Stage 2: Font-Romeu – Ax 3 Domaines
120km overall, 120km timed
3000m of ascent / 3400m of descent
4 climbs: Col des Moulis 1099m (3rd class), Col du Garabeil 1262m (3rd class), Col du Port de Pailhères 2001m (1st class), ascent to Ax 3 Domaines 1378m (2nd class)
Stage difficulty: 4 out of 5
The riders knew this morning that if the first day of the Haute Route Pyrenees was considered a bit of a warm-up – a ‘warm-up’ that hurt more than it should for many, read freelance journalist Callum Robertson’s report here – today it was going to get real…
120km, 3,000m of climbing and 3,400m of descending over three cols, including the mighty Col du Port de Pailhères at 2,001m – the second highest col of the course, the towering Tourmalet measures in at 2,117m (the riders will climb that not once but twice in the coming days!). Even though everyone welcomes blue sky and sunshine, it was not only the cols that were the ‘enemy’ today as the heat pushed the riders into the red zone. The ascent of the Pailhères is punishing, presenting 12-13% in the last kilometres.
Over the final 10km stretch, the riders could only keep staring at the tarmac, as they drilled down the final metres, no energy left to lift the head and take in the landscape but at the top the pain and suffering were rewarded with spectacular views. The other two cols preceding the Pailhères – Col des Moulis at 1,099m and Col du Garabeil 1,262m - could be considered gentle in comparison, but drained the legs nonetheless. “Riding the broom wagon. Swept up on 15km climb! Course maxes out at 13%!” tweeted Lizzy Foreman, who competed in the Haute Route Alps last year. There is a reason the Haute Route events are billed as the ‘highest and toughest and cyclosportives in the world’ – the legendary cols make them so. And amongst the Haute Route peloton there are some legendary riders too… Twelve to be precise,12 riders who have taken on the Triple Crown challenge - riding each Haute Route event back to back. In numbers that equates to 21 days, 2,615km of distance, 58 cols and ascents, and an epic 59,450m of climbing. Why would you? Because it’s there!
The Triple Crown riders are an eclectic group of athletes from five different countries and of varying abilities. Chris Fisher, from the UK is not new to the Haute Route, and he couldn’t turn his back to this ultimate challenge with an emotive reason to take on all three events. ‘I’m raising money for motor neurone disease which is a disease that my mother is dying from at the moment so I wanted to raise money for that and also I did the Haute Route Pyrenees last year and felt quite good at the end so I was thinking ‘Well maybe I can do two this year?’ and then you offered a third one and I said to myself three can’t be more difficult than two, can it? It was probably a stupid idea!’
Amy Brice is the only female Triple Crown rider and has racked up an already impressive list of cycling accolades, winner of the Irish Women’s Classic League 2012, represented Ireland at Elite level, picked up the Ulster Road Race and TT Championship titles in 2013; but again the Haute Route ‘three-in-a-row’ is unlike anything she’s done before: ‘I’m taking everyday at a time, then every week. I will be in tears when we get to Anglet’
For Will Levy from Australia, it was just too hard to choose one out of the three events. “The scenery is totally different, that is the beauty of doing all three. The Dolomites was clearly the toughest, I’ve been lucky enough to do them all since 2011, that was the hardest ever ever ever and I don’t think it can be out done unless we start riding in January! The most beautiful stage for me was today, because I’ve never done it before. And I’m going to butcher the name of this massive second climb, that was just sublime and we were going Whoua Whoua Whoua, that’s amazing!”
And then there’s Christian Haettich, already an Haute Route legend, as he has been part of the Haute Route peloton since it began in 2011 garnering huge respect for taking on the mountains with only one leg and one arm. Christian’s motto ‘No Limits’, and he shows none. He so impressed three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond when they met on the Pyrenees last year, Greg went off and designed a custom LeMond bike for Christian.
An exceptional group of riders, who to us are as legendary as the cols they climb.
1 BRICE Amy (UK)
2 HAMBLETT Paul (UK)
3 HENANGER Ottar (NOR)
4 RAYBAUD Nicolas (FRA)
5 SCHAEFFER Jean-Paul (FRA)
6 COSTA Sergio (POR)
7 COELHO LUZ Nuno (POR)
8 FISHER Christopher (UK)
9 DONNELLY Paul (UK)
10 LEVY Will (AUS)
11 PORTER Timothy (AUS)
12 GRANT Fergus (UK)
200 HAETTICH Christian (FRA)
Over 3,000 hours of sun every year make Font-Romeu in the Cerdagne region the sunniest place in France. As one of the oldest ski resorts in the country it is sheltered in the lee of a pine forest, protecting it from northerly winds and offering clear mountain air. Sought after for its health benefits, it also has excellent recreational facilities with swimming, skating, horse riding and hiking on offer.