Haute Route 2014

James Cole

During the 2013 Tour de France for some reason I thought it would be good idea to sign up to do the Haute Route Alps 2014. I had heard about the event a few years previous when first set up, plus at that time I needed something to focus my cycling on. Having made the switch from sailing Moths to cycling in late 2012 I was still feeling my way around the cycling scene and thought this would be a really good challenge. I soon found out that I had signed up for an event much bigger than I originally envisioned.

For those that don’t know what the Haute Route or need a refresher. There are 3 versions: Alps; Dolomites; and Pyrenees. They run for 7 days, involve cycling 800km+ and you generally climb 3 cols/mountains each day. The Alps version this year was the longest set at 900km+ and highest with 23,000m of climbing. It started in Geneva and ended in Nice.

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So how does one train for Haute Route in flat Singapore? Well it is tough, involves lots of miles, and you get very familiar with Mount Faber. I also figured out in early 2014 I needed a coach to assist with a training structure and signed up with Lee Rodgers/Crankpunk which was a really good decision. He structured my rides in such a way that there were no more rubbish miles and each ride had a focus to it. It was also stressed that I needed to be disciplined in my training.

After spending 2014 preparing for the Haute Route, and having done considerable miles it was time to make the journey to Geneva.

Rather than running through a blow for blow account of the event (which could be considerably lengthy), I’ll list the high (and low) points I encountered.

  • They added a 9km prologue time trial around the foreshore of Geneva this year which ended up more of a distraction than anything else. At the end of the day, seconds lost or gained here really didn’t mean too much.
  • Once the timing started officially on Day 1 after a 23km neutral zone, the pace went ridiculous. We were warned that riders regularly burn themselves out on the first day, no-one listened. For 20km the peloton raced at mid-40s as the first climb up Col de la Columbiere at 15.2km for 1116m altitude really wasn’t deemed a concern. Many riders went backwards up that climb.
  • Untimed sections doesn’t mean you rest and relax, it seemed that the racing continued, especially on the descents. Experienced riders/racers relaxed in these sections and spent long times at the feed stations recovering.
  • Hotels can be hit and miss and best to have a backup breakfast cereal at a minimum. Getting plain yoghurt, crusty bread and a coffee isn’t ideal for a long day in the saddle. Otherwise the lunches were well catered considering the numbers of riders and support staff.
  • Claud the Butler was great with coffees available at the start and finish. Buying the card for unlimited coffee for the event was well worth the Euros spent.
  • Day 3 was an absolutely brutal day. First it was the marathon stage or the hardest stage of the week with climbs over Madeleine, Glandon and finish at the top of Huez. Then you add in cold weather, rain all day, and then add 60km/h winds in the alpine zones in the mix, and it ended up a pure and utter sufferfest. There was no racing, just each rider individually trying to get to the finish. I ended up having to get off the bike for 15mins in a sheltered spot after the Glandon climb, eating everything I had with me and waiting for my core to warm up. I wore 4 layers that day with 2 pairs of gloves and the cold just went straight through. The cutoff time was extended the day before to take into the conditions, but they ended up getting rid of the cutoff time due to the large number of riders that were still on course plus there were a big number of retirements too. This day ended up as one of my best results of the week too.
  • Pacing yourself and your body became crucial as the week went on. I ended up with 2 very sore knees and an inflamed right achilles after day 3. It was more a case of completing the event than anything else. A lot of riders picked up niggles here and there. The massages at the end of each stage were very popular.
  • Alpe d’Huez is a great climb in the sun. They ran this as a time trial on day 4 and was great seeing all the bends noting previous winners here.
  • Some climbs can be deceptively hard. Col du Parquetot was one of those at 10% gradient for 7km, but the descent into the next valley was all worth the pain of that climb.
  • Need to also train for descending as well as the climbs. Rather hard to do in Singapore. As I found out if you can’t descend well then you can give back a lot of places you worked hard for up those climbs.
  • There were a very few crashes over the course of the week as in the main the riders were very good and no issues in the pelotons. Despite the different languages/countries everyone looked out for each other and all happy to help/assist to get each rider through.

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Overall, it was a great week. My end result was 209th amongst those that finished each stage is something I am happy with. With hindsight I would have approached the race before/during a bit differently. Having not had the time to go to an area with decent hills in the lead up to train was probably a limiting factor, but based on the training program I had it didn’t really impede me ascending (but meant I had limited descending skills). It was certainly an event of a scale that I never really done anything near the scale of cycling wise, but with the aim of complete rather than compete I managed to get through fine.

Now it is a case of deciding whether to do it again and would it be Pyrenees or the Dolomites?

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