Tackling the Tour of Mont Blanc - Helen Fairbairn

In April I signed up for a bikepacking event. It would be my first time bikepacking out of the UK. As well as my longest consecutive ride and the highest amount of elevation I’ve ever ridden on a daily basis. It was colossal.

Leanne is wearing the W's Neema SS Crew in blue.

I felt unprepared, had a chest infection and sadly my ex partner suddenly passed away the week before. Needless to say my mind was in turmoil and my heart and lungs felt fragile. Despite this I knew riding my bike and being outside would help, it’s my kind of therapy. If I wasn’t coping well I always had my backup plan to cycle along the coast so I had nothing to lose.

I want to share with you my favourite day of the trip and hopefully a message of giving things a go even when you feel like you can’t do it.

The Torino to Nice Rally is a 750km route from Turin to Nice via some very steep, beautiful and breathtaking mountains, literally breathtaking. There was a healthy mix of road and off-road to explore, keeping it exciting. It was an adventure I will never forget and really want to repeat next year. I want to share with you my favourite day of the trip and hopefully a message of giving things a go even when you feel like you can’t do it. You may surprise yourself like I did.

I was equally excited and nervous of the many colles that lay ahead on this day, with the added drama of a thunderstorm possibly rolling in too. We heard some very sad news about two men that were struck by lightning the week before and died on the colles. This made us a little more apprehensive and the message to never underestimate mother nature was clear. I knew it had to be a full commitment kind of day but also to be prepared to get off the mountain as soon as possible. Not to compare the Alps to the Scotland mountains but I felt like I had a fair understanding of
changeable weather and my career in the outdoors and years of riding solo has prepared me somewhat.

Day two of the TNR. I barely slept but somehow I was on my bike and riding at 0730, even before a coffee which is absolutely absurd for me. The day started off with climbing some super smooth tarmac switchbacks which quickly escalated into perfect gravel. I bumped into a couple of riders along the way and was secretly pleased to see they were also finding it hard. It helped me congratulate myself and applaud my efforts rather than focus on the negative self-talk that I’m famous for.  Anyway, I knew I wasn’t far from the summit of Colle Delle Finestre and there was a refugio that sold rocket fuel in tiny espresso cups for $1 so I had two of them and carried on trucking. I was hungry for a decent breakfast, the squashed croissants were getting boring and it was only day two but I had bananas and rocket fuel to propel me. I saw the plateau along with a huge array of motorbikes parked there, the bikers were full of smiles and congratulated the riders rolling in. I took some photos, spoke to a couple of buddies and put a layer on in preparation for the descent. It was perfect, smooth tarmac with views that made me tear up, cows with their bells chiming and a cafe stop mid way for an omelette, more coffee and a sink to wash in. The glamour.

I was having the time of my life, I love riding solo, it gave me plenty of opportunity to think, feel, process and say hello out loud to all the animals, mushrooms and trees without any judgement ha. The tarmac turned into gravel again but I felt strong and had a ‘share’ bag of skittles. The next couple of colles went on like this, undulating roads, the best gravel riding of my life and me telling the views how beautiful they were. The thunderstorm hadn’t appeared but the sky was pretty grey in areas so I tried to move fast. Earlier in the afternoon I heard that the thunderstorm was due around 1pm and so far I couldn’t see any signs of it. However, I was coming to a section where there were limited exit strategies and I didn’t want to camp on a mountain in thunder and lightning. A decision needed to be made. Do I commit and carry on hoping that my judgement of the sky was accurate or do I abort and head off the mountain range? I trusted my gut, my knowledge of changeable weather and carried on. Later, around 4pm I got some phone signal and my buddies assured me the weather forecast had changed. No thunderstorms. Now, I just had daylight to contend with along with the land rovers and motorbikes. I checked the route on Komoot and I couldn’t believe how close I was to the hotel and what I had just cycled, I was elated. To top matters I saw my very first Marmot (I didn’t realise I’d see many more) I squealed and ‘sent it’ down towards Sestriere to reunite with the girls.

Leanne is wearing the W's Neema SS Crew in grey and W's Stratam Hooded Jacket.

Just before I got to the town I stopped to admire the view, take some more mediocre photos and pat myself on the back. I couldn’t believe I had just smashed it out and felt fairly good, excluding the coughing fits. To think that I was considering staying at home a few days prior. This has been a monumental juncture that I will cherish forever and hopefully deploy this memory when I’m feeling weary. Note to self; I can do more than I realise.

I hope this long ramble helps someone in times of doubt. You won’t know until you give it a go. P.S. most of the route was just as epic. Here’s a list of the summits of day two.

- Colle Delle Finestre 2,176m
- Colle Dell Assietta 2,472m
- Col Bleiger 2,381m
- Monte Genevris 2,511m
- Colle Bourget 2,304m
- Colle Bassett 2,426m

Our Neema lightweight base layers and wool mid layers are perfect for multi-day adventures. kora fabrics help to keep your body temperature regulated and their natural breathability and wicking properties mean they can be worn without washing for several days at a time.