Haute Route on the Horizon (pt.I)– An idiot’s guide to how to prepare (A guide written by an idiot)


About ‘Haute Route on the Horizon’

Whilst doing ambassador things for Haute Route, such as running group rides (more of which here), attending cycle shows, and as a general consequence of writing this blog, people have approached me and asked about tips for preparing for Haute Route. So I thought I may as well share them.

Health and safety caveat: Please note I am not a coach, nutritionist or psychologist… I can only just call myself a cyclist (I would love to get involved in sports nutrition however, so, should anyone in the know be reading… help a brother out!???!)

However, from riding Alps 2015, and from my general training and riding other big races / grandfondos, I’ve picked up things that may be of use to you. Furthermore, I read around cycling training and nutrition etc a lot, so have learnt a lot there. In fact, a lot of it will be, ahem, ‘recycled’ knowledge.

I’m going to break down my list of tips and insights into a few different blog posts, broadly on the themes of:

  • YOU

Here’s part one.


Haute Route on the Horizon (pt.I)– An idiot’s guide to how to prepare (A guide written by an idiot).

Pt. I: YOU

Look after yourself.

Riding a bike is a bit odd. Being hunched over your bars for hours on end is not natural, and if you’re relatively new to the sport, your back and neck will be as angry with you as your legs by day 7 of Haute Route. That could well be after around 30 hours of saddle time in a week. That’s a lot.

These should become your friend (and enemy)

I thoroughly recommend developing a habit of doing some basic stretching, foam rolling and yoga type stuff. Being flexible, supple and unknotted helps no end in terms of being both comfy on the bike, and performing best. I tend to do around 10-15 minutes every night, so it’s no big deal and has become habit. Nothing like stretching your glutes to a episode of the Simpsons. After big rides I spend a lot longer on the roller and using stretching bands etc, typically within a few hours of getting off the bike, which is the best time to do this as your muscles are still warm, and then again later in the evening. With that in mind, make sure you don’t stretch too hard in the evenings, just ‘release’. Cold muscles don’t always take well to suddenly being stretched… how would you like being put on a rack when you’ve just worken up!??

I have  a set of stretches / yoga positions / muscles that I roll out that I always do focussed on areas where I know I get tight or uncomfortable. These are for my legs and shoulders just as much as my back. You’ll need to find out what works for you and what  you need to work on… you probably know already based on what hurts most after a big ride!


Eat shit = ride shit.

Food is fuel. Put good fuel in, at the right times, and your engine (legs and lungs) will purr.

A lot of people think you need to be super-light to ride in mountains, and whilst that obviously does help as a means of boosting your w/kg, its more important that you focus on getting the right blend of macronutrients (protein / carb / fat / minerals etc) at the right time. If you get this right, your power will improve and the extra kg here or there won’t matter too much. My weight fluctuates a lot, and i find as soon as I lose a kg or two, my power notably decreases. For comfort of general life (like not feeling cold 24/7), and UK riding on rolling roads with punchy climbs, I’d rather have those extra pounds and be a bit stronger.

Firstly, you do not want to cut calories. However, you should just consider what you put in your gob. If you’re an office wage slave like myself, boredom and colleague birthday treats can easily lead to mindless snacking on those tasteless little chocolates and cookies etc people always buy from Sainsbury’s on 2 for £3 when it’s someone’s birthday that they feel obliged to buy a team present for (despite not liking said birthday boy / girl that much). Whilst life is too short to deny yourself things you love (and because pizza is just too good), eat with consideration and planning. You want to be eating clean, lean and wholegrain. I.e., as much fresh and varied fruit veg as you can get, lean meats and fish as opposed to too much fatty or processed meat, and focussing on wholegrain carbs like brown rice, brown pasta etc.

franco manca
Life is too short to deny yourself the finest of things

Remember, carbs are king. Without them, you don’t have fuel for riding. However, you want to consider when you eat them. Are you training today or tomorrow? Get the carbs on board. Are you driving to and from work then sitting on your ass reading cyclingweekly.com (and of course, this blog) at your desk all day? On sedentary days, you still need carbs, but not as many. As a general rule for lower training load days, I’d suggest the carbs are focussed in the morning and lunchtime to fuel your day, and the evening is a lighter meal heavier on proteins, fruits and veg.

Eat pizza. Have a beer. Eat cake. But indulge as an exception rather than a rule, and do it when you’ve smashed through the calories on a massive ride or on special celebrations. The rest of the time, think about your diet. No need to go weird about it, but be mindful. And remember, chicken, fish, fruits and veg are actually very tasty.

Ride foods

Similarly to the above, start optimising what goes in your stomach when you ride. It’s said that you need c.60g carb per hour on the bike (but you can get away with none for rides  of less than around 2 hours).

I always try to hit that, particularly on really big rides, and even more so on consecutive training days. I really find that it is most efficient taking in this 60g if you do so through a mix of drinks, foods, and gels. But mostly solid food. Think of gels almost as emergency supplements and do not rely on them.


So you need to start training your belly to handle ride foods, and you want to start discovering what you find most palletable and what works best. Buy a few different brands of bars etc and start finding what gives you the best kick and what you most enjoy. On long days in the saddle, especially if you’re suffering, I find chewing away on one of my favourite ride foods something that can give you a real mental boost.

Also, remember there’s more to life than stuff from packets. I make a lot of my own ride foods, typically rice cakes, energy bar / flapjack things, brownies, and energy balls. I also have a love of Sainsbury Fig Rolls, and Soreen. Both of these stack up very similarly to commercial energy bars in terms of carb, fat and protein content, but cost about 40% of the price of something with a snazzy name and scientific claim on the packet. Get down to your local supermarket and investigate!

Another thing is to consider savoury foods. Sometimes a cheese sarnie or salty snack stuffed into your jersey will bring you such a relief from sweet and sticky stuff that you will nearly shed a tear with joy. At Haute Route, it was always the cheesy crackers and bits of cured meat that would be hoovered up first at the feed stations.

Real food always beats science food in my opinion.


That’s it for pt.I. Hope you gained something from it? Pt.II coming soon!

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