Haute Route – Bike ride thru the French Alps

from Aug 21 to 27, 2011, I competed in my first ever bicycle race – and it was a doozy – The Haute Route. Each evening, I sat down to write updates, capturing some thoughts from each of the seven stages.

Stage 1 – Geneva to Megeve

Greetings from Megeve, which is located in the French Alps.

I am going a crazy bicycle race called the “Haute Route”. It is from Geneva, Switzerland to Nice on the Mediterranean coast. It is 730 km over seven days. However, there is over 17,000mtrs of vertical ascent, which is largely divided amongst 15 fairly major mountain passes, or cols.

I arrived in Geneva on Friday evening and spent all of saturday just taking care of all the details for entering the race, organising my food etc and some final bike tweaking.

Today was day one. I have added a link below from my little gps unit which details the route and other details. My aim was to take it quite easy today, as there are some heinous days coming up. I must say that I failed a little on that aim. I was feeling really good up the Columbiere (apprx 1200mtrs of climbing over approx 16km. This took me around 75 mins.. My heart rate was higher than I would have preferred, but it did feel ok. The views were incredible and the descent quite amazing. The next climb up the Aravis was tougher. It was a smaller climb. but seemed to drag on and the day was getting hotter. The descent from Aravis was reasonably tricky, but very enjoyable. From there it was approx 15km to the finish at Megeve over rolling terrain. It was tough going, as I was very short on fluids. But I got the finish line in reasonable shape after getting dragged along by three other riders for the final 5km. My time was apprx 4hrs, 38 mins.

Weather-wise, it was a glamour. We started this morning on the banks of Lake Geneva as the sun was rising. Not a cloud in the sky and no wind for the entire ride. It was really hot at the finish. Did a lot of recovery at the finish with drinking, eating, massage and compression clothing.

The result page is below. Looks like I came 113th out of 300 or so riders. I have never raced before, so happy with whatever it says. I am part of a team of sailing people as well. Paul Larsen also comes from the Melbourne area and has been based in Cowes. He is involed in a project to set a new speed record for a sailing craft (see http://www.sailrocket.com/). Mark Turner is well known as running many sailing events through Offshore Challenges (now OC Third Pole – who run the Haute Route). Fraser Brown is a Kiwi sailor that is now Cowes based. Simon Morgan is a yachtie from Cowes, and we also have Jim Thomas.

Paul did the best in our team. He has spent the last three weeks in the Alps training and holidaying. It has made a big difference to his riding. Does not seem that long ago that I was dragging him up hills on the Isle of Wight. He finished 12 mins ahead of me today. Mark and I rode together for the whole climb of Columbiere. I finished a minute ahead of him. Fraser was another 20 mins or so back, which was a bloody good effort. Simon had bike dramas halfway up the Columbiere and actually swapped bikes with a guy that was already in the sag-wagon (having given up for the day). Simon and Jim had a big day after all that, finishing in just a tick over 6 hrs. We have just done some team-bonding fixing the gear shifter on Simon’s bike. He is all good to go tomorrow.

Tomorrow is tougher than today. Today we did 2200mtrs of climbing. Tomorrow is 3000mtrs over three climbs with a heinous uphill finish. I have attached the route profile. It will be imprtant to leave something in reserve tomorrow, as Day 3 is a shocker. But more about that in tomorrow’s report….

Also attached are some pics taken by Helena Darvelid, our Director Sportive.



Stage 2 – Megeve to Les Arcs

Today was again pretty tough – 2200mtrs of climbing over three cols (passes). You try to pace yourself, but there is very fine balance between going easy and prolonging the suffereing, versus going just that bit harder to just get it done. I am learning there is a lot of psychology in cycling up big hills – and most of it has to do with overcoming pain… Today was (for me) 3.5hrs of climbing alone.

The descents are pretty full-on. No place for the faint hearted. Obviously it is a break from the physical pain of climbing, but the concentration and skill play a big part in being fast and not crashing. I believe there were four crashes today.

