For 2019 I decided to try something new, the double – with Pyrenees and Alps back to back. 14 stages with one day off in the middle for travel from Pau to Megeve.
The morning of the 3rd stage I woke exhausted and was pretty sure today would be a long one. My goal was to defend my third place on the climber classification and try to gain time on the third place in the general classification.
Today the first timed climb was a small col de la madone climb in Italy of 6k at 10%. We attacked it completely cold with virtually no warm up. The rider directly behind me in the classification went hard so I did too. I ended up gaining another 20 seconds on him, but I definitely went too far into the red for it.
After a short descent and some valley we came to the green jersey sprint section. During the first couple of stages we all became friends with Nicolai from Denmark. As he was now wearing the green jersey we decided to help him keep it.
The sprint section is basically a flat or rolling hill section of around 1.5k. I decided to do initial lead out as I was certainly the weakest sprint. I reached max speed just before the start and held it for a whopping 300 m or so. Then it was up to Benoit to ride with him until the final uphill finish. Result was good he won by several second over the 2nd place. That was great, but I could also tell the legs were getting worse.
In just another 10k we reached the start of col de la Lombard which would take us to 2300m and into France. Within the first kilometer I knew it would be a terrible climb for me. I could only watch as my closest competitors rode away from and out of sight. I lost 10 minutes to the rider behind me in gc and dropped from 4th to 5th on the gc. In the end I was just glad it was over. And one can only hope that this slightly shorter stage of 100k would allow me to recover better for tomorrow’s time trial up to the highest paved road in Europe le col de la bonette
After a very quite night’s sleep we awoke to some rather ominous cloud cover in La Colmiane.
On today’s agenda was Turini form the west side (general classification chrono) followed by Brouis, a long slog up the vallée de Royal culminating with the very difficult col tende (climber classification).
The climb up Turini from La Bollène-Vésubie is quite tough with ave gradients above 7% for more than 15k. I stayed with Laurent and Benoit for the first few kms but dropped back to ride my own pace the rest of the way, eventually finishing 4th on the climb with better legs than the day before. Benoit and Laurent took 1st and 2nd once again.
After a dangerous descent we arrived in Sospel for a water refil and the easier cold de brouis climb. We took it fairly easy as it wasn’t timed. A fast descent after took us to the vallée de Roya. Then there was a long uphill slog to a tunnel that connects France and Italy.
As bikes are not allowed in the tunnel we had obligation (or opportunity?) to ride the real mountain pass, another 10kms at around 7-8%. That sounds bad enough before you consider that 6 if the 10k are on gravel better suited for a mountain bike.
I think Col de Tende pit seriously into the red as I was starting hard and then forced push hard during the whole gravel section fearing that by putting my foot down, it would be hard to restart. I finished well and took third on the climb with Laurent just in front in second. But, it really took a lot out of me and we still had another 52 kms to get to our hotel in Valdieri making it 167kms for the day.
Today’s stage will leave its mark on the next.
After a hectic evening getting settled into the hotel we awoke to beautiful sunshine. Unfortunately that was at 5am and then I couldn’t go back to sleep. But even with limited sleep I was motivated to get to the start line.
The stage started with the climb of the day for the climber classification, Col d’Eze, well known for its many Paris Nice appearances. I felt good but not excellent. Laurent and Benoit took first and second and Stephanie was the first feminine I managed a decent 5th place.
After the chrono we had a nice ride along the see to the start of the next timed section.
The second climb was Braus combined with Turini and counted for the yellow jersey general classification. This time it was Benoit taking the honors and the maillot jaune along with it. Laurent stayed close with 2nd and I managed 4th
That evening we stayed in La Colmiane ski station and had a nice meal of Paella.
Tomorrow’s stage will be the toughuof the week so we try to sleep as early as possible
The day before a 7 stage cyclo is always a bit stressful. Getting to the start line involves logistics like travel, bags, race numbers, hotel check in, parking your car somewhere for a week, quickly finding dinner, and most importantly having your bike in good condition.
In my case we had a team effort with Team Spoc, my local club. I did bag transport with my car and bike and the others rode to Nice. We all met to get our dossards.
After a small delay sorting our hotel for the evening we were all set for the briefing.
The organizers went through all the details – everything from stage timing details to how the bags will be transported between each stage.
TMNCA is not a typical cyclo in that only specific sections of the stage are timed each day. There is one climb that will count for the climbers jersey competition, a segment from 1 to 5km that will count for the green sprinter jersey, and finally, a second climb that will count for the overall yellow jersey. At the end of the 7 days there will be an accumulated time of each of the jersey specific segments for final classification.
After the briefing it was quick to eat, go to hotel and exchange all our affairs into official travel bags, then drive to week long parking, and ride bike back to hotel (a few kms). I was finally settled in my hotel room at 10 pm.
Now the fun begins.
In two days I’ll be at the start line of Tour Metropole Nice Côté d’Azur. After a two year hiatus this will be the second edition and my first.
