by Marcus Leach
As cycling's popularity has risen over recent years, buoyed by the successes of British riders and teams both at domestic and internaational level, so to has that of sportives - or organised cycling events in other terms.
Many people may have heard of the big ones, the likes of the Etape in France where riders can take on one of the hardest Tour de France stages under full race conditions, but there are many more springing up all over the UK. Whilst technically non-competitive the fact most include the use of timing chips means there is a healthy level of competitiveness on display, even if it is purely racing against yourself.
Europe on the other hand is no stranger to sportives, many of which are compettive given they offer prizes for different catergories. However, there is one sportive, billed as 'the toughest one day bike event in the world', that is not so much about winning but simply finishing it.
At 330km long, going through three countries and with eight thousand, yes that's eight thousand, meters of climbing and descending in a single day it is easy to see why the Tour du Mont Blanc is seen as the ultimate one day bike event.
Sport Communication, the company behind the event, are no starngers to organising sportives that aim to push riders to the very edge. They offer over ten events as part of their Grand Trophée where the focus is very much on distance and mountains.
"We started this project in 2010, at a time when similar events were rare in France," Loïc Beaujouan of Sport Communication explaind. "Quite the opposite actually, most cycling events tended to be decreasing distances and offering shorter routes. On the other hand we have always put the accent on long distance routes on all the events we organise."
All you have to do is take a look at their events page to realise that the rides they organise are not for the casual Sunday cyclists, these are for serious amateur riders looking to test themselves on stages that would make a seasoned pro wince.
Whilst they all offer a very serious challenge none of their other events come close to the Tour du Mont Blanc, a ride that circumnavigates the great mountain itself by starting in France, heading into Italy and up through Switzerland before coming full circle back to France.
"We had the idea of creating an 'ultra-event' around Mont Blanc," Beaujouan added. "To ride through three countries and climbing up six passes. And so Le Tour du Mont Blanc was born.
"The first year was a success, with 150 participants coming from ten different countries, including just five women.
"The next year was hectic, with extreme weather. We go up to 2000m above sea level, and summer weather can be unpredictable at these altitudes. We thought it would impact negatively on the popularity of the event, but it didn't, far from it.
"Those who didn’t manage to cross the finish line that year made it a personal goal to come back and get their 'finisher' shirt the next time. Since then Le Tour du Mont Blanc has become one of the legendary rides, and attracts more and more cyclists trying to push their personal limits."
The 'finisher' jersey Beaujouan talks of is a coveted white jersey awarded to each and every rider who manages to complete this epic ride, and is, within certain circles, a sign that you ot only have the legs, but the heart and spirit to tackle the world's toughest ride. It is to be worn with immense pride.
This year's event is expected to attract record numbers, included in which will be The Essential Cyclist as we head to France in a bid to claim our very own white jersey.
For more information on the Tour du Mont Blanc, as well as details on how to enter, head over to Sport Communication's dedicated Tour du Mont Blanc site. If you would rather a fully organised trip to take part head over to VeloCamps who offer a comprehensive package.