More Groupetto than GC contenders, we are a group of friends with a certain number of Alpine climbs, Etape du Tours, and Marmottes to our names even if crossing the finish line each time was never an easy accomplishment. This time we were looking for something different. For someone else to look after us, the logistics, the itinerary, the support van, the refreshments, the hotels, the food…. All we wanted to do was to show up and ride our bikes for a few days.
With that in mind, I reached out to Dylan at Ride & Seek. Together he and James came up with the idea of a circuit around the Mont Blanc. Largely inspired by the route of the ultra-sportive of the same name, this is a brief account of the trip: a 4-day challenge, like nothing we had ever done before. 3 countries, incredible riding, stunning views, flawless organisation, and a sense of camaraderie and achievement that will see us make this a regular fixture of our cycling calendar.
Day 1 – Megeve to Chamonix
We arrive in Megeve with Dylan and James waiting for us. We relax after the 6hr drive from Paris, unpack the bikes, transfer our bags to the support van and prepare to roll out for 50km warm-up ride from Megeve to Chamonix. Lovely back roads and 800m+ of climbing allow us to check all is well with the bikes and to prepare the legs for what is to come. Chamonix is busy, the restaurants full but a table for 8 is waiting for us 2mins from the hotel. A large plate of pasta and a tiramisu the size of the task ahead accompanied a briefing from James on the following day’s ride – the toughest of the 4 days – 90km with 3400m+ of climbing from Chamonix to the summit of the Col du Grand Saint Bernard.
Day 2 – Chamonix to the Grand Saint Bernard Pass
We all meet at breakfast with a view of the Mont Blanc. Excited and slightly nervous, we roll out for the first of 4 climbs – Col de Montets, with its 9km at 5.1%. A gentle start to the day is in order. Once past the summit, we freewheel down across the Swiss border, the PCR tests and COVID vaccination certificates remain firmly tucked away in our jerseys as Swiss customs seem wholly uninterested in our presence. Next up was the Col de Forclaz – 6.9km at 6% – this was tougher and the coffee stop at the top was a welcome break. Things started to get serious now as we headed to the foot of Col de Champex – 14.6km at 7.6% – this one started to sting but was a beautiful climb with panoramic views and a steady gradient. As we arrive at the summit we are 1800m+ into the day and the picnic lunch next to the Champex Lac was picturesque and perfect timing. After lunch, the final difficulty of the day beckoned. The Col du Grand St Bernard – 26km at 6.1% – finishing at 2469m altitude. This has figured 5 times in Le Tour and is classified HC coming from the Swiss side. The climb is long and grinding but with a manageable gradient until you leave the main road for the last 6kms. The mountain pass heading up to the Auberge de l’Hospice perched at the summit is tough and rarely falls below 8.5% but the views are stunning and help with that final effort. Our rooms at the Auberge are waiting for us and the after-ride beer and generous dinner are well deserved and much appreciated. Unsurprisingly we are (very) early to bed.
Day 3 – Grand St Bernard Pass to Bourg St Maurice
It’s 2° outside, we are at 2469m altitude, the sky is blue and views incredible. Today we are riding across Italy to finish in Bourg St Maurice. We don winter kit, long bib shorts, arm warmers, thick winter gloves, take some pictures and begin our 30km descent into Italy. Once into the valley, we make a mental note to someday climb the Col du Grand St Bernard from the Italian side – it was breathtaking. The support van awaits and we change back into summer kit as the Italian sun bakes down on us. A cup of coffee and we set off for 30kms along the valley, once again with the Mont Blanc surveying our progress. We pass Aoste and stop at a restaurant in Morgex at the foot of the Col du Petit St Bernard. On the menu is pizza, coca-cola, and some minor bike maintenance. Dessert is a 27.6km climb at 4.5%. We plan a stop halfway up at the beautiful mountain village of La Thuile where the van is waiting with refreshments and encouragement. So far so good, nothing too tough up until now. The remaining 13.3km alternate between 4.5% and 7% with a long segment of 1.2km at 8%. The last 2km are ‘only’ 4.5% but by now we have a headwind, often a risk at the top of this climb, and we finish in the same gearing as the section at 8%. On the descent down to our hotel in Bourg St Maurice we nip into an inviting bar at the ski resort of La Rosiere for a sneaky beer and to catch the last 45mins of the TdF stage. Once arrived at the hotel, we log our 120km and 1800m+ into Strava and head out for dinner.
Day 4 -Bourg St Maurice to Megeve
The final day and another big one with 75km and 2300m climbing taking us back to Megeve. The Cormet de Roseland – 18.6km at 6.1% – begins within 500m of leaving the hotel. No doubt the most visually stunning climb of the trip so far. We even have the pleasure of a crowd to cheer us on towards the top, as the camping cars, polka dot flags and cowbells jostle for space ahead of the TdF passage the following day. Another well-timed coffee stop on the way down to Beaufort, before attacking the final climb of trip – the Col de Saisies, 15km at 6.6%. By now the legs were screaming and it’s all in the head for the last big effort. The climb was fairly constant and no doubt the views were stunning however my eyes are glued to the Garmin, focusing on every pedal stroke and slowly ticking off the distance to the top. Reaching the summit was an immense sense of achievement, equal to any of the “Finisher medals” we had amassed, Lunch followed, one final group photo huddled around the summit sign, and off we went. By now the rain was coming down for the first time of the trip, making our final challenge to navigate a mountain descent on wet roads. Despite a couple of scares, we all stay upright, regrouping at the bottom and forming a peloton for the final 7km into Megeve.
As the town was frantically preparing to host the Tour de France the following day, our Grande Boucle was coming to an end, we had the pain of 330km and 8100m+ in our legs and smiles across our faces. Another ticked box on our cycling bucket list. This was exactly the challenge we had come looking for. Over dinner that evening there was only one topic of discussion: Where would Ride & Seek be taking us next year?
Thanks Dylan, thanks James, thanks to Ride & Seek and see you all next year.