Cycling Weekly Health & Fitness editor Hannah Reynolds is riding the Haute Route cyclo-sportive in the Alps
I was planning on writing something every day but quite frankly I’ve been too tired. If Cycling Weekly wants daily updates they should have sent someone with bigger legs!
The Haute Route is billed as Europe’s Toughest sportive, and they aren’t over-selling it. 730km, 15 mountains and 17,000 metres of climbing seperated us from our start point in Geneva and the finish in Nice. We are slowly ticking them off.
Since the start on Sunday we have ridden; Col de la Colombiere,Col des Aravis, Col des Saisies, Col du Cormet de Roseland, Les Arcs, Col de Madelaine, Col de Telegraphe, Col de Galibier, Col de Granon, Izoard, Col de Vars and Pra Loup. This morning was a relatively short and easy day; just the Cime de Bonnette, the highest paved road in Europe. 2400m of climbing and 2400m of descending, all before lunch.
Tomorrow is the final stage, just one more climb between us and a welcome dunk in the sea at Nice. There are a lot of gaunt cheeks and staring eyes suggesting that for a few people the end can’t come soon enough.
Finally, with just a day to go, I feel like I have got into a rhythm. Get up, get into kit, apply suncream despite the fact it is 5am and still dark because you know in four hours’ time the temperature is going to be creeping into the 30’s.
Stuff down breakfast in virtual silence in a room thick with trepidation and finally gather on the start line for a controlled roll out, normally accompanied by many Brit shouts of ‘easy’ and the more subdued French habit of whistling through the teeth every time there is a sudden slowing down or excessive braking from the guy in front.
Every morning there is a neutralised section of 5km plus, controlling nearly 300 riders is no easy feat and the organisation have done a fantastic job of using motor bike escorts and marshalls to ensure it happens safely.
The level of riding here far exceeds anything I have experienced in a UK sportive and is better even than most 3/4 races. The majority of riders here have at least a decent Marmotte or Etape finish under their belt and judging by the jerseys on shown each day many have ridden stage races such as the Transalp or Cape Epic as well. It seems for many riders a matter of pride to wear finishers jerseys from other tough events as a signal of their calibre.
Photo: OC Thirdpole
Each day you naturally gravitate toward people of similar fitness ability, you see the same riders time and time again so there is a lot of camaraderie out on the road. You start to gauge how your day is going by who you recognise around you. Or as one rider put it, ‘I knew I was having a good day when I was surrounded by French riders, on my bad day they were all British!’. The level of riding may be high but that still didn’t prevent the day four irritational irritation phase.
When you are grovelling up a relentless 20km climb, the repetitive squeak of another rider’s bike can become unbearable. I’ve started to remember people by the strangest of things; slightly too long gear cable man, squeaky Pinarello, or the Schleck fan who has mixed his allegiances with Leopard-Trek shorts and a Saxo Bank jersey.
The difference between the racers at the front and those simply fighting for survival and to make the cut off is huge but even the back of the field would be finishing mid to front in any UK event. Whilst completely within reach of any rider willing to put a bit of effort into their training beforehand, and with the mental fortitude to just keep on grinding up the climbs, this is not an event to be taken lightly. It demands respect and anyone who reaches Nice tomorrow having completed every stage within the time limits should be well and truly proud of their achievements.
This is no ordinary sportive. Most riders here already have a good finish in Le Etape or Marmotte under their belt and many have experienced stage racing before.
It’s hard to explain just how tough this is. Put it this way, I found myself referring to today as the ‘easy day’ or even ‘rest day’ as we only had to time trial our way up the 12km of Col de Granon. It may only have been a little over an hour of riding but it was far from easy, 1200m of climbing in 12km.