Tour du Mont Blanc day 2

….. Day two – the tortoise and the hare. On the climb out of the Refuge des Mottets we’d been swapping stories and jokes with an Andorran trail-runner, out for a gentle jaunt around Mont Blanc. As he was on foot and we were mostly carrying our bikes it was only to be expected that he would say his farewells and trot off into the distance, on the flat and descents we would easily be quicker.

Climb to Col de la Seigne

Sure enough, we met him again as we dropped into Italy, the descent at first on open foot worn tracks with natural berms for every twist, then as we neared the refuge a wide 4×4 track which gave us the chance to fully appreciate what must be the most spectacular valley in the alps, Val Veni. Only then the front shifter on Sannys bike jammed.

We stopped and faffed.

Bike faff

Saying Hi as he passed, the Andorran caught up.

Sanny continuing with the new fashionable 1×10 set up for the rest of the trip, we caught our friend again, with another chat.

Did I mention Val Veni is spectacular? You can’t ride down it and not stop for photos. We said Hi again.

Val Veni

In the kids fable, the sure and steady tortoise eventually beats the impetuous hare. In real life, there was no such doubt as to the winner of the race. As we started the push up from the valley floor towards the Youla bowl we waved him off and could only wonder where he finished for the day….

Youla climb

Meters Climbed: 2435

Meters Singletrack descended: 1161

…..Descent espresso Our legs were starting to feel the effort of the last 12hr culmative riding, however there’s nothing quite like a movie perfect piece of trail to take your mind off them. I’d hoped the descent into Courmayeur would be worth the detour from the fast track along the valley floor, but I never thought it could be as good as it was.

Youla descent

Starting in the high alpine, the trail gently curved along the hillside, under the peaks used for the skiing Freeride World Tour. Eventually the trail started to swoop through thinly spaced trees, gradually thickening, but still keeping the fast and pumpy  feel . The briefest of climbs at the Col Checrouit passed without changing gear before Courmayeur appeared below us. Heading down the steeper winter pistes on a more switchbacky section of singletrack, we steadily lost height before more tree lined singletrack brought us out onto a 4×4 track Gaining speed on the fast and loose surface, plenty of JMC tribute hairpin drifts were had before the final section was spotted dropping off the edge of a bend.

Hard breaking, hanging off the back of the bike technical riding followed before we were spat out across the river from Courmayeur where the trail finished with some urban descending through narrow cobbled streets and down flights of steps. 1180 vertical meters and one of the best descents I’ve ever ridden, made even better by the obligatory stop for Italian food and drink.  Pizzas all round…..

Courmayeur descent, lower sectionPizza. (spotting a theme yet?)

Meters Climbed: 2830

Meters Singletrack descended: 2346

…..Tick, Tick, Tick. Boom. Yesterday’s odd noise from the rear hub had now manifested itself as something worse. On the descent into Courmayeur the free hub had started to occasionally stick meaning I had to keep pedalling to stop the chain dropping into the spokes, not a good thing less than half way round. Now, part way along Italian Val Ferret, I discovered there was enough friction in the hub to stop the wheel free turning after only a couple of rotations. This was why Sanny was a spec in the distance & enjoying himself whilst I grovelled my way up, nothing to do with him being fitter and me being on the verge of blowing. Knowing that it was a steady sit down and spin climb to the Elena Refuge, 880m above  Courmayeur, where I could buy coke, or beer, or even coke & beer, was pretty much all that was keeping me going.

The Elena refuge had closed that morning.

Sanny valiantly attempted to persuade them to re-open, using words that would’ve impressed British, German & French dockers, but not Italian. Probably why the doors didn’t open. There was nothing for it but to start pushing and humpfing the bikes up to Col Grand Ferret…..

Grand Col Ferret

Meters Climbed: 4187

Meters Singletrack descended: 2346

….Lucky cows. The drop into Switzerland from Grand Col Ferret had lived up to the standards we were now coming to expect, but there’d been nothing extra marking it out as special like the Bonhomme, Seigne & Courmayeur descents. We were nearing (or so we thought) the end of the singletrack & the Swiss Val Ferret road end where we would make speedy progress down the tarmac when, without thinking, we swung left.

Swiss Val Ferret descent, upper section

The path got narrower & took us along the valley, torn between concentrating on the narrow ribbon of trail & looking at the brilliantly named Marmontains hills around us. Eventually we started to head upwards &, with the road head now on the other side of the valley & some distance behind us, I accepted it may be time to consult the map. We’d taken the ‘wrong’ trail. Fortunately ‘wrong’ is a matter of perspective. The map showed the dashed black line would eventually rejoin the road just outside La Fouly, it was an easy choice to keep going.

Swiss Val Ferret descent, lower

“This is perfect singletrack”

Sanny was struggling to believe our luck.

“I told you the trails were better in Switzerland”

however he was still able to advance his argument of Verbier’s superiority to Chamonix trails. The trail did put forward a pretty good case. Quite how a trail so rideable, with so much flow, came to exist naturally I don’t know, but those Swiss cows obviously have more riding nous than we thought…..

Meters Climbed: 4227

Meters Singletrack descended: 3323

Descent to La Fouly

…..Fitter, happier and more productive. We arrived in La Fouly at 1805, hungry. With the in-built navigation system that suggests mountain bikers share more DNA with pigeons than most, we instantly found the village shop.

“Désole, il a  ferme a dix-huit heure”

Our looks of desperation were correctly interpreted and, before we had even begun to explain that you do not tell hungry Glaswegians they canny have the food infront of them, we were waved in with a “vite, vite!” Vite we were and moments later were consuming the traditional village shop bounty of bananas, chocolate and biscuits. With the first tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs satisfied we looked to the second, shelter. Sanny was all for pushing on down the road to Champex, but he was still feeling fit and had ridden the trails here before. I was not and had not, so was making the argument for stopping, happy to have the longer day tomorrow. Only where would we stay in La Fouly? I looked left and saw we were stood next to the Auberge I’d pencilled in for that nights stay. It seemed foolish to resist….

Meters Climbed: 4227

Meters Singletrack descended: 3323