The last climb today up to Les Arcs was fairly tough. Mark led me most of the way up. His pace was right on the edge for me, which was perfect. Two things stand out from the climb. One was getting passed by the oldest guy in the fleet – a 70 year-old who is probably the most respected rider here. Another was seeing an old couple on steel bikes cruising up the hill after what I assume was a quick trip down for a loaf of bread and some milk. Dad was in the Bonds wife-beater and Mum had trakky-daks on (but at least I passed them). What a great place! (for non australians, i am too tired to explain the previous sentence… apologies). as I suspected, my mass of 98kg is doing very little for me on the climbs. I think the 70 year old bloke would weigh as much as my right leg – but I’m not making excuses!!

The views on the top of the second climb of the day (Col du Roselend) were amazing, as was the fast descent from the col. We were again lucky with the weather, although it got quite hot for the last ascent up to Les Arcs. Sun all day and no wind. One can only imagine how tough it gets to ride when there is wind whistling down the valleys and when it rains for the descents.

Anyway, my data for today is as per the link:

Team-wise, we had a great day. Paul again topped the list, finishing at about 4hrs 10min. Mark Turner and I continued our bonding on the alps, by riding virtually every metre together uphill. We finished together, about ten minutes after Paul. Fraser again dug deep to be about an hour behind Paul. Simon’s bike hung in well after the Paul and I performed a bush-mechanic repair on her last night. Jim really toughed it out all day, but made the cut. Big effort there. Probably deserving of a Knight-hood. Sir James has a ring to it.

Well – it all leads us to day three. This is a ride that has frightened me all year. I have attached the route profile. Today we climbed 3000mtrs…. tomorrow is 4000!! Two of the hors categorie climbs in the Tour. the Col de La Madelaine and the Col Du Galibier (which takes in the Col Du Telegraph). The Col De La Madelaine will likely be two hours climbing. The Col Du Galibier will just be heinous. It gets stepper the further up you go. It finishes at high altitude (over 2600mtrs).

All in all it will be a large day. Alarm is set for 0445hrs. Try to wedge some breakfast in then we set off at 0600. You definitely have to be somewhat of a nut to do this. For those that have a minute, below is a link to the last ten minutes of Stage 18 of the Tour this year on the Col Du Galibier. These blokes make it look pretty easy, but my stomach went weak when I looked at this a couple of hours back.. But i still did yell “Go Cadel” as I watched it.

Might be a short report manana.

Thanks for the replies. kate and kids are going great thanks. They will be in Nice when (if) I finish. Thanks Tom Schnack for the performance analysis of my garmin data ;-) … I’ll work on it, mate!

Standing by in Les Arcs


Stage 3 – Les arcs to Serre Chevalier – via Col du Galibier

Will be a quick report tonight. Very tired.

Today’s stage was the thing occupying my mind each time I have woken up in the wee hours and gone bike riding over the past eight months.

Today was the toughest thing I have ever done in my life. The difficulties are equal parts physical and mental. Today saw us climb for 26km up the Col du Madelaine. Then 13 odd km up the Col du Telegaphe. Then to finish off we climbed for 17km up the infamous Galibier, which is at 2650mtrs elevation. All of the climbs were tough. It was hot and we had headwinds in the 20km of valley road between the Madelaine and the Telegraphe. That part of the ride was nasty with traffic, dust, noise, headwind and heat. Then for the first 8km or so of the Galibier climb we had a nasty headwind on the climb. For me, most of today was about survival. I would not want to do it again. I am glad it’s over, but what a wonderful experience!

After the official finish, we had a 30km long descent to where we are lodged for the night.

Lots of things will stick in the memory from today, but I have not really the energy to go through too much of it.

My garmin file is here:
Heart rate is a lot lower than normal, which I think is attributable to the altitude. It was hard to breath deeply without coughing up near the top

Again, I rode with Mark all day – except for where he rode away from me in the last 5km. He did great work pacing me up the climbs, then he finished really strongly. Paul again was the best in our team, leading Mark in by some 20 mins. I was 5 mins behind Mark. The last 15km were for me very tough. Definitely paying a price for carting a 98kg body up all these ascents – but not complaining – I signed up for the torture!!

