Category Archives: Haute Route

Haute Route Wake Up Call

haute route 2013

As most of you know, injuries ended my Haute Route ambitions this year, although my registration is still good for next year. I’m preparing now to get myself healthy and ready to go, and have been following along with several others as they prepare for their journey this year. Yesterday’s stage of Geneve to Megeve looks like it was both breathtakingly beautiful and challenging, and even though I watched it from my armchair, I learned a lot.

One thing I can tell immediately is that the Haute Route is not to be underestimated. The stage one metrics look brutal, comparable to my ride on Saturday. The only difference is they have to do it again, and again, and again. After just the first day, I’m already thinking of ways to get some challenging multi-day rides next year.

One shocker was seeing the first day’s results. Some riders that I know and respect did well, but not as well as I would have thought. There were a couple choice quotes from Brian Curran, one of the top local riders. He was impressed by the skill of the field, saying that “there are no wannabes here, lots of super fit riders on high dollar machines. I was wondering if I should even be here on the first climb, the way people were riding away from me.” Having ridden with Brian before, and knowing how he’s done on local mountain centuries (like Mitchell), it says a lot about the strength of the field.

One thing that’ll be interesting is to see how things proceed throughout the week. Given that this was the first day, it is possible that many people are pushing a harder pace than they can sustain. Brian may catch some of the others as the fatigue adds up.

Below are some links to results and blogs that I’ll be following the rest of the way.

Haute Route Alps – The website is now in event mode, with live results, tracking, and video. I’ve been punching in bib numbers for familiar faces to see how they do. Most of these people are on the Vicious Cycle Team, with some local representatives from Vork Cycling and Outspokin’.

Vicious Cycle – I think most readers here are familiar with Gerry’s blog. If it weren’t for Gerry, the seed wouldn’t have been planted for me to even consider this. He and his brother-in-law and coach Robert Armstrong are the founders and leaders of the Vicious Cycle Team. It is pretty cool that they finished together in 115th place on day one.

Jan Van Mieghem – Jan is a Belgian living in America that I’ve just recently discovered. He finished 72nd on his first day, and gave a great narrative of near the front of the pack.

Benjamin Smithers – Ben is riding for UK Youth, who just put together his blog for the Haute Route. He’s already finished his day and placed at 74th, just behind Jan — most impressive. I found it interesting to see his take on how the flats are forgotten, but I can see how he would prefer to be riding either up or down.

Grimpeur Apprenti – Detlef has been preparing for the Haute Route Pyrenees, which will follow the Alps version in two weeks. I’ve been following his training most of the year. He’s had a couple of setbacks, but has still managed to keep up his training regimen, and I expect he’ll have a successful tour.

Good luck guys!


Breakthrough Week

It has now been nearly seven weeks since my last ride. The time off has been a roller coaster, sometimes with extreme pain, sometimes with absolute boredom. Fortunately, it looks like I am finally closer to the end of my recovery than the beginning.

After two weeks of making hardly any progress, major strides came this week. On Tuesday, I noticed that something felt different. I had more flexibility, mobility, and less soreness. A dull ache existed, at times worse than others, but it was drastically better than it had been a few days before. That was my first breakthrough day. It became even better on Wednesday, Thursday, and then Friday. It feels remarkably better now.

I’m not out of the woods yet. On Monday I will visit Dr. Ekman again, probably get an X-ray, and a direction for treatment. It is possible I’ll need another MRI (Ugh!). My guess is that the fracture has mostly healed, but there are some other soft tissue issues underneath the labrum that still need to be dealt with. There is some lingering soreness, and I can tell that my hip still is not quite right. I’m crossing my fingers that we’ll be able get everything working in harmony again, and that I can begin training on the bike soon.

In two weeks, I will register for the Assault on Mount Mitchell again. That seems like a bold commitment at this stage of the year, but one I am prepared to make. Even if I cannot train like I have the last couple of years, this is the ride I want to do every year. I’m banking on having enough carryover fitness to make it to the finish line, however slowly, without focusing on time. Any training I can manage until then will be a bonus.

Speaking of Mitchell, my friends in the southeast might be interested to know that I am now blogging for the 2013 Assault. The first post is up now, and more will follow. Much of my material will not be new to readers of this blog, and a few things will be cross-posted over the next few months. I’ll be an editor of sorts as well, working with a few others for different perspectives and tips, varying from beginners to professionals. Even if you do not ride in the Mitchell event, you might find the material useful to prepare for any sort of endurance event.

Finally, I’d like to give a couple shout outs. It was a tough decision for me to bail on this year’s Haute Route plans, even if it was the right decision. I want to thank Wes for backing out with me. We had planned to do the ride together, were going to train together, fly together, and be roommates during the entire event. We both deferred our registrations and plan to participate in the 2014 event.

The final shout out is to the Vicious Cycle team. Wes and I left them in the lurch by backing out. Fortunately they were able to find a couple replacements rather quickly. Keeping in the spirit of internationalism, they added Julian from Edinburgh, UK, and Patrick from Sydney, Australia. They now have a great looking kit, which I’ll be following for this year’s event.


