Appetite for the fight

The countdown to the Haute Route begins

Food is a huge part of any road cyclist's life - for me, it's one of the biggest benefits to riding so many miles. But if there's one day I overindulge, it must be Christmas dinner.

Like the famous scene in I'm Alan Partridge where our eponymous hero arrives at the buffet armed with his 12 inch plate, I take to the dinner table on Christmas Day with the sole aim of stuffing as much food into my belly as it possible. The question of how much I want always gets the same response: as much as will physically fit on my plate. Beef or turkey? Both please. Roasts or mash? Likewise. I always believe I will conquer whatever is served up.

But this wall of food always defeats me. The only thing I'm fit to do afterwards is crawl into the living room, where I sleep off my excesses in a carb-induced slumber. When it comes to Christmas dinner, my eyes are always bigger than my belly.

The same is true of me agreeing to take part in August's Haute Route sportive. When it was pitched to me last month by Cycling Plus Editor Rob Spedding, I had little hesitation in saying yes. Here's an event that sees 600 amateur cyclists ride 780km over seven days from Geneva to Nice through the Alps. Who wouldn't accept an invitation like that?

It was first held last year and was dreamt up by the same man, Jean-Francois Alcan, who developed one of the original sportives, Etape du Tour. It's a progression for riders who can no longer be satisfied by one brutal Alpine ride - they need seven days in a row.

On the menu are 19 cols, including Alpe d'Huez (twice if you include the time trial on the 'rest day'), Madeleine, Glandon, Izoard and Colombiere. It's an incredible undertaking and one which, like at the Christmas dinner table, I approached with an attitude of 'the more, the better', with little thought to the eventual consequences or whether I'm physically capable of getting through it.

So five weeks on from signing up, I'm training like I've never trained before. My home city of Bath hardly replicates the Alps but with its handful of 600ft climbs on all sides leading out into the countryside, it's provided the ideal setting to hone my climbing legs.

Less than three weeks separate me from stage one's 120km from Geneva to Megeve. It's a day I'm approaching with excitement and trepidation in equal measure; knowing it'll be a once in a lifetime experience but also one that'll push me beyond what I previously knew to be my physical limits.

If only Christmas dinner was served at the after-race party in Nice - after what's in store for me, for once I might actually have the appetite to leave an empty plate.

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