MVP today was Fraser Brown. He was very close to Mark and at the bottom of Galibier and finished 10 or so minutes back. Like all of us he was spent at the top, but it was a mighty ride by him today. Solid effort – particularly for a kiwi. Apparently now we move into second place in the teams competition.

Both Simon and Jim did not complete the ride today. Simon is suffering from a hornet sting he had yesterday. Jim found the going quite tough after two big days.

I have attached some pics of Paul, Mark, Fraser and myself at the Galibier finish. All quite emotional. Also there is a shot of the 70 year-old bloke. He was well placed again today – miles in front of me. Unreal! The scenery was amazing!

The results and videos etc are all at:

I have attached the route profile for tomorrow. It is a time-trial, but it is a heinous 12km straight up a 9% incline. Who dreamt this stuff up?

Thanks for the supportive comments and I will report in after the TT tomorrow.

Stage 4 – time trial up Col du Granon

Well, today was the time-trial. 12km uphill at and average of 9%.

It was like a vacation today. Got to sleep in until 0700! Followed by big brekkie, then out to destroy myself for just over an hour.

The climb was really nice in terms of views and the history of the region. I got to the top fairly knackered, but was good five minutes later. Still trouble taking deep breaths at the top, as it was 2350mtrs altitude.

It was pretty cool being part of the whole Time-trial vibe. We set off at 20 sec intervals. You go into a cattle-shute set-up with about 3 mins to go. You eventually get to the front. The guy holds you upright as you clip both feet in, the announcer gives your details to the crowd in french, people cheer and Paul Larsen yells out “Go Dog!!”. The guy holds up his hand counting down from five with his fingers and you are off! Despite thoughts of going easy today, the adrenalin rush saw me get to max heart rate one minute into the climb….. Had to tell myself to steady down.

The ride today seemed to suit me well – most of my training is based on working at regattas etc and grabbing shorter rides here and there around the sailing schedule. So I normally get out for 90 or so minutes and try to destroy myself. That was the story today. I was about even par on being passed. about four really skinny french blokes passed me and I passed about four blokes who looked like they might expire at any moment.

Team-wise, Mark was similar to me. Paul said he did it a bit tough, but still set a really good time three minutes or so better than Mark and I. Fraser again dug really deep and got up there eight or nine minutes in arrears of Paul. Simon did not ride today. He is resting up after the hornet sting and will be back into it either tomorrow or the next day. Simon went in the van as support with Helena. As always it was simply awesome to be met at hte finish line with a handshake or a hug and to be handed a cold coke and a recovery drink. It seems also that our team of sailors have strengthened the grip on second place. The results are here:

Helena has been at every feed-stop with a smile, some food, drink and general info. It is really solid. I would say that without having a few mates here and the support of Helena, this would be a really, really tough gig. but having team-mates and someone to hear your lies over dinner each night has made it pretty special.

Today’s data is here:

After the climb, we waited until the rest of the riders finished and then cruised back down in convoy with the motorcycle escorts. This afternoon has been mostly about recovery and getting ready for tomorrow.

The nightmare continues tomorrow. It is the second hardest stage. We do three climbs. Two of them – the Iozard and the Col du Vars – are really difficult and we finish uphill at Pra Loup. The profile is attached. We set off at 0730, so it will be an early start trying to cram some food in. This is tough when you have no desire to eat. It is solely the promise of pain that makes you eat.

Finally, have a look at the video link here. It is Mark Turner on the second climb of yesterday. I am the guy in blue next to him toughing it out. The funny thing is that I don’t remember this interview happening – but I remember the old bloke in the van giving us some water and actually giving me a push start again up the hill!!

Some pics attached to sense the flavour of today’s ride. There is one in there of Saint Helena as well.

Thanks for the messages – really appreciate those.

Warm regards from Serre Chavallier,

Stage 5 – Serre Chevallier to Pra Loup

I can only find one word for today – bloody tough!

We rode for 117km and ascented for approx 50 km and 2800mtrs.

