Prepping for Haute Route – An Idiots Guide, Part 1
Written by Jim Cotton, the Idiots Guide is a series of articles helping cyclists to prepare for, and take part in Haute Route. As a Haute Route ambassador, Jim leverages his passion and experience to provide real world tips
What is the Haute Route?
Haute route translates to “High Road”. The first Haute Route organised by OC Sport was in the French Alps in 2011.
The concept is the highest, toughest and most prestigious amateur stage race in the world. It’s one week of seven timed and ranked stages with professional-level event organisation including medical teams, mechanical support, rolling road security, film crews and, of course, massages.
Due to the overwhelming success of the event, it expanded to the Pyrenees in 2013 and Dolomites Swiss Alps in 2014. In 2014 with 3 events, 11 riders took on the ‘Triple Crown Challenge’ riding all 3 events. Along with the Triple Crown riders, 24 riders took on the “Iron Challenge” riding their choice of two events.
Next year see’s Haute Route coming to the U.S. with the inaugural running of the Mavic Haute Route Rockies 2017, which is limited to only 600 riders and is expected to sell out well in advance of its date of 24th – 30th June.
The Haute Route is the first global series of multi-day cycling events for serious amateur riders. Whether it’s in Colorado’s Rockies, the French Alps, Pyrenees or Italian Dolomites.
Jim Cotton, Haute Route Ambassador
Jim’s ridden one Haute Route to date, the 2015 Alps race. He signed up that year after a few rides in the Pyrenees had him hooked on the beauty of the high mountains, and the places they can take you, both physically and mentally. He was looking for a key event to shape his season and wanted it to be epic, something that would never be forgotten. As the 'highest, toughest and most prestigious' sportives in the world, Haute Route was the obvious choice.
That week in the Alps was one of the most brilliant, yet brutal weeks of his life. Having placed better than he had expected whilst battling an injury, met awesome friends, and experienced both traumas and exhilaration that will be forever etched in his memory (the descent off the 2,400m Col d'Izoard in torrential rain and thunder, pedalling over the Col du Galibier at sunrise to name but a few), he was hooked.
Within a week of being home after the race, He'd signed on to the Pyrenees event for 2016, and applied for the Haute Route ambassador programme, which he was then selected for. The Haute Route ambassadors are essentially the foot soldiers of the operation. Past riders taking part in an event in the forthcoming year, charged with engaging local cycling communities through promotional and social media work, including organising group rides and setting up speaker events as a means of building interest and hype around the Haute Route.
Although he was always a keen rider and loved the rewards and journey of training, his involvement with the Haute Route has grown this exponentially. Whilst he remains a pretty normal guy with a full time job, he’s ridden three French Gran Fondo’s to date this year (L'Ariegeoise, La Marmotte Alps, and L'Etape du Tour) and trains regularly and try’s to really push himself.
Although his performance is average to good at best, it's improving, and that's the key. Let's see if his enthusiasm, grit and determination can overcome average mediocre genetics in the Pyrenees on August 20th.
Part 1 – 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.
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.
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.
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 Part 1! I hope you gained something from it?
Look out for Part 2 coming next week ...
Jim also writes a blog about the trials and tribulations of life as an enthusiastic amateur rider - mountainmutton.wordpress.com
Haute Route Ambassador
PHOTOS Credit: Haute Route, Manu Molle