This is the Tour du Mont Blanc, so what more needs to be said – it’s tough, beautiful and extremely rewarding. Just read the route article below and follow the GPX file, and have an amazing ride!
Stats: 148.8 km and 6,941 metres of ascent
Stats wise, the route was about 151km with 7100m of climbing overall, reaching a high point of over 2600m. We rode from Chamonix, but you can choose any start point.
Day 1 53km 3553m+ (options of 2 télécabine rides reducing climbing by 1800m)
Day 2 54km 2133m+
Day 3 44km with 1400m+
Refreshments & Where to Stay
The Chamonix valley is a good base for starting things off, and there’s ample options along the route, but we recommend some using mountain huts, making it a true bikepacking adventure.
‘Mountain trails’- Image by Scott Cornish
The Tour du Mont Blanc is one of the most iconic routes in Europe, crossing through 3 countries and made infamous by the annual exploits of 1000’s of ultra runners racing its full 170m length at the UTMB in August. Its technical trails reach heights of over 2600m, for 10,000m of elevation gain with grand views atop every col. High mountain refuges offering hearty feeds are plentiful en route for those opting not to spend the night under the stars, all in stunning locations. It’s not a long route in biking terms, but it’s not to be underestimated for its physical challenge!
Although the TMB is essentially a hiking path, much of it mountain singletrack, the mtb route options vary in length from the more direct 151km route we followed bikepacking style to 5/6 day 280km+ options, with more lift assisted availability. There is a record, of course, for the fastest self supported traverse of the official 170km route at just over 19 hours, but opting for a more leisurely pace allows you to get the most out of riding this stunning track.
Our chosen variant was a bit shorter, but meant less pushing and more pedalling whilst still retaining the highlights of the TMB. My co-bikepacker for this mini adventure was Alan Colville, a veteran of marathon racing, but who had yet to experience bikepacking. What a great place to start! We opted to be fully self sufficient, carrying light weight tents (I had an MSR 1 person Carbon Reflex), a stove and an Aeropress for the obligatory sunrise coffee. Both of us turned up.in Gore C7 2in1 shorts, ideal all weather long distance wear!
My ride was the Pinnacle Ramin3, a bike with a versatile dual personality. Trail bike one weekend, an ideal bikepacking rig on another. The only part that was swapped out were the tyres; the supplied WTB Trail Boss for lighter, more xc tuned WTB Rangers in a 2.25 width. An alpkit frame bag fitted perfectly into the front triangle, ideal for food and stove portage. All sleeping gear fitted into the front bags, with the tent stowed in the saddle bag along with dry/warm clothes. Despite a forecasted ideal weather window, wet and cold weather gear was still packed. This is the high mountains after all and storms can catch you out unprepared. Besides, this trip was about being comfortable, no suffering here, with warm clothes for evenings and mornings!
Water wise, you’re never far from a source in the Alpes, especially on this popular route, so it’s not necessary to carry much, 2 750ml is easily sufficient.
Our route had the option of two lift assists on day 1, significantly reducing the overall climbing, but us being us, we opted to ride every possible vertical metre! The 2nd lift wasn’t open yet anyway, so do check summer opening times if you’d prefer to use the lifts where possible.
Riding anticlockwise from Les Houches, the dirt road climb up to the Col de Voza came all too quickly. This is the 1st lift assist option, missing out this steep track. An 18% average, ramping up to 30%. Need a caffeine refuel after that? The col top cafe is open from early summer! No less steep is the descent, loose and dusty 4×4 track. Caution not to miss the left hand turn, otherwise it’s a tarmac descent into Contamines!
Be wary of shop closing times outside of the official summer season, as they all close between 13h00 and 15h30! We managed to mistime our arrival in Contamines after a relaxed mid morning start, but a few restaurants were open. Being Coeliac, food options were limited for Alan, but we managed to keep him fed along the way. Buckwheat galettes were a great option.
The climb up to the high point of the col de la Croix du Bonhomme is probably the toughest of the route, with a sizeable chunk.of hike-a-bike along the top half, mostly due to the unusual lingering snow from 2200m.
High above les Contamines, we approached a bowl surrounded by high peaks, with seemingly no obvious way onwards! It was off and pushing towards the col along tech hiking trail. Not particularly exciting knowing you have a lengthy push ahead, mostly due to the snow, but the endpoint is truly worth the effort. Wet and sometimes deep snow added to.the adventure! From a windswept col du Bonhomme, the snow clad trail to the higher Croix du Bonhomme continued upwards following the mountain’s contours, disappearing into the low slung clouds.
After a couple of sections lugging bikes across steep snow fields, the refuge was a welcome sight through parting cloud. Back on the bikes for a brief descent to the refuge.
Having arrived later than planned, we took advantage of dinner on offer, having arrived with minutes to spare before they closed the kitchen! A great decision as it turned out, with gluten free polenta and a hearty beef stew on the menu. Not so palatable if you were vegetarian though. Even with the inviting warmth of the refuge, tents provided our accommodation, pitched with a glorious view of the surrounding mountains. Our day’s efforts were rewarded with nature showing off at both sunset and sunrise.
