This year's major objective is conquering the new Superfondo of the Tour des Stations, a beastly gran fondo featuring an astounding seven challenging cols.
Arriving in Vollèges, Switzerland on Friday, we settle into a comfortable apartment. Saturday begins with a calm morning, breakfast, course analysis, and and some relaxing. By early afternoon, we head to Verbier to collect bib. The organizational process is seamless, from receiving the race number to a well-stocked goodie bag, allowing ample time to explore the extensive promo village.
August 5th, Sunday - the day has arrived. The primary objective is completing the ride within eleven hours, a challenge I've prepared for extensively using the JOIN app and a customized nutrition plan crafted by nutritionist Daan (who's worked with Team Jumbo-Visma). Ready to tackle the new Superfondo of the Tour des Stations.
This newly introduced route spans 185 km with over 6800 meters of elevation, bridging the gap between the gran fondo (146 km/4600m+) and the ultrafondo (242 km/8848m+). To conquer this massive elevation gain, the route encompasses a staggering seven climbs. Effective pacing is essential.
The day commences at 4 a.m. with a carb-rich breakfast. After a final bike check, I set out. The pre-dawn darkness requires lights and a rain jacket due to drizzles. Pedaling from Vollèges to Le Châble, a sea of rider lights greets me as others await the start. Around 170 participants have chosen this challenging distance.
At 5:30 sharp, the starting shot echoes, and we embark en groupe towards the first climb, Col du Lein. The overcast sky means we ascend in darkness, creating a ribbon of lights. The fastest riders swiftly vanish from sight. I maintain a comfortable pace, reaching the top after an hour of climbing, including a gravel segment. Another gravel stretch awaits on the final climb.
The weather clears, but the chilly 9 degrees propel me cautiously downhill. Even before I reach the base, gran fondo riders from the 6:00 a.m. start overtake me. After the descent, the first substantial aid station appears with the sunrise. A flat 5 km section precedes the second climb. I join a group to conserve energy.
Now, the ascent to Ovronnaz starts. A scenic, slightly broader road winds through the wine region. The climb spans 10 km with an 8.4% average gradient – no easy task. Remaining fresh, I maintain a steady pace, summiting after 50 minutes. A narrow road through vineyards leads to a gorgeous descent.
Descending, I reach the second stop. Sunlight floods the valley, reaching 14 degrees. Windless conditions make for delightful riding. Onward to Mayens-de-la Zour, the third ascent. The two-part climb stretches almost 22 km with a 4% average. The descent of over 3 km interjects with 9% average stretches, adding to the challenge.
The ascent's charm lies in revealing the road on the opposite side, adhering to the rock face. This overlooks the second part culminating in Mayens-de-la Zour. Another aid station awaits at the summit. After the routine, I push forward, descending to St-Martin before the climb to Mayens de Vernamiège. Over 13 km at a 7.7% average, a climb I handle well. An hour later, I reach the peak, followed by another aid station.
With a brief pause, I prepare for the next substantial climb – 19 km to Thyon 2000, exceeding 2000 meters. The initial 4 km offer a slight descent, leading to steeper sections up to 11%. The last 3 km remain above 9%, and fatigue creeps in. Reaching the top, I take a longer break. 145 km and over 5300 meters of elevation done, 40 km and two climbs remain.
Despite sunshine, over 2000 meters remain chilly. After 15 minutes, I descend toward Veysonnaz, where the penultimate climb to Nendaz awaits – 10 km at a 5% average. Manageable, if not for encroaching fatigue. Despite the slower pace, I reach the penultimate aid station in over an hour. Six down, one to go! I rest, refuel, and ready myself for the final challenge: Col de la Croix de Coeur. A fitting finale at 12 km with a 7% average, peaking at 13%.
As the clock nears 5:00 p.m., I resume the journey. The initial kilometers feature gradients exceeding 12%. An unpaved stretch follows – 900 meters at an 11% average with a 19% peak. Pedaling through, I survive.
With 3 km to go, the finish arch emerges, boosting morale. I accelerate on the last stretch. After nearly 12.5 hours, I cross the finish line, tired but content. The summit's chill prompts a quick jacket donning, followed by a well-deserved recovery beer or two.
The Tour des Stations, a meticulously organized gran fondo, offers a stunning course. Aid stations are excellent, and traffic control is abundant. A must for enthusiasts seeking extensive elevation challenges. If the Superfondo leaves you wanting more, the Ultrafondo beckons.