It’s been a few weeks now since I completed the Haute Route Alps and I have been contemplating how I can adequately sum up the experience. The fundraising hasn’t stopped, the justgiving page remains open till the end of October to collate donations. Hopefully this post will try and articulate what was for me without a doubt the toughest physical and mental challenge I have undertaken and help put a few more dollars/pounds into supporting the sustainable diabetes program through Team Type 1 foundation.
Let’s start with the official review video created by the Haute Route Team which gives an insight into the event. I was interviewed during the event and they used a bit of that interview in the voiceovers.
I arrived in Nice ahead of the event and met up with Joe and Manuel who I met via social media in the lead up to the weekend to grab something to eat. This meeting set the tone for a great week, making new friends, sharing amazing experiences together, enjoying great company, helping, encouraging & assisting each other.
Rather than a blow by blow account of each stage I thought I would share what a typical day on the Haute Route looked like.
- 5-6am Wake up, get up, shower, kit up, breakfast, pack day bag for drop-off at the start. Pack some food, make a sandwich for eating in the first two hours. (thanks Ben for the tip)
- Around 6-6.30am Pack transport bag for pick up at the hotel. Gently roll down to the start village and drop off day bag for collection at the finish.
- 7am – Stage start. Along with 300 other riders, we roll out for anywhere between 5 & 8 hours on the bike.
- 8-9am – Within the first hour or so, we would have hit the first mountain climb of the day. In a normal stage, described here, the race organisers would put in a minimum of three big mountain cols, which in and of themselves would be a decent day out in the mountains on a bike. This first col of the day would be to warm up the legs and prepare for the next big climb which normally was a monster.
- A feed Station would be placed normally at the top of the first climb of the day to allow a quick rest and replenishing of supplies. For me, this meant grab some cut oranges, sugary drink, salted crackers and eat another of my veloforte bites.
- Anywhere between 11am-1pm – Hit the big climb of the day. The list of these second climbs of the day read like a who’s who of the famous mountain cols. Cayolle (2326m), Izoard (2360m), Sarenne (1999m), Madeline (2000m) & Colombiere (1618m). Normally these ascents would be between 9-32km in length meaning that in some cases we were climbing for multiple hours at a time. Climbing the Cayolle on day 1 I cramped up towards the top making me really worried for the rest of the week. I made sure I replenished my salt intake better during the week and adjusted my re-fuelling strategy to make sure it didn’t happen again.
- From 2pm to 4pm (or later). The last big climb and avoiding the time cut for the day. For each stage there was an official cut off by which we as riders must finish in order to be categorised and receive an official finish time. My goal of the week was to make the time cut each day and not receive the dreaded DNF (did not finish).
- FINISH THE STAGE – Pick up day bag, shower, change, eat, massage, find hotel and prepare for next day. Hand wash kit, pin on race numbers for next day.
- Find a good place to eat and get those carbs and proteins in for the next day as well as a good debrief of the day.
Without question the lows came when doubt came into my mind about whether I would be able to complete the climb/stage/race/section * delete as appropriate. As Chris said to me on Stage 3 the mind always goes before the legs and essentially he was right. A couple of these darker moments stand out.
∗On stage 1 I cramped up on the climb to Col de Cayolle, as we climbed 32km from Ascros to the first big summit. At this point I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to make the time cuts and finish the race and all sorts of doubts came into my mind. Had I trained enough, had I bitten off more than I could chew, was this simply something that was beyond me. I realised that I wasn’t replenishing the salts I was losing through sweating and the effort and so made some changes to my refueling strategy that involved more crackers and included a bit more salt in my food. It made a difference, no more cramps.
∗Towards the end of the day on stage 2 we climbed the Col d’Granon a dead-end climb of 12km to a gravel car park. After spending a little too much time on the top of the climb at Izoard I was running out of time getting close to the time cut and put myself under pressure. It was a tough climb which tested my mental capacity as I had to dig deep to finish ahead of the cut. I made it by 30 minutes but I hurt. I can with complete confidence say that I have no desire to ever go back to the top of the Col d’Granon, the road that leads nowhere.
∗On the Col de Joux Plane, with just 7km to go to finish the day the road went up into double digits, after so many climbs and kms that week I wasn’t sure that I had the legs left to get up these 14-18% ramps which although they lasted just a kilometre or two seemed to drag on and on. There was a reward at the end of it though. (See the highs section below)
∗On the morning of day 2 we gathered at the ski resort Pra Loup, there I met Jerom Grilhot also riding for Team Type 1, but he is a board member. He shared with me the incredible strains that Diabetic athletes put themselves through to compete. He said something very poignant, “for me the pain stops when I get off my bike and lie on my bed, for these guys (athletes with diabetes) it is never ending”
∗Seeing my son Scott at the top of Col d’Izoard on stage 2 as he and my brother had travelled across to spend some time on their bikes in the mountains and cheer me on. Scott took this shot as I made it to the summit.
∗On day 5, which was the queen stage I had just summited the Col de Madeleine and taken a break to refuel and get ready for the last segment of the day. As I restarted on the descent, I was on my own with this amazing descent opening up ahead of me with Mont Blanc in full view. An exceptional moment on the bike
∗Similarly on Day 6 climbing up the last climb of the day on the awesome Col de Joux Plane. We had passed the early ramp and as the road snaked up the mountain there was a moment where the sun was shining beautifully with absolutely no wind, perfect silence with only the sound of my drivetrain moving along. For a moment everything was perfect. Ironically within just one km I also had one of my lows of the race as Joux Plane ramped up to double digits but then I was rewarded with a switchback looking over the Mont Blanc Massiv that brought back the beauty of this magnificent climb.
∗Finishing the time trial on Alpe d’Huez (stage 4), completing it in my best time ever and finishing with friends at the top.
∗The finish... being congratulated by my brother Chris (in the shot below) and my son Scott (behind the camera).
The Haute Route for me would not have been possible without the incredible support of my wife Lisa and my family. They allowed me the time to train and get ride fit and where there cheering me on all the way.
A huge shout out and thank you to the all of the riders, support crews, Police, mechanics, volunteers that made the week happen but especially to Joe, Manuel, Monika, Lukas, Joe, Greg, Sean, Gernot, Ian, Chris and Scott who rode at various times with me and made the days fantastic.
Stage Summary Videos from Haute Route
Stage 1 Nice to Pra Loup (You see me in the group 45secs in)
Stage 2 Pra Loup to Col d’Granon (My shoes & socks make an appearance at the beginning of the video)
Stage 3 Serre Chevalier to Alpe d’Huez
Stage 4 Alpe d’Huez Time Trial
Stage 5 The Queen Stage – Alpe d’Huez to Megeve. (look out for Scott mixing it up with the leaders at 20secs in)
& Stage 6 Megeve to Morzine.
The final Video.