Haute Route Alps 2022

Questions about bike hire abroad and everything light bike related. No off-topic chat please

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jwalther
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Joined: Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:08 pm

by jwalther

Great read! One of my riding buddies completed the ride as well. Can't wait to hear his stories.
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Ferry
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by Ferry

Great write up. Can't wait to read the stage reviews.

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elSid
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by elSid

Just chiming in to add my 'thanks' for posting this. I am seriously considering for next year (assuming registration is possible).

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wheelbuilder
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by wheelbuilder

Excellent read. Standing by for next installment!

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RyanH
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by RyanH

Day 1: Nice to Cuneo
Length: 186km
Elevation: 4,100m
TSS: 469
Calories Burned: 5,122

Strava Link

Stage Profile:
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Hotel Experience
Just to get this out of the way, since this annoyed me to no end:
This was one of the worst hotels I've been in and I have no idea why they'd include it in the "premium" package when there are so many options in Nice. I'm struggling to remember all of the details but I recall there was mold in the grout in the bathroom and the room seemed to be generally falling apart. This was much worse than any Hampton Inn I've stayed in. The next morning, we were up at 5am for breakfast. Fortunately, breakfast was disproportionately better than the hotel was. After breakfast, I did my morning routine, brought my bag to the lobby drop off location and headed to the start line 30 minutes early to get near the front and find my friends.

Back to the ride...
This route is new to Haute Route Alps and it was the longest mileage route we did for the week. We rode north out of Nice with a neutral rollout. I started about 40 riders back but quickly made my way to the front behind the neutral car. There was a lot of yo-yoing, even being in the front. Riders would swarm up the left side of the road to get into the front and then roundabouts would be chaos. I was trying to keep in the first 20 or so riders, I can't imagine how bad it was mid pack. Once we got out of Nice metro, we hit a 20 minute unprofiled climb up to Levens. I ended up pushing harder than planned but got caught up in the moment since I felt good. People were popping off left, right and center so it required a lot of bridging to maintain in the group. Despite best efforts, my friend and I ended up in the second group on the road. I was also surprised to see a petite blonde woman with us, seemingly unphased by the pace (about 4.3 wpk). Turns out that is Janine, who has won HR and various gran fondos over a dozen times, so I'd be seeing a lot more of her throughout the week. My friend led the descent and we soon bridged back to the front group before the bottom of the descent. Immediately, at the bottom, we hit a small 2k climb and the group and I pushed 450w for the first minute, then decided eff this, and backed it off.

I ended up riding the lower grade portion by myself until I bridged to a group, which I rode with up Saint Martin. This was effectively a 30K effort with about 1K meters of elevation. I ended up averaging 3.4 wpk for 1.5 hours on this segment.

On Lombarde, I settled in to 245w and most of my group of 20 or so rode away from me in the first 5k. However, I think most had pretty optimistic pacing since I managed to catch most of them by the top, maintaining the same pacing. Around Isola 2000, I started getting muscle twinges indicating my legs were going to cramp soon. So, at the top feed stop I used my Skratch Hyper Hydration and topped up on food and fluids.

Coming down Lombarde, it was clear very few on this ride know how to descend. I consider myself a mediocre descender but passed a lot of people on the way down. I was making good progress coming down until near the bottom where my leg seized up, so I backed off and took it easy hoping the Skratch would kick in soon. There was a final 20K timed section through rollers that I had to go through. I started it with a group of 20 but on one of the hills, it turned out my legs weren't ready yet and I fully cramped up and lost my group. I coasted for a few minutes until a group of two caught me and rode with them. After that, it felt like an eternity getting into Cuneo on the 16K untimed section. It didn't help that drivers in the area were seemingly hostile towards cyclists. I had ridden almost 300K in France that week and hadn't been honked at once and 16K through Cuneo and I had been honked at a dozen times. To add insult to injury, the roads there were awful as well. It seems the Italians do not care as much as the French for their road upkeep.

