Saturday, August 30, 2014

Epic Climbs out of Barcelona

Arrived to Barcelona a couple days prior to the 2014 Haute Route Pyrenees race. The race hotel I am staying at is similar to a Holiday Inn, 10 km north of the airport, and 9 km west of downtown Barcelona. It is nice being away from the tourist action. The area called Cornella is within blocks and has good fruit and veggie stores, more of a local district.

Locals using the Bicing bike borrow system in Barcelona.
Photo taken at Plaza Espanya
Took a train part way into town to Espanya stop, then rode around from there. Lots of bike lanes, traffic seems to be ok with cyclists, wider streets than in Geneva. Fast way to get around.

Still in construction Sagrada Familia Cathedral
On-route to Guell Park, passed by the Sagrada Familia Cathedral with its amazing detail and crowds.
View from Guell Park 
An internet search listed Catalonia's top 10 cycle climbs. I put two of the top climbs together on one ride… Montserrat via Tibidabo.

Used this google map that I found on on “The Barcelona Road Cycling Group”.

Started from the hotel headed towards Barcelona east, taking the ring road Ronda Del General Mitre eventually turning up into the hills. Lost for abit in residential climbs. Backtracked for the right road BP-1417, a nice 6% grade switchback.
The turnoff for Tibidabo was 6 km up this climb, with another 1 km to the top. Many cyclists out riding both directions.

The views were amazing from the lowlands as I could see the Temple de Sagrat Cor and an amusement park perched high up on the hillside from Sagrada Familia Cathedral. Funny seeing a roller coaster just below this cathedral. One way to attract the kids!

Back on BP-1417, it was a sweet twisty descent through the scenic Serra de Collserola range. Once down in the Sant Cugat des Vallès, passed thru many towns turning onto BP-1503. Ok for awhile then not so great riding thru the flats thru many suburban villages.

Leaving the wicked roads from Olesa de Montserrat

Taking B-120 from Viladecavalls to Olesa de Montserrat was an exceptional twisty scenic road until back onto the main hwy C-55. The climbs reminded me of Santa Monica Canyons as the terrain was similar.
Look way up to see the Monastery

From Monistrol de Montserrat, the final climb up is 8 km at 7% avg grade. Last km was bumper to bumper vehicles though easy to get around by bike.

At the top - ha, ha, selfie as in self-timer photo

View from top down into the valley I rode up

There is a tram that goes up as well as a train. I saw the train chug slowly up and thought it would be scary to go down. Bike was most fun especially the descent. I had to be careful as my eyes would linger to the fig trees on the sides of the roads.

Another option which seems to bypass the industrial sections:
To take C-243c, BP-121 or BP-122 which looks challenging though likely scenic.

My total ride one direction including backtracking a few times and the side trip to Tibidabo… 90 km, 6070' elevation.

Took the train back from Monistrol de Montserrat only 50 min and 5.10 Euros. I was tired with all the extra tourist activities, not the ride! It was cool to be able to get an epic ride in from town, and have the return train option.

Last night, there was a lot of traffic noise and a constant whistle toot toot outside the hotel room as a policeman guided traffic. Apparently, there was a football game at the arena nearby. Amazing to hear all the chanting and singing coming from afar. It would be cool to go to one of those events!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

2014 Haute Route Alps COMPACT - warm up!

After I raced the Compact version - the first 2 stages and prologue for the Haute Route Alps - a few previous Haute Route rider friends emailed and wondered why I dropped out of the latter stages of the Alps! … as the continuing results from Day 3 and on showed the Compact riders as DNF.

A new event was formed for 2014 which was only to be the first 2 stages of the Alps, and the prologue. Next year, there will likely be a Compact version for each of the race locations.

Finish of the Dolomites, met up with Colin, Hans (Colin's Dad) and Iain who I know from previous Haute Route races.
Saw so many other riders I knew...

The hardest part about stopping the event after 2 stages was not getting more time to spend with the cool new people I had met.

The easiest part about stopping was getting time to catch up on sleep from time zone change and to heal an injury that creeped up on me (weird tendinitis on top of the wrist).

Day 0 - Registration Morning & Prologue

Arrived to the registration area in Jardin Anglais in time for queues. Stored my bike in the secured bike corral while I queued for my race package. Waiting in line gave plenty of time to meet new riders and learn more about their intrigue to the event. Met Scottish rider Greg Banks and funny enough got to ride with him on-route Day 2.

