A triumphant peloton rolled into the heart of Geneva today as 600 riders defied brutal conditions and the hardest course in the event’s five year history to cross the finish line of the Haute Route Alps.
The highest and longest mountain passes in Europe and a landslide forcing a course change that included even more climbing and occasional torrential rain, stretched the field to its limit during the seven stage, week-long event.
But as the emotionally charged finishers reached the race village on the shores of lake Geneva, friends and family reached over the barriers to cheer home the victorious peloton.
“You just have no idea how much this event means to you until it’s about to be taken away,” said Paul Bouchair, rider number 2424. “I had a tear in my eye climbing up to La Toussuire. I thought my race was over, so to make it to the finish line, I’m immensely happy and proud.”
Olympic medallist and former world champion cyclist, Emma Pooley, winner of the women’s standings said: “I feel really quite humbled to see what every rider has gone through. The Haute Route isn’t really about the guys at the front – riders of all abilities throughout the peloton put themselves through everything to win their own personal victories and make this event what it is.”
Haute Route project manager, Julie Royer, said: “It’s impossible to overstate the scale of achievement of every single rider. We try to organise a challenging event with the best level of support we can, but our riders turn the Haute Route into an astonishing display of determination and human spirit.”
By completing the 855km course from Nice to Geneva, the peloton of 600 cyclists from more than 50 nationalities climbed a total of 12 million vertical metres – the equivalent of 1500 ascents of Everest.
The highest mountain pass in the Alps, the Col de la Bonnette, was the feature of a marathon stage in torrential rain on day two, while the closure of the Chambon tunnel due to a landslide four months ago forced organisers to include two ascents of a punishing 25km climb – the Col de la Croix de Fer.
The Haute Route’s new official timekeeper TAG Heuer lent its reputation for excellence and precision to the event, playing a key role in staging day three’s time trial. American actor and TAG Heuer ambassador Patrick Dempsey was the ceremonial starter for the time trial and awarded a timepiece made by the avant-garde watchmaker to the male and female stage winners.
And as most of the competitors celebrate long into the night, 28 ‘triple crown’ riders prepare themselves for the third of three consecutive events. The Haute Route Dolomites Swiss Alps begins on Monday 31 August, finishing seven days later in Venice.
Follow the race live at www.hauteroute.org