Once I got into Cuneo, despite being 50th or so, I realized that my concerns about the village, cafeteria and massages being packed were misplaced. It looked like a ghost town at that point. I also recall having no idea what to do. Hint: what you need to do is park your bike in the secure bike park area, get your backpack and then book a massage for about an hour from then. After that, head to the showers, get a quick cafeteria lunch then a massage. The lunch itself is not very good but you're so hungry at this point it doesn't matter. I also recall my lower back being fully seized. it was a major struggle trying to get my shoes off and sandals on.

Next up, after lunch, was the massage. This became a point of contention. HR hires students studying physio in college. Unfortunately, many of them have no clue how to do a proper sports massage. The young girl I had basically gave me the equivalent of a petting session despite asking her to go harder three times. I ended up skipping the massages because I had two poor ones and one okay one.

Once I was done with the massage, I checked into my hotel and then came back to Cuneo to stuff as much food in my face as possible. Overall, Cuneo was a quaint, small Italian town with a decent selection of food options despite being the middle of August.

My hotel in Cuneo was an improvement but still what I'd consider a 3 star hotel in the US and breakfast the next day was good.

All in all, this felt like the queen stage and I was fairly apprehensive about the rest of the week considering my lower back was majorly struggling already and the pace was so high.

Breakfast for the day (plus a couple more plates of pastries)
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Very early start to the day
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Descent from Levens
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Grr...location was turned off on my phone so not sure where this is:
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HR Village Post Ride
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My Group Heading to Lombarde
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Main drag in Cuneo
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Post ride gelato (excellent)
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RyanH
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by RyanH

Day 2: Cuneo to Briancon
Length: 141km
Elevation: 3600m
TSS: 325
Calories: 3,875
Strava Link

Stage Profile
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This was the day I was most concerned about. Col d'Agnel's last 8km ascends 800m. I was trying to think of a climb that we have like that in LA and the closest is Deer Creek, which is notorious for being a difficult, steep climb yet that is only 4km and 400m of climbing.

After our neutral rollout, we had a small 4 minute climb to tackle. The group immediately broke up and I was in the second group again, which I was fine with. However, many in the second group were hell bent on catching the front group, so the next 5km or so were at a brutal pace. After that, the front group pushed the pace again and blew up our group. With Agnel being a very long climb, I was shooting to keep things at 245w for the entire climb, with the expectation I'd be climbing for about 2 hours. I did well keeping into that zone. Once we got to the last 8km, I was feeling good (because I paced myself well) and increased my target power to 270w, which turned out to be a fatal decision. About 2km in, I realized my mistake and tried to dial it back down. The problem with that, is with pitches in the high teens, it's hard to do less than 280/300w. So, I spent the next 6k at a crawling pace, dying.

Because of that stupid decision, I spent all of Izoard suffering and only being able to push 210w. I tried to enjoy the climb and take some photos but even at my snail pace, it felt like an RPE of 8/9.

My hotel for the night was Grant Hotel Serre Chevalier, which was 5k up a hill from the village. That was a bummer since there was no way I was going back to town. I headed up to the hotel and stayed there for the evening. Fortunately, that little village was great and had a lot of mountain bike activity, a market, boulangerie and other things I needed. This hotel was nicer than the others and I ended up eating at the restaurant at the hotel. Heading to get dinner, two guys invited me to join them, so I ended up making two new friends that night. Food at the hotel restaurant was pretty good as well.


Start pen
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My group for the day leading up to Agnell
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View up Agnell
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My dumb ass doing 270w and taking photos
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Pretty sure this was me getting passed for the twentieth time as I blew up 2km into the steep part of Agnell
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Backside of Agnell
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On the way to Izoard
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Bottom of Izoard by myself
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View from Izoard
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Higher up Izoard and I think I stopped to take this picture mostly as an excuse to stop hurting for a minute
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Dying
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This guy from Nice had a dope WW Cannondale decked out with Darimo yet he hadn't heard of the forum???
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MTB is big here
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View from my room

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Gotta get the calories in:

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Dinner at the hotel restaurant
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smartyiak
Posts: 288
Joined: Fri Jul 29, 2011 5:20 pm

by smartyiak

This is an AWESOME thread. Thanks for posting!