Sample of backpack provided which can be dropped off at the race start and picked up at the next finish line. Great to put in everything needed for the day before heading to the hotel… recovery food, shower stuff, dry clothes, camera,...

Another quicker queue to receive Haute Route bag and backpack. 

Roomie Caroline from UK Black Widows from 2013 Pyrenees race who just finished the 2014 Dolomites event

A 9-km out and back Prologue was held that afternoon with riders departing every 20 seconds from the official starting ramp. Winds were tailwind out with a strong headwind return.

Streets totally closed from traffic, with pylons marking the route. 4.3 km next to Lac Léman, down Quai Gustav-Ador making a 180 turn on the Rampe de Cologny and back. Now into the wind. A few guys passed me which helped get me out of my tempo pace.

It was nice to get the legs spinning and to ensure the bike was working fine.

Race meeting that night with insight into the week.

Day 1! - Geneva to Megève  130 km / 3100 m+ / 2350 m-

Rue des Voisins - my place to stay in Geneva
I was still fighting time zone change as I rolled out of bed for the 7:15 a.m. start Sunday morning. Easy ride down from my friend Mary's apartment to the race start. Surprisingly a relaxed atmosphere.

Leaving Geneva Day 1 - photo Manu Molle
Once the peloton was rolling, all was good. I was near the front of the 2nd wave of riders which was separated a couple hundred metres by a few motorcycles. Good comradry in this wave with no angst to get to the front.

Before the 24 km neutral zone ended, our wave merged with the 1st wave. Many round-abouts which bottle-necked the peloton each time. 

Course details - my version above; race provided sticker below
On the 1st climb Col de la Colombière (1116m over 15.2 km), I went a casual hard pace. Not far into the climb, I heard “there she is”. It was Harry and Ben from UK Team Thames Prof Corp. At last year's Alps race, they always came upon me and passed me on the steep climbs. This time, I stuck onto Harry’s pace.

Midway on the climb, I heard a woman casually chatting in the distance behind me. Soon, previous-Ironman star Chrissy Wellington rode by. She chatted with every rider she knew and offered encouragement to others. I stuck to her wheel for awhile. Heard her say she was in this for fun and taking it easy!

Eventually I fell off Chrissy's pace as did everyone she came upon. The 11% final grading was bearable with the top in sight. I put on my jacket quickly and descended fast passing a few vehicles on the corners. Long descent.

Into the next climb up Col de la Croix Fry (851m over 12.3 km), Chrissy caught up (she stated her dislike for descending).  Climb was steep. Short descent then an awesome 7% avg grade climb up Col des Aravis (266m over 6.2 km).

Must be a happy grade to be smiling! - free photo via Facebook

I re-passed the guys that passed me. My grade! We came upon a trail running race that crossed the road in front of us. Scary as both cyclists and runners had tunnel-vision . The race was bumper to bumper runners as we rode alongside them for a short ways – amazing.

At the top, it was a stop-timed section. I was full of energy and whizzed by, and fast on the descent. Most people stop at the feedzone and chill out.

At the bottom, I started the next timed section with faster male riders. This would normally be a good thing. Though, no-one wanted to lead the peloton! When one guy lead, he pulled too long and got tired. Finally another guy lead. This was the first time I have not seen a paceline form. I even took my turns at the front.

We doddled in on a critical 10 km timed section. Could have easily taken a couple more minutes off my time with a working group of guys.

Most scrumptious fresh figs EVER - from Geneva market

Race food - had a few amazing FRESH figs stored in a ziploc bag in my pocket, and a few bits of dates and raw bars. Keep a Vega gel for emergency.

Pre-race, loaded up with Climb On mineral sunscreen, and the best "natural ingredient" creme you'd ever want to use for chamois creme. Cool bar for lips and nose as well.

The race village had good signage to follow…. bike parking signs, backpack pickup signs, shower and massage signup signs. With minimal women in the race, showers were designated "co-ed". Get in/get out quick!

Had time to relax, eat my own recovery food of fruit, Vega drinks, my own protein concoction, and veggies while chatting with a few riders sitting outside.

