By John Thomas, 15th August 2019
The long chain of the Pyrenees is just coming into sight as we head towards Pau, the start town for a massive 2 weeks of bike racing for me and a few other nervous souls.
I’ve done the Haute Route 7 day events several times now, they are always a tough challenge in themselves but this will be my first experience of doing 2 of them back to back. On Saturday we’ll start the Haute Route Pyrenees, immediately followed by Haute Route Alps. 14 stages, 1600kms and a fairly significant 39000m of climbing that will take us through the best of the French Pyrenees followed by an Alpine jaunt from Megève to Nice. With one rest day in between to travel between the two, this will be unknown territory for me and many others racing with me. Two weeks of riding is no big deal but racing in big mountains each day will put a stress on body and mind that will be beyond what I’ve experience before. I can’t wait!
I’ll be joined on the journey by several Alpine Cadence riders who will enjoy our support in helping them achieve their Haute Route goals, most notably, Duncan Carrier and Adrian Beer who will join me in taking on the ‘double’.
Haute Route is always a fantastic experience. A very professionally run organisation that gives amateur road cyclists of all levels a chance to sample stage races in a way that is as close to the ‘pro’ experience as you’ll find. For some it’s a race, for many it’s simply the challenge of finishing, for everyone it’s big!
My preparation for the event has been good. 10,000kms in my legs since the start of the year, most of which have come from guiding riders on our Alpine Cadence trips throughout the spring and summer. Those trips are so varied in the riding required to guide them; fast, slow and everything in between. Very enjoyable and very productive kilometres, every one of them. Not many race efforts for me so far this summer but when I have put a number on my back I’ve been going well. 6th Overall in the 3 day Haute Route Alpe d’Huez was a great confidence builder and a solid top hundred finish in the Etape du Tour confirms that the form is there. The last few weeks have involved less riding, family holidays and a few hard efforts here and there to remind the body to stay awake. All good and I’m feeling ready!
Today, the whole field for Haute Route Pyrenees will assemble and register in Pau. Probably around 500 riders, the biggest field for the event ever. Duncan, Adrian and myself will be among around 75 riders who have committed to the Alps too for 2 weeks of punishment. Riccardo Clerici will be having his second crack at HR Pyrenees after a great ride last year and Jon Bray and Stephen Blackburn will join us too in the Pyrenees for their first Haute Route experience.
The first stage tomorrow is relatively short at 96km. We start in Pau and culminate close to the Spanish border at La Pierre de St Martin. It’s a backloaded stage with the main climbs coming in the last 25kms. It’s so easy to go too hard on day one of an Haute Route with fresh legs and masses of adrenaline from all the anticipation. Discipling and patience will be key tomorrow in conserving energy for the final climbs and the huge task ahead of us in the days to come. Goals wise it’s hard to know what the target is. I’ve had results I’m really proud of in the 7 day events, most notably finishing 5th overall in the 2017 HR Pyrenees. With a big field of unknown quality and it being a two week affair it’s hard to know what to aim for. It will all be clearer tomorrow night as the riders levels manifest themselves in Stage 1 and we all get a better idea of where we belong in the peloton.
Over the next two weeks I’ll try to write a report every day, it’s a big part of my warm down and relax process! I’m anticipating lots of ups and downs both geographically and emotionally. I’ll try my best to describe the experience and all it’s twist and turns. I honestly don’t know what to expect for these two weeks but one way or another you’ll hear about it here!