2014 was my third Haute Route, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I took a gamble in 2011 with my good friend Jean to try this new event, with no guarantee that it would be well organized, that it would be safe, and even that it would be fun. We gave Haute Route the benefit of doubt and took a big chance forking out entry fees and hotel fees for an event with no history. We were part of the group that rode the first Haute Route, and got to see it evolve, even during the first week.
Good organisation of events involves listening to your clients, the riders, in our case. And I think OC thirdpole did that in the first year. Many things were already great the first year, and many have improved since then. This is a company that listens, and I appreciate that.
From the above, you can see our bib number plate with included timing chip. This was our only way to identify our bike at bike park check in and check out, and of course provided our timing each day. Note the country flag in the upper right for each participant and the name, chosen by the rider, richvelo in my case.
In the first year, dinner’s were one of the many problems. Each night after the briefing a dinner was served, the problem was that there were several hundred people needing to wait in line to eat, not ideal. Additionally, not everyone wants to eat the same thing, and certainly not every night for a week. In 2012, they decided to provide a nice balanced lunch on arrival, meaning there was never a line as people all arrive at different times. Then for dinner, you’re on your own, but then you get to choose what you want to eat and when, much better choice I think.
Between 2012 and 2014, I didn’t notice a lot of major changes, but there were some nice small things.
This was probably my favorite new idea, a simple sticker for each stage detailing climbs, elevation gains, distances and feed stations. Excellent idea. I had actually brought blank paper and scotch tape to do a home made version of the same but loved using these provided extras. Kudos for another great idea.
The massages were an idea even in 2011, but this has been expanded, now offering around 30 massage therapists to make sure everyone gets a massage if wanted. I think this is one of the major selling points of HR as a multi-stage cyclo, recuperation is everything. Each year it seems I meet another great person who helps me through the week. Marie-Anne was my luck of the draw after stage 1 and I made sure to get her every day after that. I only got stronger as the week progressed and I’m convinced she played a major role in that. Thanks Marie-Anne!
The navette after Mt Ventoux was a disaster this year, but every new idea has its risks. I’m convinced they will avoid this mess up in the future (see post ventoux blog post).
The hotel choices continue to be difficult as many finishing villages, just don’t have that many lodging options. Our hotel in Courchevel had wifi only in the lobby, the one we stayed in for two nights in Alpe-d’Huez only had it for 5 euros per day, then the hotel we had for two nights in Digne had free wifi, but it only barely worked on simple web pages (facebook, wordpress, strava, etc were a lost cause, even in the hotel lobby). On top of that we didn’t even have 2G or 3G reception, without walking 50m into the parking lot from the lobby. These kinds of details are important to Haute Route customers, and I’m sure there were other options in both Digne and Alpe d’Huez for this. But, over time, certain hotels will be reused, and others dropped hopefully, as the Haute Route matures.
The village arrival with prologue the same day was also a new feature to the Haute Route. In the end, it had no effect on the classification and just provided an extra stress / pain in the ass for most of the riders as they arrived. I hope they don’t continue that idea, as it seems to only complicate things both for the race organisers as well as the riders.
The finishing ceremony has also evolved over the years, with 2011 and 2012 being held in the park near the castel overlooking the bais des anges. This year, it was instead held in the palais de mediteranee on the promenade des anglais. Unfortunately, there were no tables or chairs, forcing cyclists who have just completed 900km with more than 20,000m of climbing to stay on their feet for several hours. The food was good finger food, but nothing more. There was lots of wine and beer as well, but at some point, the legs just want to sit down… Additionally, the sounds system they used for the awards was basically impossible to understand, even myself as an anglophone could barely tell they were speaking english, for non anglophones they had no choice but to ignore what was said. This was probably the most anticlimatic point of the week, at least in terms of my expectations from 2011 and 2012. The whole last day podium and awards was not clear even at the point d’info, not to mention being there and not being able to understand what was said.
So, my overall impression is that 2014 wasn’t as smooth as 2012, and maybe slightly better than 2011. On the personal/team side though, it is probably my favorite, more on that in my next post – 2014 race summary, coming soon….