Massage was superb getting to meet Beatrice who is a ski mountaineer racer living in Grenoble. After that I had a long session with osteopath Nico from Lyon.

Mont Blanc - looks like a cloud! View outside my hotel Day 1
Grabbed whatever was left at the lunch in a bowl to eat later. Biked 5 km out of town to La Fueg hotel. Philippe, a rider from Israel I met on-route to our hotel asked if I saw Mont Blanc. I said "no" at the time. 

Spectacular views all around
Joined the group of riders staying at the hotel to take the shuttle to Megeve for race briefing. We sat together for dinner at the hotel later. Had fun chatting with Philippe who had spent time in Canada and US. The other riders were from Norway, which included Triple Crown rider Ottar.

Highlight – organization, climbs, scenery, race traffic control, massage/treatment, and mostly people to spend time with.

Day 2 - Megève to Courchevel  130 km / 3900 m+ / 3250 m-

Early morning 5 km ride to the race start was cool with jacket, headband, nordic gloves and small bootie covers. Wondered which gear to keep on for the race as it seemed like cooler Canada spring ride  temps.

Took the booties off last minute, kept the gloves and my Sugoi thin rain jacket. No knee warmers. Put cycling gloves in my pocket. The first 9 km was a slight descent in a neutral peloton - brrrrr!

Warmed up on the 1st climb Col des Saisies (730m in 15.5 km). An awesome 7% avg climb that was irregular terrain. Went out strongly though knew this was my last day.

Abit pensive on the descent with bumpier roads. A group of 10 riders was too many. Seemed to be more car traffic around. Always wary.

Next climb steep 8% up Cormet de Roselend (1167m over 20 km). I hung off Cato from Norway and another guy. I hope they know how much it helps to have a person to ride with.

The wild flowers I saw high up on the climbs.
Riding by Cormet de Roselend Reservoir
- photo Manu Molle

As we rounded up by the reservoir, there was a breather in grade and a slight descent. The next climb was surprisingly easy to the top. Likely due to me being in a cramping mess last year.

closer to the top of Cormet de Roselend - photo Manu Molle
The scenery was outstanding climbing right next to the rock slabs seen from afar. Only way to get to these heights in Canada is by foot, no roads.

Wicked crazy descent down Roselend!!! Epic with the tighter than 180 corners. I was alone to start. Then jumped onto Gaute's wheel (rider from Norway). It was challenging to keep up to him around the tight corners though helpful.

We stayed away from most everyone. 2 more riders caught up to us on the flats toward the time-point stop. Ate a lot at the feed zone. More riders were showing up. Removed jacket and switched gloves. Sprinkles of rain, nothing big, temp warmed nicely.

Headed off to the next time-point start. Started with a handful of riders, not working the best together again. Finally, the group broke up and I was with the odd guy to ride with, only for awhile.

Mostly rode alone. This last climb up to Courchevel (1369m over 25 km) was epic, though a survival climb as everyone was pretty much tired at that last feed zone 100 km in. Kept a good pace going. Riders cracked on this last climb.

Marg and Cato from Norway at finish up Courchevel!
 - Free pic sent via Facebook

The climb would be great if not last! On the finishing stretch I heard a rider behind me… it was Cato from Norway! Funny to finish at the same time after riding with him earlier.

Showers were awesome as the women got the super deluxe ones in a private gym room. Met up with Veronique Fortin my first time. Cool to hear how excited she is to try out these races after being a National team member.

Time with Beatrice the massage therapist and Nico the osteopath. Weird inflammation in my left wrist, topside, super swollen.

Emma Pooley - World Champ TT, Marg, and young Japanese rider

Took a bus shuttle back to Geneva with around 25 Compact riders. Non-epic end to a couple great days of riding. Missed out an informal presentation for the Compact riders, and socks for 2nd place to Emma. Did receive a finishers medal.

Back for more at Haute Route Pyrenees Sep 1!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2014 Haute Route Compact & Triple Challenge Insight

What would it be like to cycle 2,600 kilometers through the Dolomites, Swiss Alps, French Alps AND the Pyrenees – in just over 3 weeks – gaining over 60,000 elevation meters?!

Haute Route Dolomites Swiss Alps, Day 4, Passo del Stelvio 2757m - Photo Manu Molle
An amazing feat! - especially when the weather in those mountain ranges this summer has been on the cool side and rainy.