Glamour weather again – a little nippy at 10 degrees for the 0715hrs start this morning, but that made the big climb of the Iozard that bit “easier”. Then it was a hair-raising descent for 40 or so minutes, which started in moonscape at the top of Iozard. I clocked 82.8kmh on a long straight – but it did not feel dangerous.

Then it was another big climb up Col du Vars, which included ramps of 11% gradient. Then another fast descent. There was a valley ride for 20 or so km, which quite tough, but I was in a really good little squad of four riders where we shared the work and looked after each other.

The final climb up to the finish at Pra Loup was really hard for me.

Team-wise we were really strong today. Mark and I again rode the ascents together. It is just as well for me that Mark rides the descents like my daughter, as he is a weapon on the climbs. He generally catches me up 3 or 4km into the climbs and then I hang onto his wheel. Fraser had another great day. He was either with Mark and I, or front of us for most of the ride. With 3km to go, Mark rode away from me and up to Fraser. they rode away in the distance, which was tough to watch. They caught Paul near the finish and Mark took the honors today. Than Paul, Fraser and me. All within two and a half minutes. Good effort after 5 hours! Simon was back into it today, which was great to see. He and Jim rode together and finished 45 mins or so after us.

Today there were some crashes. I came down a hill toward a roundabout and there was a rider on the deck, having gone down after hitting loose stones. He was face down and there was some claret on the road. Apparently he was out cold. Quite shocking to see. He was being attended to by police. He is ok. Francois (who works at OC Thirdpole with Mark) also had a crash and was very lucky to not get seriously hurt. He finished.

I am finding pain interesting. It seems you can only fell one bit of your body at a time. I have developed some nasty saddle sores, which are fairly intense bruises on your backside. I have the magic cream prescribed by Dr Olaf, which helps a lot. When I go uphills, i dont feel my butt as my legs and back hurt too much. And when I go downhill, my neck is agony – so again – no butt pain. So there is an equilibrium of discomfort there. It also seems that how you feel comes and goes in waves. It is very weird. You can be just going along and it is like some little spark inside you fires up and you feel great for a few minutes. At other times, you simply want to get off the bike and post it on e-bay.

Here is the Garmin file for today:

Some great pics attached from Helena’s lense.

Tomorrow is shorter, but one monster climb. We pass over Cime de la Bomnnette, which at 2802mtrs is the highest paved road in europe. So it will be pretty special. It involves a 26km climb at an average of 6%. Yep – it’ll be heinous! I hope Helena gets some good photos, as I am sure I won’t appreciate it until afterwards.

Stage 6 – Pra Loup top Auron

The one word to describe today was – Bloody Amazing.

It was a short day by comparison at 80 km. We rode together as a secured peleton for 20 km and then we went straight into the climb of the Cime de la Bonnette. It was 24km of climbing for 1600mtrs, which culminated in reaching the highest asphalted road in Europe at 2802mtrs!

It was a tough climb, but I was really happy with how it went. Mark and I got into a decent group after things settled down and we all stayed together until about 4km to the summit. The pace was tough going. We had periods of quite severe drainage-wind falling out of the summits and right in our face, so it was important to be in a group to share the load on the front.

There is a young pommy lad named Charlie, that we have ridden with a lot this week. He is very athletic, 6′4″, weighs 88kg and is 24yrs old. You would describe him as “strapping”. He did a ton of work on the front, which I respected very much. There were also a few lurkers. This resulted in my first verbal altercation of the week (it is amazing it’s taken this long…;-)). Two little French blokes were doing zero work, as they have done every time I have climbed with them this week. Mark suggested to them in french that they ought to grunt up. Nothing heard… A couple of km later, we were down to only four riders, as Charlie and I had put a spurt on in some tail winds. So, we were down to Charlie, Mark, myself and one of the little french blokes. I suggested to him with as much tact as I could manage (which was not much) after climbing for 90 mins, that he start earning a little respect by doing some time on the front. Nothing heard again. I then let rip in my finest Australian dialect. I may have questioned his parentage…. He let me have both barrels back in French. Quite comical really. Mark just shaking his head… Anyway, i felt at home, as it was just like racing Olympic class boats – you are there just battling away, doing your best and getting yelled at by Europeans in strange languages ;-) .

