The Road to Mont-Blanc
The high mountains are a mysterious and unpredictable place offering a moment of escapism to experience life amidst a journey of new and unknown limits. On August 4th 2014 Mavic road ambassador Mike Cotty faced his toughest challenge yet, a 1,000 kilometre non-stop journey across the Dolomites, Eastern Alps and Swiss Alps including 21 mountains and over 21,000 metres of climbing, or the equivalent of ascending Mount Everest nearly 2.5 times in a single ride. Battling adverse weather conditions in the Dolomites and a punishing headwind for the final 500 kilometres meant that Mike had go above and beyond the realms of normality to overcome sleep deprivation from over 50 hours of continuous cycling whilst battling the elements on The Road to Mont Blanc from Conegliano, Italy, to Chamonix, France.
“Quite how I’ve actually made it to this point sometimes eludes me”. Mike said. “In some respect I guess it’s all part of the evolution of growing old, the years roll by and it’s only when you take a second to breathe that you can retrace the road at which you’ve travelled along with your own reflection that makes you realise just how much of your soul belongs in the heart of what you truly believe in. Exploration opens up a whole new world beyond physical and mental expectations of one’s self. Despite years of training, sacrifice and preparation there really is no certainty as to where or when the limit will occur. For me, that is the essence of exploration. It’s a beautiful metaphor for life. I mean, if you don’t try how will you ever know?”
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13.00hr, August 4th 2014. A final moment to relax and breathe at Castello di Conegliano before the start of The Road to Mont Blanc.
Approaching the summit of the Passo San Boldo. One climb down, 20 still to go.
Even coming early into the ride the Passo Duran is relentless, rarely dropping below double figures.
Mental focus is equally as important as physical strength during such an extreme journey.
Fortunately conditions during the first part of the Dolomites were dry and warm, allowing the true beauty of the Passo Giau to really shine.
At the summit of the Passo Falzarego it’s time to prepare for darkness. The Dolomites at night are a beautiful but volatile place.
Mike had to deal with torrential rain, thunder and lightning all the way through Bolzano and to the foot of the Passo dello Stelvio.
Despite suffering from the wind chill the Stelvio at dawn is a truly mystical place.
At the 2,757 metre summit the temperature drops to just above freezing. The strain can really be seen on Mike’s face.
Ready for the long descent to Bormio with 344km covered and over 18 hours of riding, it was a real battle to stay awake as the cold saps even more energy.
Crossing into Switzerland Mike was met with a vicious head wind on the 36km ascent of the Bernina Pass which remained with him for the final 500km’s of the ride.
Climb number 14 and the 7th ascent over 2,000 metres, the Splügenpass twists and turns through rugged landscapes helping to take your mind away from the fatigue. Even the locals look impressed.
Mike takes a moment to make sure he’s on the right road towards the San Bernardino Pass. A mistake navigating is easy to make and can be costly, especially after 33 hours of riding.
Riding through two nights in a row is unknown territory. Despite slight hallucinations Mike is met with a clear sky at dawn which raises spirits.
Approaching 40 hours of non-stop riding the sun is shining but the dawn is still very cold.
Mike’s favourite meal of the day, breakfast, and a new meaning to the term “fast food”.
As if 800km in the saddle wasn’t enough of a challenge, the cobblestones on the old Gotthard Pass are a real test for body and bike.
Slicing down the mountain the cobbled descent of the Gotthard is like no other road in the world.
The Nufenen Pass is the 19th climb of the journey and 11th ascent over 2,000 metres.
At 2,478 metres above sea level Mike takes a moment to appreciate the view and the snow capped vistas.
The valley towards the Col de la Forclaz is a cruel and deceptive place with a torturous headwind for over 125 kilometres.
Deep breath on the penultimate climb – the Col de la Forclaz.
Cresting the Col des Montets means that Mike has now climbed 21,250 metres elevation since starting, a real test of human endurance.
53 hours 38 minutes, 21 mountains and 1,012 kilometres later and Mike arrives in Chamonix to complete The Road to Mont Blanc.
The team can’t quite believe what they have just endured. Neither can Mike.
Inspiration can be found in many forms and for one man that definitely comes from the mountains.
Learn more about Mike Cotty
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