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pdlpsher1
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Location: CO

by pdlpsher1

Keep more coming!

MichaelB
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Joined: Tue Apr 22, 2008 4:31 am

by MichaelB

Holy schnizzle Batman !

Would LOVE to do something like that, biut well past my capabilities.

Brilliant !!

RyanH
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by RyanH

Day 3: Briancon to Les Deux Alpes
Distance: 109k
Elevation:3200m

Strava

Elevation Profile
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This day was expected to be a tad easier than the days prior. I had a fairly cold 5k descent back to Briancon village center from the hotel in the morning. I got my spot in the pen near the front and we did our neutral rollout procession. Right before the start of the timed section up Lautaret, there was a large group waiting for us to pass by. They jumped it right as we picked up the pace which was highly frustrating since it just led to chaos for those of us that did the neutral rollout.

Lautaret is a low grade climb for the bottom portion so it wasn't too difficult to keep with the front group. My friend Iz pushed pretty hard to stay in the front group but about 20 minutes in, I told her we should drop back. We ended up in the group with the #2 and #5 placed females so I played domestique for Iz (#3) and helped block wind and keep a steady pace in the group. At this point, I was feeling pretty good and was able to set pace on the climb for awhile. Lautaret ended up being a lot longer effort than expected (for some reason I thought it was just 30 minutes) but I ended up doing 258w avg for 47 minutes.

After that, we had Col de Sarenne to Saises which I dialed back to my 245w target. This was a really poorly designed segment since it was the first timed descent on very lumpy pavement. We had so many great pavement descents before but the organizers chose to time a steep, bumpy descent, and as expected, when I crested, I saw a rider on the ground unresponsive.

On the descent, we rode down Alpe d'Huez, which I thought was great minus some traffic. As with most of the descents this trip, I ended up around top 10% overall on Strava without pushing very hard.

The last time section featured a flat portion in the valley before we ascended to Les Deux Alpes. I ended up in a group with Luise, who was 2nd in GC for females so I did minimal work in the group on the flat. On the climb I rode off with a couple of guys but they were pushing a pretty rapid pace. This was one of the lower grade climbs which suited me better than the others and I was feeling pretty good. About a quarter of the way up, Luise caught me and momentarily passed me. I latched onto her wheel for a few seconds and then got out of the saddle and went past her again. At this point, I was commited, it would be a faux pas to let her pass me again. I also had to be a good teammate and couldn't help her on the false flat sections by letting her draft me so I rode up the road about 100m and every false flat section I picked the pace up to 300-350w to make sure she couldn't bridge up. For the last 20 minutes of the climb, I averaged 270w to stay in front of her. That was one of my deeper efforts so far that week. Total effort was 256w for 61 minutes.

The town of Les Deux Alpes was cool. They had live music going on at different places along with more mountain biking. Unfortunately, this was one of the worst hotels for the week. My shower must have been designed with a budget of 5 euro and it didn't drain...at all, and the beds were not much better than two cots. Also, no air conditioning but at least it got down to 45*F at night so I was able to open the window to cool the room.

Morning lineup
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Impressive chainstay design on this Seven for maximal tire clearance:

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Rolling with my group for the day
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One of the many stunning lakes along the way:

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Calories
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Loot from leading the mixed team competition
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Carb loading
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Les Deux Alpes at Night
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RyanH
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by RyanH

Day 4: Les Deux Alpes to Meribel (Queen Stage)
Distance: 153k
Elevation: 4200m
Calories: 4,372
TSS: 416

Strava

Elevation profile
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I felt like the first day was the queen stage but I believe this was the official queen stage. We started with a neutral descent which was terrible. I made sure I was within the first few wheels all the way down which helped but all of us were on our brakes the entire descent. As with the other days, the start of the timed section was a bit rough. The watts weren't very high but 318w for 5 minutes felt painful but there was a 5K false flat section before Glandon so it was important to be in a good group. Glandon itself was a deceptive climb. I checked the profile and assumed it wouldn't be too bad but even putting out my best power for the trip (270w for 60 minutes), I spent a lot of time in 39x30 wishing for more gearing. I was also surpised that despite putting out decent power, I around 70th on the climb for the day.

