Riding the Haute Route
April 17th, 2019
Why taking on the world’s most iconic cycling terrain could be a life-changing experience
As ‘the world’s most prestigious multi-day events for amateur riders’, the Haute Route is on many a cyclist’s bucket list. What started as three week-long rides in the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites has grown into a worldwide series of events stretching from China and Oman to the USA and Mexico. It has been billed as ‘the highest and toughest cyclosportive in the world’, but with the right training and – just as important – the right attitude, these events are accessible to all cyclists, from rookie beginners to the seasoned obsessives.
Richmond Cycles’ Arthur Tye, our very own seasoned obsessive and former race team cyclist (but that’s another story…) has ridden the Haute Route five times. So we asked him to give us the low down.
“In 2014 I rode the week-long event in the Alps,” he begins. “That was just by chance, a friend dropped out and I took his place. I rode it competitively and really enjoyed it. A whole week of racing up and down mountains – it was amazing. I’d never pushed myself so hard in my life. A totally life-changing experience.”
The Haute Route events include timed and ranked stages and individual time trials. There is professional-level support both on and off the bike. “For the week-long events, you’re travelling point to point,” explains Arthur. “So it’s one of the rare opportunities you get as a cyclist to tour properly, like they do in the Tour de France. You arrive at your new hotel having left your luggage in your previous hotel and miraculously it’s there.”
He went to the Alps again in 2015, the Pyrenees in 2016 and in 2017 drove a coffee van in the Alps. “A different kettle of fish but pretty much as tiring as riding a bike,” he laughs. “Although halfway through driving that event I realised, ‘I don’t want to go a year without riding an event,’ so I signed up to do the Dolomites which started three days later. I wasn’t at all prepared, not in the slightest! So, yeah…that happened. Painfully.”
Why it is a positively unforgettable experience
This year, Arthur is hoping to revisit the Pyrenees to ride the 7 day event there. “It’s my favourite place to cycle. There are wonderful climbs out there, but it’s not just epic, it feels intimate, rural and wild. My first mountain experience was the Alps, with all these iconic climbs and names spray painted on the road. It’s amazing, but the Pyrenees by comparison – it has a charm and a wilderness to it. There might be birds of prey flying overhead, and when you come across a village it’s a welcome sight.
Wherever the Haute Route might take you, it will be an unforgettable experience. “You do get a thrill and an excitement from event riding,” Arthur says.
“There’s a camaraderie about the whole thing. You get these quirky groups forming – friends, clubs, teams from all over the world. Little pockets of enthusiasm, of people doing strange and wonderful things.”
Find out more about the Haute Route here https://www.hauteroute.org
Arthur’s Training Tips
OK, so we’re all agreed that training is required for an Haute Route event. But how do you train for mountains when you live in or around London? “I wouldn’t recommend just seeking out the nearest hills, because you’re only ever going to find 6 or 7 minute hill climbs,” says Arthur. “My recommendation would be to find the flattest terrain you can where you can ride sessions including uninterrupted 45-minute efforts. Do those efforts over-geared, and sitting upright. Don’t tuck down into an aerodynamic position as if you’re riding on the flat, imagine you’re riding up a hill. And if you can find a head wind, all the better. It’s about how hard your heart is working and for what length of time.
“The baseline is really just ride your bike, ride your bike, ride your bike. If you’re a keen amateur and you want to do a bigger event, just get on your bike more. Fit it into your daily routine – get up half an hour earlier and commute to work, find a longer scenic route. Just get more mileage in the legs.”
And for those who want to race and compete?
“Think about upping your high end and getting faster, rather than just comfortable. Think about hill repeats, think about structured sessions and work at doing specific intervals. Invest in a heart rate monitor so you can see your training data and how hard your body’s working.