Ready to challenge yourself? Completing a Haute Route event is one of the greatest accolades in cycling. Featuring the most iconic terrain you can cover on two wheels - from the hills of San Francisco to the brutal slopes of the Stelvio - it’s as close to professional racing as an amateur rider can get.
The list of Haute Route locations continues to grow, and with the new Infinity Pass, riders have unlimited access to riding the toughest roads in the world (the first initiative of its kind in amateur endurance sport). We caught up with former National Road Race Champion and Wattbike ambassador, Dean Downing, after riding Haute Route Alpe d’Huez to understand what makes these events so unique.
“Three days of riding around Alpe D’Huez was savage,” explains Dean, “so much so that from the 250-plus starters, only 141 made it to the summit of the famous mountain on Stage Three.”
“Stage One was a short 70km effort, but we had 3000 metres of climbing to contend with. Starting in Bourg-d’Oisans, we hit the first five bends of the Alpe and then turned right to a non-categorised climb of the parcours along a balcony road (with an average of 7 %).”
“Looking at my power stats on TrainingPeaks afterwards, I set my best five minute, ten minute, twenty minute and sixty minute power of 2018. I was going pretty hard just to keep my lowest gear ticking over to be honest.”
“The balcony road led onto Les Deux Alpes, which was a great climb. Lots of tree cover made for a - relatively - comfortable ascent, and with the first feed zone at the top it was time for my first thirty minute rest. I knew Col de Sarenne was coming up and it was said to get harder and harder as we reached the top.”
“It didn’t disappoint in any way. Col de Sarenne had stunning views; the trees at the foot of the climb provided ample cover for me to put some decent power down and find a rhythm. Then it opened up onto the side of the heat baked mountain, and the last five kilometres were very steep, 12% in places with loads of switchbacks. But I got to the top. Descending to Alpe D’Huez for the last three kilometres of the classic mountain and Stage One was over.”
“Stage Two was an epic 151km, with 4,600m of climbing over three iconic mountains: Col du Glandon, the Croix de Fer and, of course, Alpe d’Huez. The only way I could break it down in my head was to think of it as three separate rides up a mountain, with a break at the top of each to really enjoy the descents and scenery. So that’s what I did.”
“The constant pressing on the pedals to move forward was relentless and the weather just got hotter and hotter the higher we climbed Croix de Fer. The few kilometres of downhill close to the top gave my legs a welcome breather, but it was still a constant slog to what seemed like the top of the world. It was stunning up there, so I stopped to take some photos, I even sneaked a coffee in at the small cafe at the summit. Time to enjoy the descent into Saint-Jean-de-Marianne.”
“The enjoyment of the descent soon stopped as my riding mate had a front wheel blow out coming into a hairpin. Scary stuff. The Mavic support car arrived to put a new tyre and tube on his front wheel and off we went again, enjoying the many switch backs and stunning views of the valley below (with a little more caution than before).”
“One kilometre later, bang. Another front wheel blow out. No support car this time. so we waited for the lanterne rouge and broom wagon, which didn’t have any spare wheels. Two blowouts in two kilometres meant there was definitely something wrong with the wheel, so it was time for my mate to get in the van. Gutted, absolutely gutted.”
“I was now last rider on the road with the lanterne rouge. We descended into Saint-Jean-de-Marianne for about twenty kilometres and it was incredible. The road surface was great, the scenery was great, the freedom of freewheeling was great. This is what I had been looking forward to whilst going up the first climb. Soon it was over and we were at the timing mat to start the next section, Col Du Glandon.”
“The temperature was reaching thirty degrees in the sun, and it was me against the mountain - my friend had to stay in the broom wagon as there were no spare wheels at the timing mat. Five kilometres into climbing Glandon, however, he appeared at my side and we were back riding together (someone else had jumped in the broomwagon and he borrowed his wheel). A few stops to fill up with water at the feed station, which mostly went over my head, and we were half way up the Glandon.”
“Then the cloud cover came over, the temperature went down, my power went up and so did my morale as the mountain became easier to climb. We got to the top and had a moan about how steep it was, how hot it was, how unfit I was, how much longer there was to go. We filled our bottles, had some gels and got stuck into the descent which - again - was awesome.”
“Onto climb the finale for Stage Two, Alpe D’Huez from Villard-Reculas. Steep, shallow, flat, downhill, hairpin bends, long straights, tree cover, exposed sections. This climb had it all, and the last five kilometres took place on the famous Alpe D’Huez once again. Seven hours and forty minutes in the saddle with two hours off the bike for stops was a long day out, and some serious chamois time.”
“The final day was a time trial from Bourg D’Oisans, ascending the famous twenty-one hairpin bends of Alpe D’Huez to the official finish line of the Tour de France climb. After riding nearly 250km in three days, I grovelled up the 15km of the final stage in one hour and fifteen minutes. I received my medal, had some food, went back to my hotel, had a shower and proceeded to fall asleep on my bed for 2 hours. I was nailed.”
“But, what an event it was. Three days of racing and riding in the mountains of the Tour de France was just about all I could cope with. I would have coped better if I had more than five weeks’ training in my legs, that’s for sure.”
“I had four months off the bike during my time managing the Holdsworth cycling team. However, using my Wattbike from five weeks beforehand really took the edge off what could have been a sticky situation. With structured training and a few sessions riding the Alpe Du Zwift, I could prepare myself for Haute Route Alpe d’Huez knowing I was getting the most effective workout possible.”
“Absorbing the stunning scenery, even though you are hurting up the mountains, you have to stop and take some pictures, why wouldn’t you? Working so hard for the five weeks up to the event was crazy, so I really wanted to enjoy the ride. I loved the event and I will be back next year.”
Are you up for the challenge? Learn more about Haute Route and start one of our dedicated training plans.