Coming down the backside of Glandon, we were warned that it was a very treacherous descent. I thought it was a fantastic descent. The upper part was of some concern since a fall over the ledge would mean a 30+ meter drop but a lot of the descent was fairly flowy. I rode down with a group of Italians and we had a pretty decent pace going down. At the bottom, before Madeleine, I convinced Iz that we should get croissant and a Coke. That helped tremendously and I hit the bottom of Madeleine at a pretty decent pace. Since I piddled around for a solid 30 minutes at the bottom, I ended up passing a lot of people on the way up. Midway though, at the rest stop, my power just went away. I went from pushing 270w again to struggling so I settled back into what ended up as an average of 245w for 1:39.

Refuel at the top and back down another descent, but this time with traffic and construction. We had another timed segment for a flat 10k plus the climb up to Meribel. I conserved my energy as best as I could in the flats and then pushed decent power on the climb up to Meribel averaging about 260w for an hour.

Post stage, this was one of the first days we'd be at the same hotel for two nights. This hotel (Hotel Chaudanne) was a meaningful improvment over the others. Unfortunately no AC again but the rooms cooled quickly at night with the sliding door open. Bikes were not allowed in the room here which was annoying since we purchased bike socks for this reason. Instead, we had to park our bikes in a very limited window at the neighboring hotel's garage. None of this was clear as to what to do. After a quick lunch and poor massage, I checked into the hotel and noticed they had a Hammam. I took a quick nap first but like a masochist, I hobbled down and spent 15 minutes in the Hammam (steam room). That did wonders and my back felt much better after that.

Neutral Descent with Views
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Glandon?
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Quick refuel in the village
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Haute Route Village
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One of the better cafeteria lunches but obviously not the most appealing food in the world
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Crepes Sucre!
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River by the bike park
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Copious amount of food for dinner
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GaBa
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Joined: Tue Jan 14, 2014 6:01 pm

by GaBa

Just one question. You mentioned traffic a couple of times. Do I get this right that roads are not closed for traffic? :O I sure hope I got it wrong, because for that price this is the least one would expect.

Great read and thank you for the effort. A lot of years ago we were skiing in France (Val Thorens, Tignes) and I went cycling in 2016. And I can only confirm your comments regarding hotels / apartments. They are crap in my experience. Nature and an abundance of cycling terrain make it up though. Camper van would be a solution, then you at least know where you sleep :)

RyanH
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by RyanH

There were a few dozen traffic marshalls throughout the course. They stopped traffic at intersections and at any point of climbs where traffic may interfere during a timed segment. Outside of timed segments, I can only recall dealing with a few stop lights. We also had motos controlling traffic as well. So, for the most part, the roads weren't fully closed (I think some were) but they felt like it except on the descents. Those were not generally timed so we had to deal with traffic, and often a lot of it.

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C36
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by C36

Read somewhere that some private tour operators did organise trips to HRA and they were cutting the neutralised sections creating a bit of a mess. Experienced this difference of treatment ?

RyanH
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by RyanH

I heard mumblings that it was partly due to the tour operators. The thing is, most of those riders didn't belong anywhere near the top 50 so it's pretty piss poor they're jumping into the group near the front.

With that being said, I personally would probably look into the tour operators if I did this again. Having someone to hand you bottles at feeds in the middle of a timed segment would be nice plus it appeared luggage transfer and such was a little more thought out on their end.

If I had the money, the ultimate way to do HRA would be to rent out a luxury tour bus and have someone drive it to each location. That's probably a little over the top though .

I am curious if AirBnB is a better option for some of these areas if you're going with a small group and have a tour operator handle transfer. Hotel package was not cheap at 2600 euro so I think it wouldn't take many people to favor that option.

by Weenie


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