Over 400 riders took to the start line next to Palais Beaumont in Pau this morning, excited to start the 7-day Haute Route Pyrenees event they had all been waiting for. Rolling out together, riders made the most of the 10km neutralized section, finding the chance to warm up the legs and chat about the upcoming stage.
Taking part in his first Haute Route, Phil Bailey from Canada was looking forward to what was in store, both today and in the upcoming stages: “I am so impressed by how well we have been taken care of so far and that is before Stage 1 has even begun, it has been awesome.”
“I also like that today seems to be a bit of an easier stage, giving us chance to get the bike tuned in, check the legs are awake and get over any jet lag. Hopefully when it is time for the harder stages, we will feel ready for them and I’m certainly looking forward to the challenge of the Tourmalet later in the week,” he said.
As the riders crossed the first timing mat, there was a notable shift in pace for some as they applied the pressure to the pedals and got down to business, working towards a specific goal or time. For others, it was all about pacing themselves and going steady to ensure they could complete the week in good form. With just over 50km before the first col of the day, this was also the chance to make the most of some group riding as the course wound its way through the foothills of the Pyrenees.
For Lucy Deschamps from the United Kingdom, it was all about pushing from the get-go: “I am riding as part of a duo and my partner is much stronger than me. It is good because you don’t want to let them down and you work hard together, although I was definitely holding on. He did keep supplying me with gels and water though and counting me down through the kilometres.”
“With climbing you can get into a zone, but it was actually the bumpy parts in the early part of the course that were tough for me today. Being at peace with the pain is so liberating though,” added Lucy who is riding as part of the Black Widows Cycling Club who have 30 taking part in Haute Route Pyrenees this year.
The Col de Bugalaran was the first of the three climbs riders would take on during this 96km stage. A new col for the 2019 edition, it eased the riders in with 498m of ascent and a gradient of between 5.2% over 5km. At the summit riders were quick to refuel before enjoying the descent through the forest, mentally preparing themselves for the latter part of the course and the upcoming elevation.
As the Hourcère climb started, it was time for riders to clench their teeth as they knew there would be little respite until the finish line at La Pierre Saint-Martin. Although tough, the beauty of the climb up to Col de la Hourcère served as a nice distraction, with the stream running alongside the tree-lined road, before opening up to reveal astounding views.
Many riders were thankful for the feed station 1km from the Hourcère summit, taking the chance to fuel up and take a breather before the final push to the summit finish. Others chose to push on, making the most of the brief respite in the course to spin the legs before getting back into the rhythm to take on the upcoming and well-known climb on the border between French and Spain.
Alex Meadley said: “I am from Canada so these climbs are definitely challenging compared to the ones back home but I have loved the beautiful and unique scenery I have seen today. There is a lot more climbing to come so I think my biggest question is how well I will recover from one day to the next, but I am definitely looking forward to it and going to take each day at a time.”
One of the longest climbs in the region, La Pierre Saint-Martin proved a spectacular and rewarding summit finish for the Haute Route riders. Crossing the line at 1,648m, riders reveled in the moment and soaked in the beautiful scenery below.
At the front of the race today it was Carlo Fino from Italy, who took the stage win just over 3 minutes ahead of Frenchman Pierre Carlet in second, and Ibon Arrese Zugasti finishing in third. In the women’s race it was Georgia Perry from New Zealand who took the first leader’s jersey of the week, with Lina-Kristin Schink and Alisha Myers following close behind to finish 2nd and 3rd respectively. In the Duo competition it was team Carina Brao Caffe that were the fastest of the day with BWCC Venom winning the Duo Mixed category.
After taking some time to recover and enjoy their post-race services, riders took the Haute Route bus back to Pau, ahead of the riders briefing. They will all be looking forward to a good night’s sleep tonight before tomorrow’s stage which involves 137km of riding with 2,900m of ascent to Port de Balès.