The Haute Route is well known as one of the toughest, most challenging cycling experiences, available to amateur cyclists. Equally the Haute Route Concept is centred around ‘delivering an unparalleled ‘professional’ experience for amateur cyclists’, in short, if you want to know what life is like, in the mountains, for the professional peloton, then Haute Route is the way to go!
Here at Sports Tours International, we’ve been working with the Haute Route since their very first edition in 2011. In that time we’ve built up a great knowledge of what we can do to support hundreds of cyclists, as they take on these iconic multi-day cycling events. From providing ideally located hotels, to guaranteed race entries and rider support from our experienced team; we know how to help you get the most out of your trip. In this blog, we catch up with a Haute Route veteran and a former Sports Tours International rider, who is now a Sports Tours International cycling rep, Chris Breckon. His insight of being on both of sides of our Haute Route Experience is crucial and helps us relay valuable knowledge to you, to help you conquer Haute Routes in the future.
So, over to you Chris!
I first heard about Haute Route through one of the other Sports Tours International trips that I was on. The guide on that trip (Darrel) said that, as I seemed to like climbing mountains, I should consider doing a Haute Route, and that he had been organising the Sports Tours trips for the Haute Route for the last few years. So, I did a decent amount of research into Haute Route events and decided it was an event I’d like to set as my ‘big challenge’ for the following year.
I could see there were two ways to do a Haute Route, either direct through the event, or to book it through a tour operator. I had already done many Gran Fondo and one day events, all around Europe, over the years, and had always gone independently, so booking my own hotels, arranging my own transport, so this side of the logistics did not worry me. However, after considering all the options and the advantages/disadvantages, I was sure 100% that the Tour Operator route was the clear winner for me.
It really all came down to one phrase that I kept thinking “this event has the potential to be majorly tough and tiring because of the cycling, why make it more tiring by trying to do the non-cycling things myself!”
With Sports Tours International, I could see that a riders Haute Route experience is fully supported, from the moment you land at the airport to the moment you check in for your return flight at the end. No bother with transport, no hassle with luggage being dragged across town from the train or bus station, no need to deal with having to transport the Bike Box back to the event village like everyone else once the bike has been built, the guys from Sports Tours International took care of all the stress.
When you cross the finish line for the day, you’ve probably done over 100km in the saddle, and you really don’t want to have to think about where to find food, or how to get back to your hotel. You definitely don’t want the stress, in the evening, of making sure your bike is ready for the next day of riding, but the Sports Tours International team will handle all that for you! It’s fantastic.
If you add in the factor that the Sports Tours International staff have so many years of experience with all the Haute Route events, then you know that they will be able to pass on advice, knowledge, assistance with pretty much every possible scenario that may happen on a Haute Route! They have been there and seen it all before and there’s nothing more than that insight helpful to a rider.
The Haute Route organisation team do a very good job of running the event and providing a sufficient level of support for the riders, there are food stops, finish area food zones, secure bike parks, and evening briefings. So it is possible to ride without using a Tour Operator, but to me the huge benefits of being with Sports Tours International speak for themself.
As a Sports Tours International rider you are still able to use all the standard Haute Route services and facilities, but you get an ‘additional level’ of support and assistance on top of that. This may not seem completely essential when sitting at home, before the event, but I promise you that, when you are in the middle of a Haute Route, and feeling exhausted and something unexpected occurs, then you will be very glad you are with Sports Tours International and that you have someone who will help you out!
Again, a significant difference between being with Sports Tours International, or going solo would be the “hotel factor”. With hundreds of riders to accommodate in every start village location, finding hotels close by can be problematic to sort everything out off your own back. Depending on which level of accommodation level you book with the event organisers package, your hotel could be some distance away from the finish line or start line for the following day and, with no shuttle transport, you would have to make you own way there and back.
The hotels with Sports Tours International will always be as close as possible to the start or finish line, and, in the rare occasion that the hotel is more than a short ride away, their vans will be used to drive you back. After a long hard day across the mountains, the offer of a lift back to your hotel with all your kit can be a huge relief!
There have been many examples where I’ve seen, first hand, the Sports Tours International team go above the usual standard of support on events. A few simple things would be like having personal feed bottles and nutrition bag ready for riders at the feed stop, so they don’t even need to stop riding to collect it, which can be very beneficial if the feed stop is in the timed section. Or, for example, there was a time when we returned to the hotel to find the kitchen unexpectedly closed so one of the Sports Tours International team went immediately to the nearest supermarket and got food for the group to have our own makeshift picnic on the grass outside hotel enjoying the alpine views!
On a more serious note, I remember as a rider, unfortunately one of our group being involved in a large crash on the last day, luckily there was a Sports Tours International feed stop a few kilometres up the road and he was able to get to that. After being assessed by the medic there, he was unable to continue. Sports Tours International staff took him to the hospital and made sure he was treated. Separately, they took his bike back to the hotel, where they also packed it away in his bike box, and arranged to carry it back to UK and personally deliver it to his house. When the worst happens on one of these trips, it’s good to have support that will take care of the minor details and allow the riders to just concentrate on the most important things.
It’s not just the obvious help that makes the difference. It’s the small things that you don’t really notice when you’re focused on the riding. Then you look back and realise that the detail is essential. Two things come to my mind when considering non-obvious benefits of being with Sports Tours International. Firstly, the social side, everyone makes a lot of friends on Haute Routes, it is an international event and it’s full of friendly people to share the event with.
The majority of people arrive as individuals, and finding people to ride with, or just hang out with, can take a day or two. But if you ride with the Sports Tours International group, then you instantly feel part of a team. You make new friends right away, as soon as you arrive at the airport ,even before Day 1 of the event, and that can help with pre-event nerves or just feeling you have someone to socialise with.
The second subtle advantage of riding a Haute Route with Sports Tours International is that their staff will always attend every evening briefing, and take details and then report back to the group in the hotel. Riders are still free to attend the event organisers briefings, but it’s noticeable how many people go along on day 1, but then on the following days they are very pleased just to relax at the hotel over dinner without having to go out again!
Regarding the actual riding, from the 8 Haute Route events I have done, I’d say there are a few things I’ve learnt that apply to all of them, and which I would not have realised when I started. The first rule is not to go too hard on Stage 1, although everyone pretty much does regardless! The combination of adrenaline, excitement, competition all combine to push every rider along, and those that don’t follow rule 1 can really suffer on day 2 and 3!
The second point I would stress would be that there are actually many ways to ride a Haute Route, you do not have to get caught up in the daily competition if you don’t get enjoyment from that. I remember my first Haute Route, it was the Alps 7 Stage event. In those days there used to be a “Top 50 rider” pen that went off first every day and I was so concerned with maintaining my overall standing within that group every day that I really missed out on many things, just to keep holding on the wheels in front of me. One particular day, at the finish line, we were discussing the stage and someone said to me “those views of Mont Blanc were amazing” and I replied that I had not even seen Mont Blanc once the whole day! So, yes it is a competitive event, and yes the standard of riders is high, so you will be able to test yourself against some of the best amateur riders possible, but also, if you are not chasing the timings and overall position then a Haute Route event can be the most amazing experience. You can ride for fun, enjoy the views, stop and chat to people at the feed stops, and of course take time to see Mont Blanc – if it is there!
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