The gran fondo leads through Switzerland, Italy and France with the biggest climbs being Col du Grand St Bernard (>2000m elevation gain!!!), Col du Petit St. Bernard (>1200m) and Cormet de Roseland (1200m). Although smaller, the other climbs like Col des Montets and Col de la Forclaz put more dents into the energy reserve. But always keep in mind that there is the final climb up Col des Saisies in the last 10km.
It is a great challenge. It is hard, no question. But it is so worth it. Every climb is worth the effort because spectacular views are waiting for you! My favorite “wow” moment was descending from Cormet de Roseland. I came around a corner and all of a sudden there was a huge turquoise lake ahead of me glittering in the setting sun! That made the entire 300km beforehand so worth it!
This was a tough event – no doubt. It is physically and mentally very demanding with a lot of riders dropping out. It required a special strategy for me to complete it successfully with a smile. And this is what I want to share here:
Splitting the course
I split the course into four. 330km and 8000m of elevation is too much to take it fully in so I split the course mentally.
There was first – what I call – a “warm up phase” with the first three “minor” climbs Col des Montets (430m elevation), Col de Forclaz (420m) and Champex – Lac (880m). Then we had the true challenge which I knew this could be the breaking point and requires especially mental focus: Col du Grand St. Bernard and Col du Petit Bernard.
After that, I would celebrate the last “real” climb up Cormet de Roseland. And the climb to the finish of Les Saisies would be basically turning laps around Champs Elysee – it was a celebratory climb up to the finish.
Yes, of course, that was not the case! 🙂
But instead of being “scared” of the climbs, I wanted to give each climb a reason why to ride them up; instead of “obstacles” making them “opportunities”. Of course, being physically fit is important, but I find, with these types of events, the mental part is the most important asset and telling yourself “YOU CAN” is winning half the battle.
I prefer riding by myself during these types of events or with people who know me and I them. Since that was not the case, I rode on my own. Of course, if there were riders around me with the same pace, I work with them but the nature of the course was not suited for that. I prefer riding by myself because then I can truly focus on my pace and my effort. It is too easy to adjust to someone else’s pace. And although it might not hurt there and then, it will 200km down the road.
Keeping it quiet
It depends on the event but for this event, I chose not to talk to anyone and did not seek conversation – which is not like me!!! But I had deep respect for this course and knew I had to watch myself constantly. Am I hungry? Am I too hot? Too cold? Thirsty? When I talk to someone I might miss my physical signs and even more importantly lose my mental focus. I needed to be 100% here so I also can hear my “mental” cues. Do I need to cheer myself on?
My most important number: Elevation of climbs
The night before, I wrote all important numbers of the course profile on my forearm. For me, the most important number is the elevation (not elevation gain) of all the climbs. A lot of times, you can see a house at the distance of a climb that seems like the top but if you can compare the elevation difference, you can gauge quite well, if it is truly the end. That has helped me so many times!
For all my endurance events listening, understanding and responding to my body and my mind has been the key. No one else knows better than I how I feel and what I need. And learning and improving to respond to those cues means becoming a better endurance athlete.
After 15:39 hours I crossed the finish line – I couldnt believe it to see that I got 3rd woman! Besides the challenge itself Tour du Mont Blanc is set in a fantastic region. Every climb has something different to offer. For someone who wants to combine a massive challenge with a beautiful course, Tour du Mont Blanc might be a great option!