After encouragement from some friends, I will chronicle my journey towards my greatest physical challenge on this blog. This will be my vehicle to share my thoughts, plans, and activities. I hope this may be of interest to others with similar plans or just give you some entertainment. It will also serve me to structure my preparation and analysis; some teammates wanted me to share numbers and graphs and I will.
The first few blogs will be retrospective, giving a review from my initial contemplation to today. From then on I will have periodic, and much shorter, “real-time” blogs.
What is this greatest physical challenge? The Haute Route
The Haute Route, or High Route, originally refers to a route first undertaken by foot in the mid 19th century and by ski touring in 1911 between Chamonix in France and Zermatt in Switzerland. The ski route typically takes 7+ days. More recently, it also refers to a cycling route (with several variations) over the high alps and this is my challenge:
Haute Route Alps – 3rd edition
18-24 August 2013
Geneva to Nice
“The highest and toughest cyclosportive in the world; prestigious and professionally run 7-day road races aimed at amateur road cyclists.
600 determined amateur cyclists pushing themselves to the limit over 750km, 20 legendary mountain cols, 20,000m+ vertical ascent; the equivalent of cycling more than twice from sea level to the summit of Everest!
Riders will experience what it’s really like to ‘ride like a pro’. The peloton of determined amateur cyclists will tackle the highest, steepest, most world-renowned cycling terrain in the world – all against the clock. With professional level event organization including medical teams, mechanical support, rolling road security, film crews, and of course, massages, riders will be 100% immersed in the world of cycling for 7 unforgettable days.
While this is my fifth year of competitive cycling, this event will be my greatest physical challenge by far: I have never gotten anywhere close to riding 4-6 hours for 7 days in row, let alone competitively/timed and each day climbing 3000m+, the equivalent of twice Mt Ventoux at race speed.
Is the Haute Route a race?
Just like in a grand tour pro-race, each day crowns a stage winner and everyone making the time cut will be ranked based on their finish time. There is a general classification ranking according to cumulative finish times across the stages. In addition, every of the 20 climbs is timed.
There is high quality competition: the winner of the last two years has been Peter Pouly, former 5 time pro mountain bike French national champion, who set a world “amateur” record during last year’s Haute Route in the Alpe d’Huez individual time trial of 42’20’’. (To put that in perspective, he was averaging 360W weighing 60kg or 6W/kg and faster than Ryder Hesjedal’s best time; the record winning time is 37’35” by Marco Pantani during “another era” in 1997.) Among the women, Olympic road race medalist and 2010 UCI World TT champion Emma Pooley won, using the HR as a “good training for the Worlds. It’s got to be, it’s a week long stage race where I’m on my limit everyday.”
Some riders were past doping offenders and I am afraid there will be current dopers.
So it’s looking like a race to me… What is absent are pay-outs for the winner and “admission control:” anybody can register and ride the Haute Route. Moreover, as with all my amateur races, “it doesn’t count.” People do this for various reasons; according to Emma “you can just aim to beat your time from last year, or place high in your age group or, quite frankly, just aim to finish it. Doing something like the Haute Route is really hard so it’s an incredible achievement just to finish it.”
My commitment to the Haute Route
On November 8, 2012, my Union Cycling Team mate Neal McNamara emailed:
Last chance for anybody that wants to enter…I am registered as a one man team this year as my Saxobank teammates are not returning…
Neal raced HR in 2012 with impressive rankings (26 after 4 days!) for the first days until he fell sick yet still completed ranked 118. But Neal is something special and his race reports during summer 2012 scared me… While I always loved the idea of this race, I decided it was foolish for me. But the idea kept consuming me and on Dec 5, I got a one-line email from my lovely wife Shannon:
Don’t you need to sign up, like now???
Later that day I emailed some cycling buddies:
Is this nuts? The website gives a series of reasons why this may not be for you, but then ends with:
But if you’re ready to accept the above and embrace the Haute Route ethos, you will have the experience of a lifetime! 94% of the 2012 riders classed the event as either superb, top 3 life experience, or best experience of their life! We hope you will be one of these in 2013.
Shannon wrote another one liner later that day:
Honey: In all the years I’ve known you, this is the very first thing where I can “hear” your fear! So I think you should definitely do it! 🙂
So it was that on Dec 15, 2013 I committed and registered for the hardest 7 days I will ever do in my life.