The Plans, They Are A Changin’

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Today I made a big decision. The Haute Route is not going to happen, at least not this year. It was a difficult decision, but ultimately the right decision.

As most of you know, I’ve been recovering from a stress fracture for the last several weeks, and had trained on it for a few months prior. The sports medicine doctor had told me that the potential recovery timeframe could work with an event of this scale, but at that point, the injury did not seem as bad as it was. The thought was that I would be relatively pain-free, not need crutches, and get to cross-training (swimming) fairly quickly. None of those wishes came true.

Although there has been minor improvement, and the crutches are no longer necessary, the healing has been slow. The crucial moment was just a few days ago when I swam for the first time. Everything went well during the swim, but soreness lingered for a couple days afterward. The doctor advised me that I could continue swimming, but only with a careful amount of rest in between.

With each week, I have been losing valuable training time. Since I’ll have to resume slowly and carefully, it will still be awhile before I can really push the intensity. The reality is, a lot of training is required to succeed at an event like this. It is not the considered the highest and toughest cyclosportive in the world without reason.

I will heal, and if I pushed, I could complete the Haute Route event this year. The only problem is, I would not do nearly as well as I would like. The experience would be more suffering than it would be otherwise, would take more time on the bike, and simply not be as fun. Not to mention, my team has been training this entire off-season, and most likely would be well beyond me come August.

Most everyone I have talked to agreed that this was the right move. As Coach Bobby put it, this injury is most likely a one-time thing that needs to heal. At some point I will bounce back and be strong again.

As of present, I am looking into my options, but most likely I will defer my registration to the 2014 Haute Route. This gives me the comfort zone to focus now on my recovery without worrying too much about the training I’m missing, while not ruling out this amazing event for the future.

As for the rest of 2013, I have no doubt that plenty of adventures are waiting for me. There are lots of cycling playgrounds in the world. We’ll definitely have another big vacation, possibly another sojourn to Colorado, maybe a trip to France, maybe California, or maybe somewhere else entirely. And of course, I will spend a lot of time in the Blue Ridge, hopefully exploring some new areas.

For now, I’m being smart.


2013 Haute Route Alps – Route Details

haute route 2013

 

In case I needed some motivation to recover and rest, today they announced the route details for the 2013 Haute Route in the Alps. This year the route will be 85% brand new, which means there are a lot of climbs that are not familiar to me.

Gerry has posted a nice breakdown of the route that includes climb specifications. It seems most are in the average 5-6% grade vicinity. Individually that doesn’t sound too terrible, but all of them combined will certainly take a toll.

Some interesting notes:

  • The route begins in Geneva and ends in Nice, just like last year.
  • We’ll dip into Italy for a short loop during one of the stages.
  • Most stages will have end at the summit of a climb.
  • The marathon stage will be on day 3, with a total of 102 miles and nearly 11,000 feet of climbing.
  • The ‘rest day’ time trial is on day 5. This year it is Cime de La Bonette, which I hear is a beast of a climb.
  • Total mileage: 538 (866 km)
  • Total climbing: 70,000 feet (21,000 meters)
  • 7 excruciatingly beautiful days!

Wow! Nobody said it would be easy. In fact, CNN recently published an article listing the Haute Route as one of the toughest endurance challenges in the world.

The only drawback to this being a mostly new route is that some of the legendary, historic climbs are left off. I’ll have to make another trip to cross a few others off the bucket list, such as Alpe d’Huez, Galibier, Courcheval, Ventoux, and more (many of these are too far away to be on Haute Route anyway).

One cool thing is that Bonette, the time trial, is the highest paved road in Europe. I’ve already climbed the highest road in North America, so this will be extra special.

At first glance, it looks like they’ve outdone themselves. This is no joke, serious pain in suffering. There’s a lot of time between now and then. Hopefully I’ll be able to look at some of the stages in a little more detail.


Digesting the Haute Route Video

The organizer’s of the Haute Route have put together an excellent documentary of last year’s event. It is embedded below. While it clocks in at 45 minutes, it is worth the time. For those without the time or attention, even the first couple minutes are worth watching just to understand what the toughest amateur event in the world is like.

I found myself intending just to watch a little bit of it last night, and watched the entire thing in one sitting. Fascinating stuff, and I cannot wait for the event.

Here are some thoughts I took away from the video:

