Who hasn’t thought of shortening an approach or making it more fun before entering the full vertical? Having a little more fun on the way down? With the new e-bikes, it is easy to ride long distances, more or less steep, with a mountaineering bag on your back. Let’s see what happens at the aiguille du Tour in Mont-Blanc with two representatives of each discipline: Justine Tonso, who races in the E-MTB x-country world cup with Lapierre bikes, and Damien Marchini, a guide from the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix.
Vallorcine, June 30, 2022. An apparently surprising starting point to reach the Albert 1er refuge, nestled on the edge of the Tour glacier, in the next valley. It is however from there that one reaches the col des Posettes most easily, by a progressive forest trail, before continuing on the mountainside towards the lake of Charamillon. Longer in distance than from the hamlet of Le Tour? Yes, but easier to ride a mountain bike on the way up and more fun on the way down thanks to the little bonus of the Balme bike-park tracks. In between ? A magnificent ascent of the full ridge of the Table, at the aiguille du Tour, a complete and fun tour, combining the verticality of climbing and the flow of the bike. Let’s go.
Forget the labels, welcome to the world of all kinds of outdoors enthusiasts. Justine Tonso, who is collecting podiums in the World e-MTB XC series, wasn’t born out of thin air. Just because she spends her summers on two wheels doesn’t mean she doesn’t know how to handle a pair of crampons, and for good reason: the 22 year old from Mercantour range has already won 4 world championship medals in ski-mountaineering, and countless European and French titles. Of course, her crampons are usually rather light, made of aluminium, but this time she is wearing real steel crampons, in case she has to scratch the granite of a snowy ridge.
In terms of multidisciplinarity (repeat three times quickly), Justine is well placed: “There are many athletes who combine ski mountaineering and trail running. But it’s rarer with mountain biking.” And it seems to work because Justine is currently collecting podiums in the World e-Bike Series.
By his side, Damien Marchini, a young guide from the Compagnie des guides de Chamonix. He is also a jack of all trades, and is in the process of obtaining his state diploma to teach mountain biking. Besides, he only talks about bikes on the parking lot, eyes amazed in front of the magnificent electric enduro bikes that the brand Lapierre bikes, sponsor of Justine, put at our disposal to go up to Charamillon: the latest Overvolt GLP2 Team and GLP2 Elite whose power and lightness should for the moment allow us to ride the 15km and 1450m of positive difference in altitude planned via the Col des Posettes
Immediate objective: to limit the weight of the bags, in a subtle balance between comfort on the bike (for the pleasure of riding) and the equipment necessary for the climb (for the safety of climbing). The objective of the integral ridge of the Table allows to bring only one 30m strand, few hardware and the night at the Albert 1er hut avoids the bivouac equipment. Add a few tools and a bike pump just in case, and you have a well-bound mixed alpine-bike bag.
The ascent by the track which crosses the Aiguillettes forest is progressive slope. It allows to reach easily the col des Posettes to switch to the Balme side. We continue then towards the arrival of the chairlift of Autannes. From there, the track turns into a more chaotic path. Each one will decide to continue or not the approach by bike according to its technical level and its desires. Note that arrived at this point, our batteries of 500Wh were not discharged, in spite of a position “Turbo” used (without shame) throughout the rise!
Passed Charamillon, difficult to remain on the bike. One attaches them, in a quiet corner. It is then necessary to continue more classically on foot to go up the trail leading to the refuge Albert Premier. There, the kitchen of the refuge holds its promises and the meal is convenient to one of the existential questions of the cyclists of today: e-MTB or not e-MTB, that is the question!
Justine’s answer is twofold: “First of all, the elec obviously allows you to cover greater distances and at a much faster pace. Those who still believe that it is not a sport, I tell them to come and see us in competition. When I do a loop on a muscle bike, I do it 7 times on an electric bike. We are always at maximum power and it’s a completely different way of riding at this speed“. So much for the technical motivations.
On a more personal level, Justine also admits to the revival brought by the discipline: “I went through a difficult period a few years ago, so much so that I had trouble keeping the motivation for training on the bike. Then a friend told me about electric bikes and I tried them. It clearly gave me back a taste for cycling and I continued. Today, I take a lot of pleasure in training and in competition“.
The e-MTB, an activity in full rise which brings a wind of freshness to the bike?
The idea of combining mountain biking and mountaineering is also gaining ground at the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix. Daniel Rodrigues, director of the Compagnie des Guides de Chamonix, is well aware of the growth of electric mountain biking and the taste of mountain bikers for mixed outings: “We are gradually beginning to offer courses with a bike approach. The electric bike opens to a wider public. We have ideas to develop the principle with several races.” Electricity is not without meaning in a valley with steep slopes, as long as you avoid the ski lifts. Developing the offer should also make it possible to satisfy a constantly growing clientele. “For the time being, we are thinking mainly about training guides to become mountain bike instructors. There are only four of them in the company at the moment“.
The Table is a kind of horizontal megalith on the ridge, visible from the refuge. Towards this Table, we can climb the eponymous couloir (be careful with stone falls at the moment, and very icy) or the ridge that we can take at the foot of the table or further down. We choose the latter solution, in order to get a foothold as soon as possible on the good granite of the aiguille du Tour. In the distance, the Chardonnet lights up at dawn.
The itinerary is quite obvious, even if several attack variants allow to reach the edge of the ridge. In a moderate technical level (AD, 4c max), this itinerary allows to discover the progression on an aerial edge, in a grandiose setting. We meet few people at the beginning, compared to the classic attack of the ridge, under the Table and even more, of course, compared to the normal route, in the southeast. It is by there that we will go down again to join the refuge and to take again forces thanks to the famous “croute”, mixture of bread, ham, cheese, onions to requinquer you for one moment.
Let’s admit that it’s quite pleasant to think that only 45mn walk from the refuge will be enough to find our mounts and then ride down the slopes of Balme and Vallorcine without effort. Even better! Without effort and with fun because, cherry on the cake, we join Vallorcine by the beautiful black trail of the bike park.
Then certainly, we do not send in the park with ice axe, crampons, mountain boots in feet and rope in the bag as we would usually ride, lighter, but nevertheless: that it is good to chain the raised turns, the small jumps and the steep slopes of the track, and to be in bottom in some minutes!
Back to Vallorcine, it is not the feeling of tiredness that we feel in the car park but an excitement of kids who had fun, telling their exploits in the different parts of the track. Moreover, we even lend ourselves to take a look at the state of charge of the battery. There is some left for a last run. Are you in?