every completed turn was showing the next one and it was endless.  I was really cursing in my head, who made that route?!
When we finally got on the top I felt the relief.  We accomplished the first day!

The weather was getting worse and rainy clouds were covering the sky so without thinking too much we started our last descent to France where we had our hotel waiting for us.

By changing the border we also changed the landscape. Large open space came to our view when we crossed border with France.

Last few hairpins and we were there. I could almost see and feel the cold beer :)

And that was the end of Day 1. We stayed in Hotel Arolla in Bourg Saint-Maurice. Very nice place, clean rooms and really good location right in the city center. We had a walking distance to the downtown, full of restaurants so we spend a nice evening enjoying the food and well deserved, cold & fresh beer!

Strava summary of Day 1:

Day #2
Our second day started very early. Just after 6AM we rode to the bakery next to the hotel and had fine sandwich, croissant and coffee. All our trio with a good mood started our journey heading the most beautiful climb of Day #2.
Cormet de Roselend is a beautiful climb. Less challenging than two twin brothers, Bernards so it was really a good start in the morning. The magical pass got even more beautiful when the rising sun was slowly lightening up the mountain.

My legs were still slow after day #1 so it was a good excuse to stop and do some pictures.. and I was not the only one taking out the camera :)

After reaching the top and doing some selfies we saw Isabelle passing us and heading down to Lac de Roseland. We had to follow her again!

Road down to Lac de Roseland was surrounded by rocks. Tarmac was in pretty good condition so we took some nice speed and cruised down to the lake.

At the lake we met Isabelle. We were all surprised seeing so many people on the water doing standup padding. 

Quick rest and we were back again on the road descending to the next stop - Col des Saises

Here basically my photo-story ends. Col des Saises was not really spectacular so we just documented it with some selfies. 

Following a nice burger lunch afterwards we started our climb to the last combination of passes in France Flumet - Megeve - Chamonix.

In Chamonix we felt already like at home. Area was well known for us and we did very quickly the last climbs called Col des Montents and Col de la Forclaz  

Last descent was down to Martigny which was a very relaxing ride with head full of hapiness and beautiful memories 

As you can see on the last picture above I was only with Matthias. In France when we decided to stop for a proper lunch Isabelle of course continued without stop so by the time when we were finishing the ride she was already approaching a train station in Martigny.
Luckily we were pretty fast on the last straight so we caught the same train and we came back to Vevey together like we started...

Strava summary of Day 2:

This 'weekend loop' will stay in my memories for a long time. Pretty demanding distance, three countries, mighty passes with a flavor of road bike-packing. BTW, Dawid from Triglav did a fantastic job. His frame bag was like glued to my bike and because it was in the center of gravity I could climb and descend like almost without any additional weight. Brilliant product, highly recommend it!

This route goes on the top of my favorite list of climbs. I can't wait for 2019 to repeat it.

Thanks for reading

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