About ‘Haute Route on the Horizon’
I’ve written up more fully here what all this is about, but essentially I’m trying to provide a little insght into how you can best prepare yourself for an Haute Route based purely on my experience of riding HR Alps 2015, from general riding and training, and from recycling knowledge from a lot of reading and researching. Once again, these come with the following warning:
Health and safety caveat: Please note I am not a coach, nutritionist or psychologist… I can only just call myself a cyclist. So none of this comes with academic or trained weight, just my experience. Remember mutton is best taken with a pinch of salt!
I’m breaking down my list of tips and insights into a few different blog posts, broadly on the themes of:
- YOU – covered here in Pt.I
- YOUR TRAINING – covered here in Pt.II
- YOUR BIKE – covered here in Pt.III
- OTHER STUFF
So, chronology dictates it’s time for part four, the grand finale.
PT.IV – OTHER STUFF
This is just a collection of random bits and bobs that may be helpful that didn’t fit in any of the above blogs….
On a week as stressful as Haute Route, it’s nice to have those little things you take for granted when at home in order to make you a little more comfortable. Whilst I’m not advocating the team Sky ‘carry around your own pillow’ technique, if there’s small things you can take to the mountains that you ‘rely’ on, take them.
For me, this is food really. I rely on food and like it a lot. Don’t trust French and Italian supermarkets and hotel buffets to have everything your used to. The main thing I see people carrying around with them at Haute Route and Gran Fondos etc is meusli and granola. I can’t comment on the Italian places, but most French hotels don’t stock decent cereal, and if they do, it’s kid’s food like, cocoa pops. You don’t climb high mountain passes on a stomach full of bubbles of air coated in chocolate. The other stuff I’ve taken in the past is nut butter, decent coffee and my aeropress.
Moving away from food, I’d advise you take earplugs and an eyemask. I’m a really light sleeper and am awoken by the tiniest thing. So sharing a room, particularly when with strangers, can lead to a fair few sleepless nights. These things don’t guarantee some good snoozing but it’s worth trying.
Don’t take the piss at feedstations
One thing that always annoys me at sportives and granfondos is people who decide to make hay at the feedstations, particularly with regards to the bars and gels that can be carried with you. I reckon I’ve seen more riders stuffing bucketloads of gels and bars into their pockets at feeds – even the last stop of the day when they won’t all get consumed – more times that I’ve had hot dinners.
You’re not on Haute Route to fill your ride food cupboards. There could be other people further down the road who may be gasping for that final gel, and arrive at the feedtsation to find it’s been ransacked by those being greedy.
You should arrive for your week in the mountains with a full stash of your own ride foods, and these should be ones that your gut is used to and that you enjoy. Personally I tend to just use the feedstations for a bit of savoury food and fluids. I prefer eating stuff that my stomach is used to, and which i understand how my legs will react to.
The kitchen sink / spares
Should something go wrong with your bike, you can’t expect mavic to solve everything and to have every component ever made. You need to have a good stock of your own bits and pieces. I’m not talking the obvious stuff like inner tubes, but the things that are unique to your bike and your setup.
The most important thing is probably a rear mech hangar. All bikes have slightly different hangars, and getting the correct one for your bike whilst in a sleepy town in the Dolomites will be nigh on impossible. Other stuff along these lines includes batteries for powermeters, cleats (you never know), and definitely brake pads.
No need to go on wiggle and buy all the accessories and components you use, but think carefully about this. It could make all the difference.
Don’t be silly and panic train. If it gets to the final fortnight before the bike goes in the box and you jet off to meet your fate in the mountains and you feel you’re not fit enough, then tough. It’s too late now.
In the last 7-10 days, you need to taper and reduce your training load. You’ll do better in the big week if you’ve got fresh and springy legs; going out on some five hour sufferfest training ride in that final window will gain you nothing.
I won’t go into the exact science behind tapering, but it essentially involves reducing your volume, but keeping the intensity. So keep the focus on some tough efforts, maybe a few short digs on your local climbs or vo2 max type sessions on the turbo, but keep well away from long endurance rides. You want the glycogen levels to be building in your muscles, not being burnt away over hundreds of kilometres of steady miles. Shorter sharper sessions will keep your muscles fresh and strong, but be brief enough to let them rebuild and repair.
Don’t look gift horses in the mouth
Whilst I did say above not to view feedstations as a place to raid and pillage all in front of you, it is well worth you making the most of what is available after the stages in terms of recovery.
After each stage, Haute Route will provide you with lunch. It’s not always Michelin starred goodness given it’s being produced en masse for 400-500 very hungry athletes, but it’s fine if you’re not fussy. Moreover, view it as a function rather than a meal to be savoured and critiqued. The typical fayre is big pasta or rice salads, stews, and mixed vegetables. I saw some riders turn their noses up at these because they didn’t enjoy the taste. Don’t be precious. You’re not ten years old. View every mouthful as an extra ounce or two of energy for the next day.
The other key thing available to you is the massage. Get these. All the masseuses who tended to my battered body in the Alps did a great job. If you’ve never had a sports massage before, it’s amazing what they can do for muscles that have been abused over a long day on the bike. Whilst your waiting for your turn, think about areas that you think need focussing on and ask that these are looked at first. Time is at a premium here and so make sure the most important bits are dealt with. Another great thing about the massage is it really helps you decompress in general and helps ease the post ride adrenaline from your brain.
Be careful on the TT
Remember, the TT is just another col. You get no special bonsues or prizes for ranking highly on it…. Unless you win of course, in which case you get a Tag Heur watch. But I don’t think Peter Pouly reads this blog so my initial comment still stands.
It’s really tempting to let the blood rush to your head on the TT and get carried away; I certainly did in the Alps when climbing the crushingly horrible Col Du Granon. If you’re not careful you get suckered in to totally emptying the tanks over the duration of the climb, thinking that once you’re at the top, that’s it, job done, cup of coke and back to the hotel for lunch. Of course, this is the case, but for the few seconds you may gain by going balls out on this one mountain, you may well be losing handfuls of minutes later in the week.
Going into the red on this one climb will only delay the recovery process on what is supposed to be a ‘rest’ day. Would you go absolutely bonkers on a random col on any of the other stages? No, probably not.
So, I’d suggest you take the Couraduque, Stelvio or Galibier steadily and carefully. Better to get a very average time today and give your legs a chance to catch up for the rest of the week. I went hard up the Granon and paid for it through the rest of the week.
Lastly…. You want to take home some memories. Enjoy it. Look up. Talk to people.
If you’re deep in the hurt locker, it can be tempting to shut down a bit and stare at your stem, blinkered to the world around you. When this happens, remember that you’re in some of the most stunning environments in the world – look up and take it in.
Also, remember your with 400-500 other like minded souls. Even if you’re riding with mates, speak to strangers and have fun. You tend to see the same riders day in day out as the peloton thins out to those of similar abilities, so if you’re going to be staring at their back wheel and ass for a week, you should say hi.
I made some great mates in the Alps, and we’re riding together as team this year. Go team SSLL RT!
Well, that’s the end of the series. Hope you’ve found some of it useful, and hope to see you in the mountains! If you see a skinny guy with crap tats on his legs in the Pyrenees or the first three days of the Alps, say hi.