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Fedyna’s Haute Route Triple Crown Report – 2,600km Cycling the Dolomites, Alps, and Pyrenees

by Marg Fedyna

August 28, 2014 (Geneva, Switzerland) – What would it be like to cycle 2,600 kilometers through the Dolomites, Swiss Alps, French Alps and the Pyrenees – in just over three weeks – gaining over 60,000 elevation meters? An amazing feat – especially when the weather in those mountain ranges this summer has been on the cool side and rainy.

Dolomites - Passo del Stelvio 2757m  ©  Manu Molle

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…

The first edition of the Haute Route Dolomites Swiss Alps 7-day event (Aug. 16-22) starts outside of Venice, heads through the Dolomites, then the Swiss Alps, and finishes in Geneva for 933km of riding. Stage 2, Haute Route Alps (Aug. 24-30) takes you down through the French Alps to Nice for a total of 911km of riding. New this year is the Haute Route Compact (Aug. 24-25), a two-day event starting in Geneva and finishing in Courchevel including two timed stages and 260km in the saddle.

Then for the final event in the Triple Crown, you hop over to Barcelona for the Haute Route Pyrenees (Sept. 1-7) for the start and ride through the Pyrenees towards the Atlantic Coast ending in Biarritz, 790km later. Quite the organizational feat as well!

The majority of the participants will take on one of the 7-day events. This year, 20 participants, nicknamed Iron riders, will try two of the 7-day events, while 11 participants have decided to try and complete all three 7-day events in a row to claim the ultimate 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. As a former extreme multi-sport athlete myself I always ensured to take care to endure to the finish when pursuing a large challenge – like me most of them will likely complete the challenge.

I even considered taking on this Triple Crown challenge. Back in 2001, I went on 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 that amazing journey. My body went into a survival mode enabling any injury or slight illness to be kept at bay.

I am curious about the strategies these Triple Crown challenge riders will need to survive.

As I am currently in Europe, a part of me wishes that I had started with that group of 11-strong Triple Crown racers in the first event from Venice – they are now in the midst of the second journey headed to Nice.

Instead, I decided to take on a new Haute Route Compact event held simultaneously with the second 7-day Alps adventure (pls see my Compact race recap below). The Compact included the same first two timed stages as well as the Prologue. The organizers introduced this shorter event for riders who want to try stage racing, before ultimately deciding to enter a 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 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 in Geneva by plane, I went down to the waterfront and caught the 140m high Jet d’Eau in sight (famous jet of water) as it reflected a lovely rainbow. It was Day 7 of the first Haute Route Dolomites and Swiss Alps event and the riders were just arriving into the finish area.

Finishers of the first leg in the Dolomites  ©  Marg Fedyna

Upon seeing the many familiar faces from previous Haute Route races, I felt sad for a moment that I had missed out racing and spending time with them this past week. 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.

The general consensus of every rider I spoke with on describing the Dolomites event was solemnly “tough” – then, with a smile… including “the most amazing scenery”!

Day 1 Dolomites - ascent of Passo di Giau  ©  Manu Molle

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 suggested since I had read his profile in the Haute Route 2014 Official Guide. He smiled and was surprised at my recognition. 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 as he compared 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 at these events. I am luck enough to have a few of those photos from past races!

Day 1 - Fergus Grant, Lanterne Rouge  ©  Manu Molle

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 make it ot the finish line in Biarritz at the end of the upcoming Haute Route Pyrenees.

Haute Route Compact Recap

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 - Start in Geneva Alps 2014  ©  Manu Molle

The Compact event, a shortened version of the 7-day Alps event, included the prologue and the first 2 stages. A total of 35 riders participated in the new Compact event with several riders having varying thoughts as to possibly enter 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 calibre of racers at the Haute Route event. The woman disliked technical descending so was not too keen to complete a 7-day event but her partner felt that he was ready for a 7-day adventure at this time.

For others, time and money were factors to choose the Compact. For working folks, it was easier to escape for a few days while for others, the cost was within their budget.

A Swedish woman living in Lausanne, was thrilled that she kept ahead of the sweep vehicle and managed to ride to the finish in a  group of cyclists. At times when she was riding alone, she had her own motorcycle escort and while she’s interested in trying a 7-day event, she realizes it would only 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  ©  Marg Fedyna

I also met a young Japanese rider who 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 timed intervals just like the pros. Although a few were nervous, riding the prologue time trial ended up having a calming affect.

Riders commended the efforts of the volunteers patrolling the roadways and stopping traffic as the riders raced by and there was an overall appreciation for the organization’s efforts as well.

For experienced riders interested in taking on the full 7-day event, consider the Compact as an appetizer to get back into the race mode. After my long flight and converting to the 8-hour time zone change, I was happy to have extra recovery days before the next 7-day event was to begin.

Next year, there will likely be a Haute Route Compact route concurrent with each of the main Haute Route events which will allow for a wide variety of different combinations of races to choose from.

Day 2 - Team Canada TNA descending Col des Saisies, Mont Blanc in background  ©  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!
  • Renowned hockey player and familiar face at the European stage races is Trevor Linden, 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 here.

Please follow my blog that will be updated daily here for more in-depth perspective on racing the 2014 Haute Route Pyrenees event Sep 1-7.

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