Gran fondo trip report: Tour du Mont Blanc DIY edition

Monday 03 August 2020 by Frank Jansen

Some time ago, Cyclokalender published a call for the submission of beautiful GF stories. Today we publish our third edition, written by Astrid Witters. Would you like to share your own gran fondo story, too? Send it by mail, preferably including pictures, to (max 800 words).

The corona virus caused many events to be cancelled. By discontinuing my rotations I was able to make myself useful at the corona department of the hospital in Maastricht. Even though it gave me a lot of time to cycle. A lot of solo endurance rides made that I was in good shape and my experience of last year while cycling the Alpenbrevet Platinum, a 268km ride with 6800m of elevation, made that I had confidence in my abilities.

Crazy plan

The cancellation of the Tour du Mont Blanc fueled my creativity and the plan to ride it solo. The Airbnb was booked anyway, and a friend wanted to help me with the supplies. This offer gave the green light to put the plan into action. My mother was also excited to join me on the trip and enjoy the beautiful views from the car. The trail is 338km long with 8800m of elevation.

Friday at 5am in the morning I stood next to my bike. It was 5 degrees so the outfit was the same as you would jump on your bike in the middle of winter. An extra fleece sweater under my windstopper, buff, winter gloves, leg warmers and overshoes. Very happy with these clothes because the course started with a descent which made it stone-cold. The first hours went well and at 10am I was already on top of the Col de la Forclaz.

The Champex climb was the one I feared most because of its steepness. An 11km climb with 8% on average. After this climb the best part followed. The Col du Grand Saint Bernard is totally my thing. From Orsières a 26km climb with an average ascent of 7%. The last 6 km are still vicious up to 9%, and in the last 700m you touch the 13%. But ooh how beautiful it was. In those 2 hours of climbing I met one other cyclist and a handful of cars. Heaps of snow at the top and a nice open blue sky finished it.

Suffering in Italy

After some rice cake, refilling water bottles and putting on the winter clothes again, I was ready for the descent to Italy. During the descent a temperature change from 10 to 35 degrees. The area Verrogne was unknown territory in terms of climbing profile because there are no known cols here. The climbs ticked between 8-12%, so it was also here under the hot Italian sun. On the stretch of false flat in La Salle I counted on some recovery. However, there was a nice headwind during the climb of the Col du Petit Saint Bernard. I started the Roselend at dusk and reached the summit in the dark. So there was not much looking around anymore. Glenn had come to accompany me on my bike and 2 hikers in the distance on the mountain encouraged us. Here we both had a good laugh with ourselves. We could also remove 'climbing in the dark' from our bucket list.

The descent was long, cold and the unlit hairpins made it an extra challenge. The last 38 km consisted of 16km of climbing. At 1 a.m. I reached Les Saisies completely satisfied. I really enjoyed all the beautiful views, both during the climb and the descent. After 2,5 years of cycling, I'm especially surprised that my body digested this ride so well. I contacted the organization because I was curious about how many women complete this challenge. An average of 81 women per year register for this GF of which 30 women make it to the finish.


  • The ride on Strava 
  • Cols: Col des Montets - Col de la Forclaz - Champex - Col du Grand St. Bernard - Col du Petit St. Bernard - Cormet de Roselend

Text and photos: Astrid Witters

Related stories

© C Y C L O C A L E N D A R (2014 - 2020)