Anyway, it was a wonderful feeling having crossed the summit, having had a strong climb and knowing the worst is now well behind us in the this race. This is my first ever bike race. I sure picked a tough place to start. But the rewards are impossible to put into words.

After a quick pitstop at Helena’s van on the summit for food and fluids, it was off on the descent. Really enjoyable. 30km of downhill riding. Helena’s parting command was “Take it easy – remember the big picture!!”. Very good advice at the perfect time. My little french mate passed my doing twice my speed, as I crammed a sandwich in my mouth. It was really cold at the top, at only 11 degrees, combined with 20kts of wind-chill. The wind was quite cold, even on the last part of the climb when I was working hard. A lot of people put on warm tops for the descent. I just took a Chopper Read pill and set off downhill. It was the right call, as it got warm 10 minutes later.

Immediately following the long descent (where I passed the 70 year-old!!), we had an 8km climb which covered 400mtrs elevation. It was a matter again of just digging deep for everything and anything you had left. It hurt, but it was satisfying to only lose a few riders (after having gained 20 or so on the descent (that 98kg is pretty good going downhill – but the brakes must be getting warm!).

The Garmin data is here:

Paul was very lucky today. He is a demon descender. He was passed downhill for the very first time this week. So he wanted to stay with the guy, but came off his bike at the very next hairpin turn. Just some scrapes and no damage to the bike, so he was straight back on and into the race – very lucky. See the pics… he obviously did not take heed of Helena’s advice at the top.

Team-wise, it was another great day. Paul finished strongly after the fall to lead our team home. I was next some seven minutes back. Mark was another 3 or so minutes back, having lost time on the descent. Fraser was another 4 or 5 minutes back. Simon and Jim again rode together and had a great day. There is a full team photo in the pics today – together with Saint Helena, our Directuer Sportive. We are in second place in the Team classification and barring any problems tomorrow, we ought to hold that.

Todays results:
And the overall:

So – we have one more day to ride! I have attached the stage profile. It is basically one more solid climb of 1100mtrs, but no longer at high altitude (St Martin at 1600mtrs). Then a long slow descent into Vence where the timing stops. We reconvene, eat some food and ride the last 20km or so into Nice to the official finish line. It will be great to reach Nice. Kate and the kids will be there at the finish line. That dip into the Mediterranean sea very soon after the finish will be very, very rewarding. But, we are not there yet! More pasta tonight and take it easy on the descent tomorrow.

Thanks again for all the e-mails. Great stuff and very much appreciated.

Final stage – Stage 7 – Auron to Nice

Sitting here in Nice, with the epic Haute Route having finished yesterday. I am staying here in a rented house for the next few days with Kate and the kids.

Yesterday’s final stage was again another real highlight in this amazing experience.

The previous days were pure exertion for hours and then “surviving” to an uphill finish where I was really hanging out to see the “1km to Finish” signs.

Yesterday was the first time I actually “raced” a bicycle – ever in my life.

It started at 0800 with 30km in a secured convoy from the previous night’s stopover at Auron. This was really cold, as it was all downhill al the way and in the shade of a valley. Many people were shivering on their bike. The timing started right at the beginning of a 13km climb of Col St Martin. It was a steep start for the first couple of km, but there was a frenzied pace as the 300 riders jockeyed for position in what was to be the only climb for the day and the 15th and final Col of the week.

After having to suck in some big breaths after a big effort, I settled into a good rhythm and was pushing a much bigger gear than previous days – knowing we had a long downhill (53 km) to the finish. I was climbing together with Paul, Francois and the nipper Charlie. Paul waved me through at the top to let me have my only climb “victory” over him for the trip. Nice to finally match him – he has come a long way after our first rides to the Needles back in April! It was really quick stop for re-filling the bottles and filling my cheeks and pockets with bananas and cakes.

