A Mont-Blanc Gravel Tour with Etienne Hubert

Tokyo is now behind me. The Olympic Games take months of preparation and involve strict constraints – weeks and months of self-sacrifice. The results weren’t quite what I was counting on, but there were new lessons to be learnt once again. Paris 2024 will no doubt be my last Olympic Games. I know that I’m still obsessed with the desire to give it my all and to win, so I’ll do everything I can to get there.

But right now, I’m craving wide open spaces. After the last few months of training and my weeks spent in Japan, it’s impossible for me to get back to normal daily life without the crucial step of submerging myself in nature, reconnecting with life’s simplest things and, for a few days, pushing myself to tackle every difficulty thrown at me.

Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc

I’ve thought about doing a tour of Mont Blanc on gravel for a long time. I’ve researched routes and gathered stories about it. As a map fanatic, I’ve dissected them to find the best route. For me, the ideal itinerary is the one which goes via as many paths as possible, and which veers off the built roads to get as close as possible to the paths. Gravel still has to mean rideable though, so that the epic doesn’t turn into an epic ordeal. I’m giving myself 3 days to do this – it needs to be a realistic time goal, given that, at the start of October, the days have become extensively shorter.

I went on a quest to find friends who wanted to share this tour of Mont Blanc with me. Having friends on board for this kind of experience transforms it from a sport and nature mission to a true party. For Patrick, who lives in the Mont Blanc region, it didn’t take long to convince him. He had just completed the same tour by road, so the desire for something more original and, at times, a bit more hazardous really tempted him. And so, we set off.

We packed light. I completely threw my usual principles out of the window, such as riding in total autonomy, bringing everything for my meals and nights with me – that’s to say, bringing the very minimum. This time, we reserved a few nights in small hotels that were still open at the end of the season. I hope I’m not becoming middle class, but I don’t think so.

Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc

The whole length of the journey I imagined myself riding with a bit more gear, making my den wherever the path took me. Admittedly, the bike’s setup could have been a bit different because certain sections of the ride favoured bikes that are equipped with good suspension travel, as opposed to our semi-rigid gravel bikes, which were often more than mistreated.

As for the route, we set out to complete an itinerary of 220km with 7500m of elevation gain over 3 days. The weather was supposed to worsen on the last day, but in reality, we had ideal conditions for the trip. The rain that was expected on the last day created a kind of debate, we talked about it with hikers and other cyclists on electric mountain bikes that we met.

The glass half empty people promised us hell so far as the weather and the mountain terrain that awaited us were concerned. The glass half full kind predicted the best scenario possible. You should always listen to the optimists; these kinds of people help us move forwards in life. We had the best weather and the worst of the mountain terrain made us smile.

Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc
Etienne Hubert – Mont Blanc

We upheld our rhythm of 2500m of elevation gain per day, sometimes a bit more. Every chance we had we took the off-road option, even if it was very rough. We pushed, we carried, we also fell, but we always got back up, nothing too nasty. On the second day, we covered only 14km by 1PM, so we had to eat up 70km in the afternoon, followed by a pretty hazardous descent in the dark along the road going from Cormet de Roseland to Beaufort.

We took time to lift our noses up off the handlebars and observe, appreciate, meet people. That’s what I like about this kind of adventure, and it’s why I’m never reluctant to go alone if no one wants to come with me: the people you meet are always great and never disappoint you. To embark upon a trip like this is to make yourself available and open to meeting people. And it always works.

I have plenty of projects in mind – explorations by bike, on cross-country skis or by kayak.
I’m even thinking about combining several of these modes of transport into one experience. I’m really into the combination of bike-cross-country skiing for this winter. I’ll start looking for a potential playground for this idea – a new Caravan story to come!

Further Riding