  • They said that weight is a huge factor, and that you’ll remember what you ate in December on the hills. When I heard that quote, it took me a second to remember what month it is, and what I had for dinner. Oops!
  • Alpe d’Huez looks a lot like Hogpen Gap. Aside from that and a couple others (Izoard, Glandon), many of the climbs don’t look any harder than the ones around here. Easy or hard, they will certainly take their toll over the week.
  • That Marathon stage? Wow! We’re still waiting for the 2013 route to be released, but I’m certain there will be a stage like that. For my Southeastern readers, that’s like doing Assault on Mount Mitchell after doing Assault on the Carolinas for two days straight.
  • Riders consume between 3,500 to 5,000 calories on each stage. That seems high. I don’t think I consume that much on my mountain centuries. That said, I’ll be erring on the side of caution, and over-consumption. The last thing I want to do is bonk in the Alps.
  • I was not sure how much the beauty of the area would minimize the suffering. The answer from this video, it doesn’t, but it sure makes it worthwhile. It was reassuring seeing how many people appreciated the beauty while being exhausted from the effort
  • I wasn’t sure how competitive the riders would be given that it’s an amateur event. I think that depends on your placement. Most likely I will be taking it easy, buckling in for the long haul, and cooperating with my fellow riders rather than racing them.
  • Peter Pouly, Emma Pooley and the Kenyan Riders come off like celebrities. I hope to meet them next year if they participate.
  • I thought the Alpe d’Huez Time Trial would be like a rest day, but that’s not the way it was presented in the film. It looks very difficult, and my guess is they’ll do the same next year.
  • I was thinking that the last stage would be easier because of the descent into Nice. On the contrary, it might be the most difficult because of the sheer number of miles. Many of them will be flat or downhill, but still …
  • The teams stuck together a lot, which was very cool to see. I look forward to enjoying a beer with my Vicious Cycle teammates in Nice.

After seeing this video, I can safely say that making it to the finish line will be a major accomplishment, and this will be one of my greatest life achievements. I can’t wait. Even though I’m injured now, I plan to be there unless my legs fall off.


The Haute Route Team Takes Shape

There have been a few changes since I last talked about the team. Regular readers might remember that once I signed on the dotted line, the team filled up almost immediately.

Once the financial and physical reality set in, a few of the committed members backed out. At one point we had too many members for a full team, then almost overnight, we did not have enough.

We scrambled to find replacements. At first this was an international team, which I suppose it still is, but we now have a larger Carolina contingent. Five of the Nine members live in North or South Carolina. Wes, Chris, Ed, and Paul, welcome to the team.

We also have a name. After much discussion, and a lot of bad suggestions(including all of mine!), good ol’ Gerry came up with ‘Vicious Cycle.’ We had waffled on all the names before it, but this one was welcomed unanimously.

The name works on a lot of levels. First of all, we’ll be frothing at the mouth viciously as we attack the climbs of the alps — at least that is what we are convincing ourselves. We’ll be a pack of wolves, and our prey will be the legendary Cols of Alpine France. Whether we attack with vicious vigor, or if we whimper to the finish line, is yet to be seen.

The multiple meanings don’t stop there. The training schedule is also going to be a vicious cycle, although most of that biting will be done to ourselves. And, in case nobody noticed, we ride bicycles, viciously.

Gerry took to the idea so much that he re-named his blog. I recommend all of those who are interested in the Haute Route, and following this blog, to also follow him. Here is his profile post about the team members.

Once we had a name, we had to get registered. I have to credit Rob and Gerry for that. They did the appropriate research to get in via the Team Guaranteed program, coordinated payment, and made it all official.

Because of this registration system, we were official before registration opened to the public on November 1st. That’s a good thing, because I understand that it sold out in roughly 15 minutes. There’s a lot of demand for this ride, and we have to credit the organizers for not overwhelming the event with larger registration numbers.

Next comes the jersey design, which Rob is generously going to quarterback. We have already selected a company, and thrown around a few thematic ideas. More on that later.

Most importantly, we recognize the ambition of what we’re trying to accomplish. Training is underway on all fronts. We’ll be ready.


Haute Route Training Begins

It seems only fitting that I write this post on the day the Tour de France route is announced. It is especially exciting following along, knowing that I’ll be riding many of the same roads a few weeks later. The course looks imposing, with uphill time trials, two climbs up Alpe d’Huez in the same stage, and a Ventoux stage finish. It will definitely be a race for the climbers.

Looking at these routes, I also know that I have a long ways to go. Fortunately, my formal training began this week.

After feeling a little hip irritation over the last weekend, it has been surprisingly painless ever since. It is probably at around 80-90% now. Given the slow healing process thus far, I’m not expecting overnight recovery, but I am far closer to being done with this injury.

We approached this week cautiously, careful not to work too hard on the hip and suffer a setback. Normally we would have started with strength exercises, but Coach Bobby first wanted to make sure the hip could handle an easy training load. He scheduled some light riding for everyday this week.

Monday and Tuesday started with the trainer. To be honest, I sort of hate the trainer. I can put the most mindless popcorn movie on the TV, yet still feel bored when pushing the pedals. It is always uncomfortably warm in the house, and I get saddle sore extremely quickly. I was only able to manage 30 minutes the first two nights, although that was partly because I had other projects that occupied my time.

Tonight I am going to try to hang in there longer. I’ll be pleased with an hour of work.

Tomorrow I’ll be trying out a night ride. They call it a crit actually, but I’ll be riding easy, just working on getting some base miles. Maybe later in the year I can stretch the legs and do some speed work.

Friday will be a short ride; Saturday will be an organized metric century; Sunday will be another short ride in my backyard.

Assuming I am able to get through this week without any setbacks, I’ll start with weight training next week.

Here goes nothing …