Haute Route Alps 2018

I’ve put in quite a bit of effort this year in preparation for the Haute Route Alps ride and it’s now time to share a little  of that experience.  There a few other detailed accounts of the ride on the web but they seemed to relate to riders younger and faster than me so I’ve a few things to add.  For those who may not know, Haute Route run commercial. amateur, supported multi-day cycling events. Their annual Alps event is their premiere offering and has been described as the world’s hardest amateur cycling event.

About me. I’m a 45yo surgeon working full time and not a particularly accomplished cyclist.  I tended to run mainly during my 30s and completed a bunch of distance events including two marathons.  My best marathon time is 3 hours 31 minutes which is neither fast not super slow.  Running was starting to cause injuries which were making me increasingly despondent, so, around the age of 40 I bought a bike and some lycra.  I subsequently rode a number of single day events around my part of Victoria, Australia and in 2017 I was looking for a challenge.

The event. The HR Alps is a seven day, seven stage event run in the French Alps each year.  The course is different each year but typically around 400 cyclists complete 800km with 20,000m of climbing.  Those numbers are terrifying but I didn’t realise how terrifying until after I was committed.  This year the course was North to South, finishing in Nice and the event ran in the last week of August.

Entry.  A friend challenged me to enter the HR at just the right time but I looked the event up and thought he was mad.  I discussed it with my personal trainer who encouraged me to give it some serious thought so a week later, after a couple of drinks and a long series of text messages we both signed up on the same evening in November 2017.  That meant the event was almost nine months away.  The series of challenges quickly became obvious:

  • I had ridden 200km in a day but never ridden long rides two days in a row, let alone seven days in a row
  • The most elevation I’d notched up was 2000m on the Amy Gillett Gran Fondo – a particularly beautiful annual event but I needed to do double that on the bigger HR stages.
  • I’d never ridden a climb longer than about 5km
  • I did not have a suitable bike
  • I was 96kg – bad for a climbing cyclist – and about 10kg overweight in any one’s language
  • I was averaging  less than two rides a week and Strava rated my fitness as pretty average.

Training. Beginning immediately I worked with my PT Ant Wilson to develop a plan and to put together some monitoring so that I could use the available nine months to build my ability.  I started trying to log 200km a week and 1000km a month.  The easiest way to manage that was using Strava and I really came to rely heavily on Strava on the phone and on my laptop. At first these goals were quite a stretch in themselves but I realised that flat training was of limited value and I needed hills.  Each month Strava has a climbing challenge so during 2018 I signed up to each month’s challenge and tried to pit in the 7500 or 8000m needed.

I cannot see myself having done all the training without Strava because it served several purposes.  It was a logbook allowing me to tally distance and elevation.  It was also a source of feedback and encouragement as my friends pushed me along with kudos.  Beyond that, the premium features like “Fitness and freshness” were monitored frequently.  Strava premium – worth every cent.

Early on I also subscribed to Todays Plan which is another data crunching cycling-focused analysis service.  It is more detailed than Strava with the capacity to dive a little deeper.  The main reason I subscribed was that the software can develop training plans automatically based on the user’s goals.  I did like that but eventually found that I couldn’t match my real world training to the plans the software developed.  This was mainly about simple logistics of work, kids and so on. Once I stopped using the plans I tended to use Strava exclusively.

In the Southern hemisphere it was Spring then Summer as I started to train and there was enough time to get out, ride and get fitter.  I lost weight and went longer before dying of fatigue.  Winter worried me and I needed a plan to allow training as the days got shorter, colder and wetter.  I bought a Tacx Flux indoor trainer and started Zwifting.  This worked for me.  I could train hard at 5:30 in the morning, put in an hour before breakfast.  No traffic lights, no wet weather clothes and some progress.  I used Zwift in a variety of ways: free rides, programmed workouts, workouts downloaded from Today’s Plan and finally races.

Before it got too cold and wet I got onto as many of the local mountains as I could.  The Climbing Cyclist was a terrific resource here.  Matt de Neef has written up a bunch of local rides so if you are in Victoria, AU, don’t miss it.  I started easy enough with Mt Dona Buang, has a great weekend out of Bright with Falls Creek and Mt Buffalo and rode the in-part horrifically steep Mt Baw Baw.  The snow season arrived before I could ride Lake Mountain or Mt Buller.  I spent a lot of time riding the 1:20, the Crucifix and other rides in the Dandenongs. Thanks Matt.

Very sadly, in March, my personal trainer of several years Ant Wilson died suddenly.

That threw my prep into a spin because our weekly sessions were my opportunity to assess progress and recharge on motivation.


Day by Day

Stuff I could do better