Straight into the descent, I heard un-mistable kiwi accented voice of Fraser yelling out “I’m here Dog – go, go!!”. He had a great climb and did not stop at the refreshment point. Paul was on his wheel as well. Mark had a tougher climb, as was usual for him on the first climb of the day (he always got better the longer the ride went) and was not seen. We “sent it” down the hill, passing 15 or so riders, with some of them hanging with us. By the time it started to flatten out onto 2% grades downhill, we worked together, sharing time on the front and pushing speeds of 55-60kmh for km after km. Young Charlie was the strongest in the group, but there were also some little french blokes along for the ride. When I was on the tail of the group resting after a turn at the front, I counted 13 riders. Just amazing riding! Through valleys, tunnels, past gorges, pretty villages and all the while the signs counting down the km to Nice very quickly.

One thing that was happening in the group has turned out to be a real highlight of the trip. For the final stage, the peleton was joined by a celebrity guest, Stephen Roche from Ireland. His career as a cyclist was long, but it was really capped in 1987, when he was not only the winner of the Tour de France, but also the World Champion and the winner of the Giro d’ Italia. Bloody impressive. He is now 58 years old and by the look of him, has enjoyed the odd croissant and pint of Guinness since those days – and good on him!

Anyway… we had this somewhat rotund gentleman wearing number 87 in our group. I had completely forgotten the Stephen Roche was in the race and to be honest, I did not know who he was, having only started following cycling in the days when Lance started winning the tour. I can remember being behind number 87, thinking “i had better be careful here – this fat bloke might drop off the back here and will take some work to get back on!!”. I know I was giving him encouragement after his quick turns on the front…. How embarrassing!

As we closed the 10km to go sign, it was totally flat riding. Charlie and I rode off the front and we were quickly 400mtrs in front of the group, then unbelievably, Charlie kicked it up another gear and went away! I decided to leave him with it and waited for the group (whilst still doing 43kmhr!!). They passed me doing 50 and I had to really work hard for a couple of km to hang on – it’s hard when you have to change rythym.

At 3km to go, it started getting interesting. A small group splintered off the front, but Paul and Christof put in a huge dig to get them back. With 1km to go, Paul went for it. “Too early” I can remember thinking. Fraser went after him and I had Fraser’s wheel and the rest were all lined behind me. A tight right then left turn broke Paul’s rythym and I overtook Fraser and just put my head down with 400mtrs to go. I passed Paul with 50 mtrs to go and kept my head down to pip he and fraser by a second. Another second back was Stephen Roche!! What a privilege to ride with a man like that! The sailing equivalent of sailing with John Bertrand and Iain Murray.

We then cruised 14km to Vence where we had a great lunch in a restaurant. Paul popped a bottle of 2003 Moet, which was actually a 40th birthday present (more than a year ago)!! the day was just getting better. As the whole peleton convened, we then rode down into Nice in a secured convoy. What an amazing ride that was. Sunshine, tail-wind and our first glimpses of the Mediterranean turn into riding along it’s shores on the coast road, which was totally closed off for us.

As we passed the finish point, I was greeted by Kate and kids and several other friends. It was an emotional minute or two, as I remembered all the pain and feelings of achievement over previous days.

Team-wise – well we had a great day. Paul, Fraser and I all rode, worked and finished together. Mark was back a bit, but still had a great ride. Simon and Jim finished the week in style after both having “grunted up” after tough starts to the adventure.
Stage 7 Results are here:
Overall results are here:

My Garmin Data and map of the race part of the ride is here:

Our little Team of cyclo-sailors made it to the front page the Daily Sail as well:

The entire team (minus Mark) stayed here with us last night. It was wonderful to have my family and my cycling-family from the previous week all together. The guys and Helena drove off in the van an hour ago. The bonds forged on this ride will be life-long.

OK – time to be a Dad! Thanks so much for the kind e-mails over previous days to you all. It was great to read all of them. Wonderful also to re-establish contact with friends back in Oz and beyond!!

Signing off in Nice,


Aug 31 2011 11:52 pm | Sailing | 1 Comment »

One Response

  1. michele Says:

    this is great!!! I was looking 4 u in wey.
    contact me pls

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