Le Tour du Mont Blanc 2017 lived up to its reputation as the toughest sportive in the world – again! Hammer Sport fielded seven starters, three solo riders and two teams competing in the ‘Duo’ version – all completed well within the time limit of 20 hours.
The cold light of dawn rose shorty after the 5:00 am start from Les Saisies with 696 riders descending 11 kms to begin their incredible journey through three countries (330 kms). They will climb seven alpine cols (8,700+ m), including four HC climbs. overcome additional climbs considered, by the organisers Sport Communication, not worthy of note.
Apart from contending with the terrain, riders had to conquer the low temperatures early morning, the heat of the Aosta valley in Italy and ensuring both nutritional and hydration needs were met precisely. The attrition rate of this sportive is high and with only 412 finishers, only 60% of those starting actually reached the finish line!
Our journey to Le Tour du Mont Blanc
The decision to ride Le Tour du Mont Blanc was taken during the summer of 2016 and in October of that year training began in earnest. A solid base of training, often completing over 320 kms per week, was required to ensure the body and mind was prepared. As the weeks and months rolled by various events and additional speed work were added.
The Hammer from Salcombe provided an early season challenge for the legs during early April. La Bourgogne (La Bourgogne vs LBL Challenge!) replaced our planned ride at Liege-Bastogne-Liege so we could take advantage of better weather and riding the mini-mountains near Macon, France towards the end of April. In mid-May we trained over Exmoor taking advantage of the longer climbs before heading to Morzine in June. Morzine Haut Chablais cyclosportive – a real test in hot conditions! It certainly was, being half the distance and climbing of our main objective, Le Tour du Mont Blanc in mid-July.
Riding Le Tour du Mont Blanc
Three of the team entered as Solo riders and four entered as two teams (Duo). One of the team rides the first section through France and Switzerland (157 kms) including four cols, one of which is HC, the Grand St Bernard rising to over 2,400 m. At the summit, the second rider continues and rides the final 173 kms. The Petit St Bernard (22 kms), Cormet de Roseland (19 kms) and Les Saisies (15 kms) are all tough HC climbs where many fail either being out of time or just too exhausted to continue.
The atmosphere created by common purpose produced a special camaraderie, an appreciation of each others suffering and determination to complete Le Tour du Mont Blanc where so many had started and so few would finish. The dramatic scenery of the High Alps surrounded the almost ‘tunnel vision’ of each rider locked in their own battle, their own war of attrition which only they could overcome.
As you begin the last HC climb towards the finish line, all the pain and tiredness leave you in the realisation that completion is within your grasp. The finish line edges closer, ever closer as the sun begins to set the other side of the final mountain. Riding through Hauteluce, the last village before Les Saisies is special, a haunting melody from somebody playing a saxophone wafts down the slope and for a short time you are, again, alone with your thoughts and emotions as you strive to complete the last few kilometres.
As you climb through Les Saisies to the finish, walkers applaud your effort and children encourage a high-five! The sense of relief, the end of eight months hard work becomes emotional. The finish line beckons, the finish line is crossed, finally you can stop and savour the moment, the achievement.
46 riders from the UK started and 32 finished. Many were not able to overcome the brutal headwind from the top of the Grand St Bernard on the Swiss/Italian border down the 40+ kms descent. The headwind took its toll in the Aosta valley, climbing and descending the Petit St Bernard and climbing the Cormet du Roseland. Of the 9 relay teams, all finished the race.
Success for the Hammer Sport Team
Andrew Thompson 14:39.05, 67th overall, 21st in 40-49 (out of 211), 3rd UK
David O’ Connor 18:37.49, 357th overall, 85th in 50-59, 22nd UK
James McDiarmid 19:10.08, 386th overall, 93rd in category 50-59 (out of 112), 28th UK
Jeremy Meades & Harry Preston – 16:40.09, 3rd of 9 teams
Kev Favis & Mike Fairman – 17:48.38, 7th of 9 teams
Hammer Sport is the UK’s premier continental sportive team and club and focuses on helping its members achieve success in Europe. Sport Communication organise The Grand Trophée Series of cyclosportives in Europe, the Look Marmotte Gran Fondo series and Le Tour du Mont Blanc – more at Cycling Classics.
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