Tips for riding the Haute Route
By Nicholas Frank
Although the Haute Route really begins many months before you cross the start line at the event, while you can’t cram in last minute training or stretching a week before the event, there are some final week preparation activities in combination with your tapering program that you can undertake to make transition into the event seamless.
1) Service your bike – It is going to do 7 days of almost 1000km of riding and 20000m of climbing. Don’t let all your training and sacrifices be sabotaged by a regular service by yourself or a trusty mechanic. This could also be a good time to fit new tyres (I recommend 25mm), new brake blocks, a new chain and cassette.
2) Pack some spares – While MAVIC and Look mechanics are available and provide an excellent service, they may not have everything you need. Nor are there bike shops in all the towns. Packing extra cleats, bidons, brake blocks, tyres and a valve adapter for long valve tubes, can remove some unnecessary hassle. Gas cannisters can normally be purchased at the “sign-on” village.
3) Get your gear ratio right. The majority of riders in the UK can get away with riding a standard chainset with a 23 or 25 sprocket on the rear cassette. In the Dolomites, Alps and Pyrenees the majority of riders will ride a compact chainset and a 25, 28 or even 32.
4) Pack for bad weather. Anyone who has spent time in the mountains will have a horror story to tell of weather changing from summer conditions to deep winter in hours, often resulting in mild-hypothermia or at best a very unpleasant descent because you were underdressed. Pack a set of kit for winter conditions (you may need it) and a set of arm warmers, knee warmers, buff and shoe covers to accommodate unpredictable weather.
5) Don’t change your diet or nutrition plan on the bike. Your body is under additional stress already. Stick to your plan of what and when you normally eat. Introducing a new energy gel or eating more, could result in stomach cramps and discomfort. Continental breakfasts are normally plentiful but if you have a preference for porridge or a particular cereal, bring it with you. Control the controllables.
Once the event begins your day becomes structured around 3 main parts, all very important:
a) Morning before the ride
- Get-up early enough to have a relaxed and stress-free breakfast.
b) The ride
- Eat and drink regularly. Keep up your glycogen stores. If you need to, set an alarm on your bike computer
- Pace yourself both on a daily basis and over the whole week. Ride to a heart-rate or to power or to what your body is telling you. Try to ride the mountains at your tempo and not be tempted to ride at others if they are stretching you too much. Stick to your plan.
- Break the event down into manageable parts. Break the mountains down and break the stages down. In the 2013 event I saw it as ~21 parts (i.e. 3 mountains/ day).
- Try and keep your cadence above 70 on the climbs and mix-up riding in and out of the saddle to use different muscle groups.
- If sunny and hot, wear sunscreen. Bad sunburn can sap you of a lot of energy and result in several uncomfortable days riding.
- You’ll have good days and bad days. Stay positive and enjoy it. Realise that everyone is suffering, some are just going faster.
- Manage your time off the bike, be mindful of what you do from when you cross the finish line to when you go to bed. Eat a meal soon after finishing, get a massage, follow a stretch routine and rehydrate properly (with oral rehydration salts if necessary).
- Use any recovery mechanisms that work for you: compression socks/ tights, ice baths (or a short dip in a nearby river) or utilize the Compex units available.
- Do a short ~15 minute walk every afternoon to realign your body. Cycling is an unnatural position and light walking helps realign it.
- Get as much rest and sleep as you can. Keep off and elevate your legs.
- Many people (including the pros) have trouble sleeping. Pack some herbal sleeping tablets or teabags.
- Start times are early every day and by mid-week you will want as much sleep as your body can get so organize your kit and pack for the next day. Know the weather forecast and adjust what kit you’ll need accordingly.
- Review the route for the following day. Being aware of where the food stops are, the length of the climbs and the tough sections of the climbs can
make a big psychological difference.
Above all remember to enjoy the camaraderie and the experience. We are all really fortunate to be doing an event of this type in amazing places of natural beauty on the same roads where pros have won grand tour stages on.
Follow my progress on twitter and instagram: @nfrank69
For more information on the Haute Route visit the event website – www.hauteroute.org