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.

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