A big scary goal

July 30, 2023

Oops, I did it again: I signed up for a bikepacking race. It all started with a bang in 2015, with the Transcontinental Race. After that, I followed it up with the Torino-Nice Rally (2018), Dead Ends and Cake and the SUCH (2021), then Dead Ends e Dolci this spring.

This time, I’ve chosen to take part in the Tour des Stations Ultimate: a 1,000-kilometer loop with 26’000 meters of climbing through the Swiss Alps, starting and finishing in the Val de Bagnes. The start is set for August 1 at 3pm.

Why did I set my sights on this event? First of all, I wanted to set myself a big, scary goal to motivate me to get away from my screen and spend more time on my bike this summer. And what better way to do that than with a 1000-kilometre race with an insane amount of climbing?

Then I flashed on the course. The loop designed by Manu Rudaz and the Tour des Stations team is a dream for any cyclist who likes to climb: it offers no fewer than 25 climbs spread not only in Valais, the home of the Tour des Stations, but also in Switzerland’s other Alpine cantons: Vaud, Bern, Uri, Grisons and Ticino. Nothing less!

Am I ready? I had ambitious plans to prepare myself, and I didn’t execute them all. I had to give up the wind tunnel tests and the 3-week training camp in Teide, and my bike weighs over 5 kilos.

But I’ve also done some really cool stuff. Starting with this series of videos with experts from my home region of French-speaking Switzerland on “How to prepare for the Tour des Stations Ultimate”. I learned a lot. The most useful tip? In the training video, I asked Guillaume Bourgeois how to prepare for climbing 26,000 meters. His answer: “You have to climb”. 

I’ve done my best to apply this principle. First of all, at home, I pushed hard on the Alpes Vaudoises climbs. I was aiming for an FTP of 6 watts per kg and didn’t quite achieve it, but I think it will still help me to get over the passes without having to dig too deep.


On Garmin Connect: the evolution of my FTP

But above all, I’ve been on some wonderful rides that I’d never have done without this scary goal. Like this 250 km ride from home, partially following the route of the Tour des Stations Ultimate 1000:



What I learned:

  • the Gestelen Pass and the Grosse Scheidegg are steep
  • you have to eat, eat, eat
  • if I exceed the pace I’ve set myself, sooner or later I’ll end up paying the price.

In July, I rode for 3 days through the Swiss, Italian and French Alps to join Lille and Ben who were on vacation in the south. A great trip that I documented in stories. Here too, I learned some valuable lessons:

  • sleep is a really useful thing to be able to keep moving on such hard terrain
  • I can’t survive on bars and gels alone
  • in summer, there are too many cars in the middle of the day on the major road passes, never that again.

As a result, I’ve got a nice little diesel engine that should get me to the end of my journey without blowing a head gasket. 

My power curve over the last 3 months

For the first time in my life, I also managed to work on my core fitness on an almost regular basis. Thanks to the routine prepared by Benjamin Coty (see the video with him here), I’ve got some semblance of abs and my harmstrings aren’t as tight as a piano wire. This should help me reach the finish in relative comfort. 

How long will it take? That’s the question. 

Last night, I had a dream. I arrived in Thyon 2′ behind the leader, caught him in the infamous Forêt Verte (on the big ring) and dropped him on the Croix de Coeur to cross the finish line with a wheelie.

When I woke up, I remembered that the road book announced that the best riders were expected at the finish line after 2 days and 15 hours. Which basically means: taking 1 or 2 micro-naps en route and maintaining a moving speed of around 18 kph.

I can do this for 15 or 17 hours… maybe. But then I’m going to bed. And that’s precisely what I plan to do. Because the special feature of the Tour des Stations Ultimate is the ‘reboost stations’: 8 locations scattered along the route where you can eat, wash and rest. The organizers can even drop off items you give them such as a change of clothes, refreshments and a teddy bear.

I intend to make good use of these islands of well-being in the ocean of discomfort that such a race implies. On this basis, I estimate that I’m capable of reaching the finish in 4 days, i.e. on Saturday at 3pm. To achieve this, I’ll need to spend at least 17 hours a day on the move at an average speed of 15kph.

Is 7 hours of stopped time a lot? With 4 hours of sleep and 3 hours for refuelling, peeing and the extra time spent in the reboost stations, I think that’s just about enough. Is 15 kph a bit slow? With 6,500 meters of climbing daily for 4 days, I think that’s already pretty ambitious… Especially when you consider that there will still be over 9,000 meters to climb when we reach km 750 in Visp. All in all, I think I’ll walk through the Forêt Verte!

This will give me a 24-hour margin to finish within the time limit set by the organizer. A buffer that could prove useful if things don’t go according to plan, which is almost guaranteed on this type of event. Starting with the weather: forecasts are constantly changing, but it seems certain that it will rain at some point. And if I find myself at the foot of the Susten at midnight at that moment, it’s not certain that I’ll push on to Andermatt at all costs… As Mike Tyson once said: “we all have a plan until we get punched in the face.” Or something like that.

Whatever happens, I’m already grateful. Thanks to the Tour des Stations Ultimate, I’m in a shape I haven’t been in for several years. I’ve got abs. My XXL training outings have taken me away from everyday stress. But I have to remain humble and I don’t know what this race has in store for me!


In a separate post, I’ll talk about my bike and equipment. Follow me on Instagram: during the race, I hope to send some photos and videos to Lillie, who will post them.

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