The Haute Route event is stated as the “Highest and Toughest Cyclosportives in the World” for amateur riders. The 7-day road race events are professionally run with a support team of road-side medical and mechanical services, timing services and media as well as baggage transport, feed-zone provisions, and massage. It is the best “treated like a pro” race event for everyday riders.

This year, the organizer OC Sport are holding three 7-day events back-to-back travelling through three different European mountain ranges point-to-point…

starting outside of Venice going through the Dolomites then Swiss Alps towards Geneva,

down through the French Alps to Nice,

with a hop over to Barcelona through the Pyrenees towards the Atlantic Coast ending in Biarritz. Quite the organizational feat as well!

The majority of the participants take on one of the 7-day events. This year, 20 participants will try two of the 7-day events termed Iron riders, while 11 participants decided to attempt completing all three 7-day events in a row for the Triple Crown challenge!

While the logistics to complete the three events in just over three weeks seems daunting, the racers who attempt this challenge are focused. At first I guessed only 30% would finish. As a former extreme multi-sport athlete myself, I know better. When I pursue a large challenge, I ensure to take care to endure to the finish.

I considered taking on this Triple Crown challenge. Back in 2001, I went in a solo adventure race which covered the whole length of New Zealand in 28-days travelling by mountain biking, paddling, running as well as road biking. Of all 70 athletes that started, everyone finished. It took a certain spirit to want to complete the amazing journey. My body went into a survival mode as well enabling any injury or slight illness to stay at bay.

I am curious of the strategies these Triple Crown challenge riders will share.

As I am currently in Europe, a part of me wished I started with that group of 11 Triple Crown racers in the first event from Venice and are now in the midst of the second event headed for Nice.

Instead, I decided to take on a new event called the Haute Route Compact held simultaneously with the second 7-day Alps event. The Compact included the same first 2 stages as well as the Prologue. The organizers introduced this shorter event for riders to try, and ultimately decide to enter the longer event in the future.

I used the Compact as a warm-up for the upcoming 7-day Pyrenees event which begins after the Alps event concludes. Having the few days in between allows the opportunity for me to get accustomed to the time zone change and to enjoy a few tourist days i.e. find great dark chocolate!

After arriving by plane in Geneva, I went down to the waterfront with the 140m high Jet d’Eau in sight (famous jet of water) and reflecting a lovely rainbow. It was Day 7 of the first event Dolomites and Swiss Alps and the riders were arriving into the finish.

Racers arrive Day 7 into the finish in Geneva - Dolomites Swiss Alps

Upon seeing the many familiar faces from prior Haute Route races, I felt sad for a moment that I had missed out that past week to spend time with them. Most of these riders had been enticed to try out the inaugural Dolomites event. I also knew there were a whole new bunch of riders to meet in the upcoming events.

Ascent of Passo di Giau Day 1 at the Dolomites event 
– photo Manu Molle
The general consensus of every rider I spoke with on describing the Dolomites event was solemnly “tough”! Then, with a smile “the most amazing scenery”!

Despite extreme cold and wet weather, all 11 Triple Crown contenders made it to the Dolomites finish line Day 7, and are successfully continuing on.

The only Triple Crown woman is Amy Brice from UK, who finished high (5th) in the women’s overall field.

Two of the Triple Crown racers, John Hamblett from UK and Nicolas Raybaud from France, were racing amongst the speedy men’s field and finished competitively within the top 16 overall standings.

Christian Haettich from France has completed all Haute Route events since they began in 2011. In spite of the extra effort of riding with only one leg and one arm, he is determined to use the power of the mind to conquer the Triple Crown challenge.

I met a group of Norwegian riders with one of them acknowledging he was riding the Triple Crown. “You must be Ottar”, I said since I had read his profile in the Haute Route 2014 Official Guide. He smiled and was surprised at my recognition of him. I asked if he rode a certain strategic pace knowing he had three events to complete. He said he had just the one pace and jokingly claimed it was slow. I think he was comparing himself to his speedier Norwegian comrades.

Nuno Luz from Portugal, an Iron rider in 2013 completing both the Alps event and Pyrenees event, was feeling good at the Dolomites finish. He said he made sure to keep his pace comfortable and the weather was not an issue. It gave him the opportunity to ride with slower friends enjoying time with them. He even stopped to help other riders whenever necessary.

