On a warm Saturday afternoon, the ninth annual Haute Route Alps reached its final destination on the seaside Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France. Nearly 400 riders who set off from Megève last Sunday completed every metre of the nearly 760-kilometre, 7-day cycling adventure.
Starting the final day in Pra Loup, the Haute Route Alps peloton faced a stage in two parts. Stage 7a was 68 kilometres long, featuring the formidable Cime de la Bonnette. This monster 23-kilometre ascent to 2802 metres above sea level is pretty steady and moderate in terms of steepness, until the final kilometer where there’s a steep pitch on the loop around the very top of the mountain.
Reflecting on the climb, Kenneth Taylor said, “I enjoyed it. It was a long climb, but it was steady. It got really nice at the top, lots of hairpins. Pretty steep at the very top, but it was really good to get to the summit, get my picture taken right at the top. The descent was exciting as well, really fast.”
The peloton regrouped in Saint-Etienne de Tinée, warmed by the sun and fueled by brunch in the town square, before setting off for the 125-kilometre Stage 7b. The first 33 kilometres were gradually downhill through a twisty and picturesque gorge, before reaching the foot of the last major climb of the event, the 16.4-kilometre ascent of Saint Martin.
Even with the last major climb behind them riders couldn’t just freewheel to the Nice. Following a long descent from the Saint Martin climb itself, the route crossed three smaller climbs before reaching the end of timing. After a few high fives for finishing the timed portion of the event, riders cruised the final 18.5 kilometres to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the seaside finish line in Nice.
Stuart Morgan, riding his first Haute Route to help a friend celebrate his 50th birthday, summed up what many riders said throughout the day: “I have a mixture of feelings, to be honest. I had some apprehension coming into the event, because I wasn’t sure I’d make it through. So there’s some relief I’ve been able to get here and feel pretty good, some happiness to be heading home, and some disappointment that it’s not going to go for longer.”
“The end of a 7-day feels magical, because there is so much hard work behind it,” commented Helmer Berre from Norway. “You’re dying for every single turn of your pedals, but you’ve never lived more. When people suffer together you bond. You get more human, and that the beauty of it all. Where you come from, your culture, age, gender… doesn’t matter. I just want to go hug everybody!”
For an especially hearty group of riders, the finish line in Nice marked the end of the ultimate two-week cycling challenge: the combined effort of riding Haute Route Pyrenees and Haute Route Alps back-to-back. In all, 60 riders completed the double, riding nearly 1600 kilometres with more than 40,000 metres of climbing. In the General Classification for the “Double Crown”, John Thomas won the Men’s competition with a combined time of 42 hours, 50 minutes, and 12 seconds. Wynnie Fung won the Women’s competition with a combined time of 55 hours, 11 minutes, and 29 seconds.
In the Men’s Solo competition for the 2019 Haute Route Alps, Ruari Grant won the General Classification by 2:37 over Guillaume Bourgeois, with Damien Jeanjean rounding out the podium for third. Canadian Linda Farczadi won the Women’s Solo competition by more than 50 minutes, with Catherine Greves in second and Ciarnuto Valeria in third.
Alexandre Menneteau, riding the double and a member of the winning Men’s Duo team for Haute Route Alps, was thinking of the other riders he met along the way: “The people I meet are what I like the most on the Haute Route. That’s why I do it. I have a huge respect for the riders at the back; they are the true heroes. They are strong mentally because it’s not easy to spend so much time on the bike.”
Although the two longest events of the Haute Route Cycling Series have come to an end, the 2019 season is far from over. In September riders will be lining up for Haute Route Stelvio and Haute Route San Francisco, with events in Mont Ventoux, Mexico and China to follow in October. With the release of the 2020 Haute Route Cycling Series Calendar earlier this week, riders are also busy planning their adventures for next year.
“I want to come back and do it more and more again,” said Brent Holmes. “We make friendships all the time, that’s what I love about Haute Route. I came here on my own and didn’t know anybody, but you get to know people. It’s like a big family.”