Le Tour du Mont Blanc (330km, 8000m+)
The idea of some bike buddies to ride 330km with 8000m+ on 1 day seemed initially a nice challenge, but as the event got closer, one fundamental question arose: how would the body react when being 16 hours in the saddle. Anyway, this ride would become record-breaking in terms of distance, duration, elevation and... physical preparation.
The preceding months:
The objectives were soon clear: rinding lots of kilometers, make extra long day trips with many climbing, and ... losing some body weight... In Belgium many long cyclosportives are organised in the spring, such as Liège-Bastogne-Liège which is the absolute top with 270km and 4000m elevation. That event was a first good training, despite the endless rain, the cold and the strong wind. If I had to ride the TDMB in such awful conditions, I would probably have pulled out.
As training/holiday there was also a trip to the Stelvio region to see the 100th Giro, and one week in the Swiss Alps to climb the Furka-, Süsten-, Grimsel- and San Gottardo Pass.
Losing body weight was not that difficult; eating smaller portions and no more candy did the job! The days before the Tour du Mont Blanc I weighed 73 kg, which was 4 to 5 kg less than the normal weight.
The day before:
To be well rested and relaxed before the start, we booked a chalet in Les Saisies, the little mountain village where on Saturday 5 o'clock in the morning the departure of the TDMB would be given. So we could take our bike out of the chalet and ride 2km to the start, without having to take the car.
On Friday evening, the start numbers (together with a jersey and a "Finisher"-polo) were handed out during the briefing in the local event hall. Also 2 bags per person could be handed over to the organisation. In these bags you can put some clothing, food or drinks. During the event, the bags will be dropped on 2 supply points of your choice.
The last dinner in our chalet consisted mainly of carbo-loading (pancakes with sugar, sandwiches with jam) and all sorts of drinks: coke, coffee, beetroot juice, coconut water... Then a quick last check-up of the bikes by 23h everyone was in bed for a short sleep of max. 5 hours ... which became even shorter due to healthy stress and curiosity for what the next day would bring.
Tour du Mont Blanc-day:
When the alarm sounds at 4 in the morning, it's a quick succession of actions to get everything ready in time: getting dressed, have a small breakfast, last check-up of the tire pressure ... and before realising it, we are cycling in the dark night to get to the center of the village of Les Saisies where the start will be given at 5 o'clock.
There's already plenty of activity at the start line. Loud music on the square in front of the event hall while the last participants arrive. People from the organising committee hand out bicycle lights for those who had forgotten to put some light on their bike, and even a cup of coffee can be obtained.
The tension mounts when the speaker reports the start is imminent. Then "Highway to Hell" from AC/DC is played and when the start is given the whole group of cyclists starts to move.
The first descent from Les Saisies is neutralised; a car drives in front to avoid that too many risks would be taken in the dark night during this descent. The view of all the white and red bicycle lights on the winding mountain road is a marvellous view. After 500m already, one of our team members has a technical problem with his chain which takes some minutes to repair. Consequently, we rejoin the course in last position. This had one big advantage: now we had to ride at our own pace without the risk of pushing too hard in order to follow the pace of a faster group.
Even before we reached the end of the descent, the sky lit up with a pink glow that made it clear how beautiful this place is. Then the different climbs follow each other rapidly. We can enjoy some sightseeing, but the most important thing is to listen to your legs, about how their energy reserves are. This is one of the disadvantages of such an extreme event; there is almost no time to look around and take pictures, because of the fear of losing energy and time.
The roads are a mixture of quiet mountain roads and busy streets with lots of traffic . In general the asphalt is of a good quality but beware for bad road surface, especially in the descents, there . First through France, then Switzerland and Italy, to end up back in France. On some sections the wind blows heavily and a large peloton might be useful to sit out of the wind to save some energy for later.
Without too much effort, we arrive at the penultimate feeding station where, in addition to the classic energy shots, pasta with tomato sauce and cheese is served. The atmosphere is good and it looks like the finish is near, while there are still 55km and 2 heavy climbs to go. The doubt in our head from this morning has been replaced by euphoria when we realise the end is within reach.
The last climb is ridden almost entirely in the dark. Now we can begin the countdown and we're on the home stretch. Along the road people are cheering which gives a boost. After 17hours and 30 minutes we cross the finish line in Les Saisies. There 's a band playing music and in the event hall the organizers have provided a buffet but after all those sweet snacks and liters of energy drinks from the past day, the appetite fails. Tired and more than satisfied we roll back the last 2 kilometers to our chalet to have some drinks. There is no energy left for the planned house party, and and in no time everyone is asleep.
The after-some-weeks conclusion:
This tour is exceptional given the extreme numbers (330km, 8000m+) and it is more a performance-oriented challenge than a sightseeing trip. In the Alps there are nicer cols with more enjoyable roads, but it is the atmosphere that surrounds the event that makes it unique.
I think the price/quality ration is too expensive, compared to the high Belgian standards. The event has recently been organised by another agency, and we'll probably see some improvement in the near future.
However, as is often the case during bicycle tours, there are a few factors that determine the success of the trip: the weather, the physical readiness, no mechanical failures, and of course... a good bunch of people!