When it comes to sport, I’m as competitive as they come. It comes from being the middle of three brothers – losing bragging rights among my siblings was always a bitter pill to swallow.
While it’s proven hard to shake, I’ve learned to take defeat on the chin as I’ve gotten older, though my Strava addiction has sent things back the other way this year!
But heading into the Haute Route, I was forced to pitch my ambitions a little lower. Since I found out I would be riding the event seven weeks ago, my goal was simply to finish, to get to Nice relatively unscathed and be able to say I rode 780km in one week up and down 19 of the Alps most iconic climbs. It’s an event way harder than anything I’d ever attempted before, so it would have been foolhardy to hope for anything else.
But since departing Geneva at dawn last Sunday, the goalposts have shifted. I can’t put a finger on exactly when this happened, but since the start of the marathon stage from Courchevel to Alpe d’Huez on stage 3, I’ve shot up the leaderboard from a lowly 442nd/600 to a could-write-home-about 311.
Perhaps it was the half-decent showing in that stage which bouyed me into believing I could mix it with this company. It’s more likely to be the time trial up Alpe d’Huez which, with a time of 64 minutes, was good enough to beat two thirds of the field. I’ve certainly been asking others what their times were a lot more, no longer ashamed to put my name to my times like I was earlier in the week.
Whatever the reason, I’ve been climbing harder and descending faster during the second half of the race. Today’s stage, 110km from Risoul to Auron with three climbs – including one up and over the highest paved road in Europe, the monstrously long (23.5km) and high (2802m) Cime de la Bonette – saw me at my most motivated yet to move up into the top half of the leaderboard.
My main aim, given it’s my obvious strength, was to achieve a top 100 position on at least one of the cols. My best bet in the remaining two days was the 20km Col de Vars which, with an average gradient of 5.7 percent and topping out at just 8.1, suited me down to the ground.
Now I’m not going to stake any claims for the combativity award, but I was pretty satisfied, even though I missed my goal by just four places, to finish in 72 minutes. But having gone so deep early on, it was then a battle to maintain a high tempo for the remaining 80km, arriving in Auron, bent over my handlebars, with five hours on the clock.
Slumped over the bars at the end of stage 6
It was the first time, bar the time trial, where I’d gone into the red at any point. It’s the way someone of my ability needs to play it in a race like this because it’s so extreme in its demands.
It’s easy to get carried away on the climbs with hundreds of others all around stomping hard on the pedals, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned this week, it’s to ride at your own pace. There’s no bluffing over seven days – you perform at the level you came in with and bank on the hard miles you put in back home slowly paying off as the week goes on.
So, with just a single 175km stage remaining on the road to Nice, my original goal of simply getting there is within touching distance. Top 300, though, is going to be more tricky, but there’s no way I’ll give in without a scrap.
A full report of my experience of the 2012 Haute Route will appear in a future issue of Cycling Plus magazine.