Will Levy who is the tour operator for Two Wheel Tours out of Australia is spending time riding with riders in his tour group at various ability levels. Will is known to take awesome photographs while riding during the events. I have a few of those photos from past races!

Fergus Grant in the Lanterne Rouge role – photo Manu Mole
Fergus Grant from France is given the arduous role of “Lanterne Rouge” and is the motivational guy that keeps the riders at the very back of the field moving forward. While it is his job, he is still considered the 12th Triple Crown rider. He mentioned how important it is for him to keep bundled up as he is travelling at a slower pace.

I look forward to meeting the rest of the Triple Crown riders and gaining more insight to their strategies to the finish line in Biarritz at the Haute Route Pyrenees.


This year I rode the inaugural Haute Route Compact event. My plan was to enter the third event in the Pyrenees the following week. The shortened Compact event was an ideal way to warm up to the steep climbs. Rather than going on my own training rides, it was super to have a designated course to follow and other racers to ride with.

Day 1 Alps event, riders leaving Geneva – photo Manu Molle
The Compact event, a shortened version of the 7-day Alps event, included the prologue and the first 2 stages. 35 riders participated in the Compact event with new riders having varying thoughts to possibly entering a full event in the future.

Why would a rider be interested in a Compact version? Speaking with a few of the Compact finishers on our shuttle bus ride back to Geneva end of Day 2 gave me their perspective.

One couple from Australia living in the UK had previously taken part in epic 1-day events. The man stated those races had mostly recreational riders. He was surprised by the high caliber of racers at the Haute Route event. The woman disliked technical descending so was not too keen to complete a 7-day event. Her partner felt otherwise that he felt he was ready for the 7-day event at this time.

For others, time and money were factors to choose the Compact. For working people, it was easier to escape for a few days. Others, the cost for fewer days was within their budget.

A Swedish woman living in Lausanne, was thrilled she kept ahead of the sweep vehicle and managed to ride in a latter group of cyclists toward the end. At times when she was riding alone, she had her own motorcycle escort. She is interested in a 7-day event realizing it would be manageable with more time in the saddle.

Scenery at the top of Courchevel post-Compact event with Emma Pooley, Marg Fedyna, and Kazuya Kawayama before loading the shuttle bus to Geneva
Yet, a young Japanese rider thought the event was difficult for him at this time.

Many riders had not ever been in a time trial situation. The organization provides a starting ramp which the cyclists embark in time intervals just like the pros. Although a few were nervous, riding the prologue time trial ended up being calming.

Riders commended the efforts of the volunteers patrolling the roadways and stopping traffic as the riders raced by. There was an appreciation for the organizational efforts as well.

For experienced riders interested to take on the full 7-day event, consider the Compact event the week before. After my long flight and converting to the 8-hour time zone change, I was happy to have extra recovery days post-event before the next 7-day event was to begin.

Next year, there will likely be a Haute Route Compact event concurrent with each of the Haute Route events which allows for so many different combinations of races to choose from.

On Day 2 Alps event, two riders from Team Canada–TNA descending Col des Saisies with Mont Blanc looming in the background
 – photo Manu Molle

Canadian Sightings at the Haute Route

·      23 Canadian riders in the Dolomites event
·      Top Canadian in the Dolomites event - Tom Stewart 11th place
·      Of the 30 Canadian riders in the Alps event, 20 riders comprise three large teams: 9 riders from Team Canada - Glotman Simpson, 6 riders from Team Canada - TNA, 5 riders from VélOs
·      In the first few days of the Alps event, Veronique Fortin was 2nd place overall to Emma Pooley, Olympian & 2010 World Time Trial. Veronique was a Canadian National team member in 2013. Not to leave out 4-time Ironman winner Chrissy Wellington was racing in her first Haute Route event. Quite the contenders!
·      Renown hockey player and familiar face at the European stage races Trevor Linden is part of Team Canada – TNA
·      Nicolas Magnan is the top Canadian in the Alps event in 9th place as of Stage 4

Information on the Haute Route races:

Please follow my blog updated daily for more in-depth perspective on racing the 2014 Haute Route Pyrenees event Sep 1-7.