Not being in any particular rush in the morning, we sat back with fresh coffee warming hands to watch the day slowly emerge.
Once back on bikes, the descent in the early morning glow was stunning! Apart from the occasional dismount over more jagged terrain than we could ride on loaded bikes, it was an otherwise real endorphin charge to start the day.
It wasn’t long before the route headed back up. The 360° views from the Col de la Seigne at 2550m made up for the lung busting climb. What a place to linger, warm sunshine and snow capped mountain views in every direction, topped off by yet another cracking big mountain descent.
From here we dropped into Italy, for a ride along valley singletrack and past Refuge Elisabetta, the planned overnight stop, but the mountaintop stop was a way better option!
Now on the opposite side of Mont Blanc, the climb up to the Col Checrouit was mostly secondary road, but the views of the Glacier du Mirage made up for that. Meandering up winding 4×4 tracks that doubled up as ski.piste in the winter, we were soon in the peaks high above Courmayeur. A huge descent dropped us swiftly into the Italian ski resort, non technical, but steep and super dusty! Sunshine glinting off the haze of dust kicked up by our wheels.
A small shop just up from the bus station, en route, provided plenty of gluten free food for Alan with outside seating for a relaxed lunch break. Pricey of course though.
8km of pavement pounding up out of Courmayeur was one of the mtb detours off the official TMB route, avoiding a long hike-a-bike section. Over the top and we entered into a deep sided valley following the river trail. If you have time, the crystal clear waters are perfect for a quick dip! A refuge at the valley’s end provided an ideal refuel and coffee stop before the long climb out up and over Col Ferret, along the trail we could see disappearing up the mountainside.
Switchback fire road eased us in, up to the refuge Elena, before unrideable hiking path took over, pitching up steeply at times! Grand views of the length of the valley and cascading glaciers eased wincing calves.
Despite the windchill, we took our time at the col taking in the 360° views. With the sun on our backs, we flew down lingering snow fields and flowing mountain singletrack, dropping into Switzerland towards Champex, our next destination. Not before stomach’s demanded food though! A well timed refuge just up from the valley floor provided dinner, but at a hefty expense!
Tree lined valley single track followed the flow of the river, the kind of trail you wanted to just keep riding all day long. Wanting to pitch up before darkness fell, we found a quiet spot on the climb out of the valley. The MSR Reflex tent is quick and easy to set up and pretty roomy for a single person tent.
The sunrise ride up through tree lined singletrack was stunning. We rode in silence just the sounds of effort, taking in nature’s show, riding in and out of the sunbeams streaming through the trees.
Another good food store find in Champex, just before the lake, for Alan. Stomachs full with a 2nd breakfast, we bimbled along more river side trail, spinning out the legs in anticipation of the penultimate climb. Well known for its steep slopes bringing UTMB competitors to their knees, we understood why as it became gradually steeper and looser under tyre, forcing defeat and pushing, much to the intrigue of hikers as we hustled past them with our loaded bikes.
Over numerous river crossings and up tight switchbacks, we quickly gained height on the trail’s steep slopes. The final 2km was at least rideable along the ridge edge, and what a view! Now above the treeline, the Valais valley stretched out far infront of us. The ridge top refuge had to be an obligatory stop for coffee and cafe! An ancient summer refuge with the original kitchen, still churning out homemade treats and tasty coffee. Worth a ride out from Chamonix as a day trip.
Trying not to indulge too much in the delicious cake as there was a steep 2km climb to the top of the descent and what a descent. Cracking singletrack, a real mix of flow, technical and steep, all whilst avoiding hikers! Amazing! From the col de Forclaz, it was still downwards, smooth tarmac connecting us swiftly to the final climb up past the hillside hamlet of Les Jeurs. Non technical ski piste tracks brought us to the col de Possettes and far reaching views of the Chamonix valley 1000m below. From here it was all downhill!
Rocky, contoured ski piste dropped us into le Tour and the start of the tree lined singletrack of Petit Balcon Nord trail, flowing all the way into the edge of town.
Our endpoint was Moody Café, the best coffee in town, but you’ll have to be there before 17h! Stinking cyclists are probably best using the outside seating! A large, cold fruit smoothie helped soothe tired legs, alongside a coffee of course.
What a ride. Camp out or use the refuges, it’s an iconic trail worth doing despite the hike-a-bike sections. This alternative does employ a couple of detours to minimise pushing, namely the sections Entreves to Planpinicieux and via Les Jeurs instead of Col de Balme which is unrideable in this direction. If the weather allows, overnight up high as the effort is well worth it for the spectacular sunrise.
We rode in early June avoiding the summer holiday crowds as it gets busy on the TMB route. Numerous companies offer guided longer tours if you don’t want to bikepack it and keep off the official route.
Click below to download GPX file
Tour du Mont Blanc