TMB Sept 15th to 19th, 2008
We had been talking about the Tour du Mt Blanc all summer. The time was set for “sometime from the middle of September”. The main decider would be the weather. None of us were willing to set out on this trip without a good forecast!
We did a little research on the route. The people we know who had done it were split on direction “clockwise or anti-clockwise”, I spoke with Jamie Carr who convinced us to go “anti”, against the flow for most parties. He made a good argument though. It went along the lines of:
- More rideable
- Less road
- You get to do the “Bovine” section which would be avoided otherwise.
- What’s the point going clockwise just so you can use the lifts at Le Tour? – They’ll be closed in September anyway.
- What does it matter??
I liked pt 5, on a multi day circular trip the direction augments should equal out, shouldn’t they?
Sian and Carl spotted a clear spell and gathered the troops with 24hrs notice. The team dropped from 6 to 4. Xaver had to travel from Munich, a good effort. He wasn’t at all sure about the chosen direction. We had to gang up on him.
We took over 600 photos, the best 92 can be found HERE
Day 1. Ascent, 1300m Distance, 11km
A half day really. I’m not good at getting ready the day before so had timetable a 2pm start from Les Contamines. A cold front had just swept through the Alps leaving snow down to about 2200m. It was going to be cold! We set off from the carpark (1200m) at Notre Dame de la Gorge and managed to ride the flat 500m until the path started upwards. We were reduced to pushing within 2 minutes of starting! A combination of pushing and riding so us arrive at the Refuge du Col Croix du Bonhomme (2433m)at about 5.30pm. I had rung ahead to check the hut was open. It was. I’m pretty sure the person I had spoken to had said that it was “non-gardé”, I only realised this when we discovered that it was in fact “non-gardé”, bugger. Thankfully it had just been vacated by the guadian, this meant that there was plenty of left-over food for us. 2 others had been caught out in the same way, the hut was stocked with wood for the fire and gas for the stove. All in all much more relaxing than when these places are staffed and all for 10€.
Day 2. Ascent, 1700m Distance, 36km
This morning was cold with occasional mist. We could see the day would end up perfect but to start with it was well below freezing. We were not up for what was obviously a fairly difficult descent until it had thawed somewhat.
We waited until 10am, at least the ground had defrosted. We rode the tricky singletrack down to Les Chapieux. We had an early lunch at the Refuge de la Nova, more of a guest house really. Open most of the year. From here it was a 900m grunt up to the Col de la Seigne (2516m), by this time the weather was pretty much perfect. We descended down to the Val Veni, before we got to Courmayeur we included am excursion (another 500m of climbing) up onto the South side of the valley. As we started so late in the day and hadn’t eaten much this was fairly painful. Well worth it though for the riding and the views. By the time we dropped into the valley the sun had long disappeared and it was quite chill again. We had talked to a local about the best way to get to the Hotel, it involved a clever dirt road near the exit to the Mt Blanc tunnel and saved us a fair amount of faff.
Day 3. Ascent, 1400m Distance, 47km
We set off in better time this morning, the gentle ride up the Italian Val Ferret was another freezing affair, a great looking spot though, much more American than European. We reached the end of the tarmac in about an hour and a half. Here we could not pass up the opportunity for a coffee and cake. We had come to the conclusion that the only places that were open at this time of year would have tarmac leading to them (we were not wrong), this left some quite large distances between refreshments. The slog over the Col du Grand Ferret was very slippery that day. The descent was on the sunny side so had dried up. The track was a real highlight of the trip. Towards the bottom we came to a farm. We believe a left turn here would have led to more singletrack. Lunch in La Fouly was calling and we missed it out. The rest of the ride down the valley bottom was world class. We rode right to the bottom of the valley to spend a sneaky night at a friends house. The purists would have climbed up to Champex Lac.
Day 4. Ascent, 1700m Distance, 44km
After a lift up to Champex Lac (that saved 800m of tarmac climbing) we had our second coffee of the morning and still managed to get going before 9.30am. We had feared this next section for a while. It had been described as a 1hr “carry”, 500m of ascent, we had actually avoided much carrying up until today and Sian especially didn’t fancy her chances on this. None of us ride particularly light weight bikes! As it turns out it was very hard work. We know one thing though, you’ll not be riding this climb in reverse, it’ll be another hour of carrying. Once we’d dealt with the carry it was all good singletrack from then until the col de la Forclaz. Well worth the effort. We had lunch here – BIG MISTAKE, it’s a tourist trap. Next time we’ll head down to Trient for better value. We knew the riding from here on, we climbed up to reservoir above Vallorcine (another 500m) and descended the new Vallorcine downhill course, we sneaked a traverse in to Le Buet and then headed to the MBC in Chamonix the fasted off road route we know. The weather was threatening to break.
- Is “anti” the best way around – who knows? We’ll do it “clockwise” next time just to see.
- We’d definitely wait for good weather, the break in the weather we went for worked out perfectly.
- Would we advise going on an organised trip? Definitely, just imagine what you’d do if you had an injury, a mechanical or an illness? RidetheAlps would be my first suggestion for an “anti” trip. We had various advantages over most. We have all worked as bike guides in the Alps for over 5 years and we know people on both sides of Mt Blanc who can help us out if needed. We ride strong well tested bikes and we don’t break them!
- Would we do it again? Like a shot – either way round.