The format of TMNCA is similar to the Haute Route in that there are seven stages, ~ 750kms with more than 19000 meters of climbing. The main difference is that only 2 climbs per day are timed, making the rest of the day more relaxed and more randonnée than cyclosportf. I’ll be doing the race with three riders from my local Club Team Spoc which based in Nice.
Another difference from HR is that the stages will all be north of Nice with a return to Nice the final stage.
From previous HR editions I find it important to start packing early and organise well. Otherwise after two days you can no longer find anything in your huge sac full of all cycling apparel weather options. My solution is to simply use clear plastic sacs for each general clothing category.
I also do a complete cleaning / revision of my bike. This meant new bottom bracket, tubulars (continental competition), and a thorough cleaning of chain, etc.
Tomorrow is dossard pickup, briefing, dinner, and hopefully a good night sleep…
So, it’s been over a month since Haute Route Alpes 2014 has ended. This is time for all the back to life realities to occur; all the pain of re-entry to your previous life of weekly work, whether that be hi-tech, selling clothes at the Gap, or working the grill at McD… There is likely a mix of all the above in HR, and we probably all feel these similar sentiments:
– what – it’s over? what do I do tomorrow?
– I’m tired – glad I don’t have to kill myself on the bike tomorrow
– Man, my bed feels good – especially my pillow
– Yahoo, no more ice baths (by far the most beneficial and most painful part of HR 2014 for me…)
In any case, as I alluded to in my previous post, I think this was my most enjoyable HR of the three I’ve completed. Like in 2011, I was fortunate enough to be paired with my good friend and fellow Antibois Jean. It was unfortunate that an injury prevented him from finishing, but we shared most of the week togehter in the same room with the same meals, the same goals, and the same outlook on life – a true friend you cannot find better… Jean is a true leader on the road and in life. He instills french wisdom on the road to our kids that I could never imagine imitating, but of which I am always envious and impressed. Both his vision of an unfolding race, and of the progression of a young person’s life in sports, are completely in line with what I envision for myself and my kids: Riding with Jean was the highlight of my HR 2014 – no question.
On a personal achievement level, I was quite worried coming into HR 2014. At 47 yrs old I’m starting to feel old and slow – and the temptation to order takeout pizza throughout 2014 with my family along with of course the healthy dose of beer or wine to accompany this made me not so skinny…
BUT, something about team spirit always motivates me beyond my own means. Once I knew Jean, as welll as local cyclists Bruno, Laurent, Alain, and Manu would participate, I was more motivated. OK, so my efforts aren’t on the level of Contador or Froome, but at least I tried to cut out all alcohol and most fat for two weeks before the start. I believe this really made a difference in my performance – I lost at least 2kg and felt great, not to mention sleeping much better without any beer involved… hmm, maybe I should just live like this normally???
With my above efforts, although minimal and recent, I felt I could at least ride in the lead group.
Well, not really – the first day was a shocker and I felt terrible from the moment the race went hard and uphill. This was not a good sign for the rest of the week.
I suffered on the first climb and managed to continue that sufferance to the end. But that isn’t exactly what I had hoped for the first day… In any case, the finish line was a welcome site and it was exactly that that got me motivated for the next day and the rest of the week.
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….
The team Digne les Bains had enjoyed 2 days riding their familiar training roads stages 5 and 6, now it was time for our team, Forca Nice – Cafe du Cycliste, to enjoy return to familiar roads.
Like yesterday, this stage could be broken up into three stages, each of which had it’s own seperate timing, which makes for confusion on the road, not know who is ahead of whom at the end, meaning you have to wait for later in the day to see the results on the web. A bit strange for a cycling race I might say.
The first mini stage was a single climb up the col du corabain, with it’s technical descent neutralised. The second part would be some long valley kms followed by col de leque, then col st barnaby, followed by col de Bleine, a climb the team knows well. The descent from Bleine to just below Greolieres would then be neutralized with the third part being to the climb up to col de Vence from the back side.
I debated whether to add another post between stages, but felt this one was worth a short entry.
After our strong finish on Ventoux, most of the cafe du cycliste team boarded the first bus with the first 60 or so riders ready to get back to Dignes to recover.
After the 7am start, I had finished the stage just before noon, rode quickly back down to Chalet Reynard, changed (in the parking lot), grabbed our prepackaged lunch, ordered a beer, and started to eat.
While the organisation of the Haute Route was every bit as good as it was in 2011 and 2012, this stage was definitely lacking. Because Mt Ventoux is so far out of the normal path from Geneva to Nice, our hotels were not at the bottom in Bedoin, as this then would have been to far from Nice for the final stage. So, we needed to stay a second night in Dignes. This meant, we needed to take a bus back to where we started.
That sounds innocent enough, but that means 60 smelly cyclistes getting on a bus immediately after riding a hard stage up Mt Ventoux, with no shower facilities, and a small prepackaged lunch that was not quite the level