I awake excited! The sun has just begun to show its weary head as I pack my bag ready for another day of more twists and turns on the alpine roads of France. This week I am one of the few travelling spectators following ‘the boyfriend’ and 300 other keen cyclists who have come together to ride the Haute route. The Haute route is a 730km cycle journey covering some of the greatest passes of the french alps. It takes 7 days, cycling over 15 famous mountains and near 17,000 meters to climb. Starting in Geneva and ending in Nice it has been labelled the toughest and highest cyclosportive in Europe. The Haute route is in its first year and it is offering a unique challenge for all the experienced amateur cyclists taking part.
The cyclists on this ride are tough, hardy and extremely passionate. For some of them this is their first lengthy cycle challenge and the blood, sweat and tears I have seen so far are like a drama to be reckoned with. From young and old they have all gathered to push themselves to the limits up enormous mountains that could easily squash them. The sun subjects them to burning temperatures while the roads seem to take them on extremely long distances. Yesterday the cyclists pedalled an intensive distance of 162km with three huge mountains climbs, one being the Col du Galibierat a height of 2645 metres.
It is now day 4 – the day of time trail. The cyclists are being set off in 30 second intervals in reverse order up the Col du Granon( 2413 meters). Normally in the early mornings the cyclists depart enthusiastically in a crowded bunch with a convoy of bright yellow vehicles carrying spare bikes and wheels. There are noisy motorbikes darting happily in and around the cyclists acting as protectors while others film, capturing all the action for later viewing. Finally, there are the patient marshals dotted along the roads guiding the way with signs so no one gets lost as the cyclists set their pace and spread out.
Each day there is a tiny handful of spectators like myself. You could call us the cheerleaders or cycle groupies? We seem to congregate at the refreshments stops which are usually at the top of the mountains where the scenery is picture postcard perfect and the air is cooler. We gather together to cheer and clap our partners and all the other cyclists as they pass us… We seem to put smiles on their faces and we like to think that our tiny bit of encouragement keeps them going!
I am travelling each leg of the route by car with a French woman whose partner is also taking part. He only has one arm and one leg and his endless determination is infectious for everyone involved. Watching him cycle up the steep roads to the top of the mountains is awe-inspiring!
All the cyclists taking part in this event deserve credit for their effort and dedication. They are all being subjected to gruelling winds, killer gradients and dangerous downhill hairpin bends along with the added stress of traffic. At the same time they are also lucky to be experiencing a route that is taking them through some of the most beautiful mountainous areas in France which I am sure would be the envy of any cyclist.
Like one big happy family the cyclists, supporters and organisers meet each evening in a local sports hall for the Pasta party! It is the chance to mix and mingle, chat about the day’s ride, get information for the following day and also stuff ones belly with lots of carbohydrates. Each gathering does have a family atmosphere and even though I am not cycling I must say I do feel like I am a part of it all. Oh yeah… ‘the boyfriend’ has described it as one of the most difficult things he has ever attempted, but he is happy as has just found out that he has made into top 50 in the overall rankings.
I can’t wait for tomorrow’s excitement…roll on day 5!