Following a multilingual countdown from Fergus Grant, the ninth edition of Haute Route Alps started in waves from Le Palais Megève this morning. The peloton of 525 riders faced a unique and challenging opening stage, with multiple Haute Route winner Ruari Grant taking the stage victory atop Côte 2000.
The mood on the start line was a mixture of excitement and nervousness, with riders eager to get underway and see how their training would pay off. Lillian Choy said, “I’m very excited. I was here two years ago when we did Nice to Geneva. Every day I thought I wouldn’t make it to the next stage, but I managed to finish it. And I swore I would never do it again. Then you remember the great things about the route, meeting people, and seeing the wonderful scenery in the Alps. So, here I am, two years later, really excited again!”
Reed Soehnel was excited to share the experience with his friends and family. “It’s my second Haute Route. My brother is here this year, and a teammate. I really loved my first experience and the whole time I was thinking ‘I want to do it with my brother and friends’, so I convinced a couple of guys to come back.”
Stage 1 was specifically designed to keep Mont Blanc in view for the majority of the route, providing a constant reminder of the dramatic and beautiful landscape around Megève. The profile and character of the stage was somewhat different than expected, even for veterans of previous Haute Route Alps.
Matt Holden, CEO of Haute Route, joined the peloton for Stage 1. At the first feed station he commented, “This year it’s a little different. The climbs are a little shorter, 5-6 kilometres instead of 10-15, but when you stick three, four, or five together, it starts to hurt. I think people might start to pay the price a bit later in the day. We’ll see.”
The succession of shorter climbs on the profile took riders through quaint small towns and up narrow, twisting – and sometimes quite steep – lanes. As a result, the peloton first split into large groups that could work together through the first two valleys, and then split further into smaller groups as the kilometres piled up.
Speaking about halfway through the stage, John Main commented, “I really enjoyed that last big climb, and then we got a big train going through the valley with everyone working together, so I really enjoyed it. So far, so good. I’m just balancing that tightrope between going hard enough, not going too hard, and enjoying the scenery.”
For more than 80 riders, Stage 1 of Haute Route Alps was their eighth stage of the Pyrenees–Alps double. At the summit of Plateau d’Assy today, following a busy travel day from Pau to Megève yesterday, Black Widows Cycling Club’s Simon Edwards-Parton, commented, “The first climb was painful, but now it’s really nice. The legs have got into it, and it’s been really good catching up with all the other double riders as they were coming past me, comparing notes on the transfer and how they’re recovered from Pyrenees.” As Simon rolled away, fellow Pyrenees–Alps rider Anthony Costantino quipped, “I call it ‘out with the old, in with the new’”!
Riders throughout the peloton pursue a wide range of competitive and personal goals, and at the very front of the pack there was a tight battle for the first leader’s jersey of the 2019 Haute Route Alps. After passing by the Race Village, riders had to tackle a final 7.9-kilometre climb of Côte 2000. By the summit finish line, Britain’s Ruari Grant snagged the first leader’s jersey by just 7 seconds over Switzerland’s Guillaume Bourgeois! In the Women’s race, Canada’s Linda Farczadi set the fastest time for the stage, taking the leader’s jersey by 1:50 over America’s Rebecca Johnson.
Back in the morning, Catherine Jullien-Breches, the Mayor of Megève, had told us, “I said last year that I will try and take on the challenge to be on the start line, and here I am. Megève is linked to sport with 14 sorting associations in its Club des Sports and we like to be seen as a sports destination. Welcoming Haute Route and other events is for us very important.” Later in the afternoon, Haute Route was thrilled to have the opportunity to welcome Catherine across the finish line atop Côte 2000!
Tomorrow, riders will again start from Le Palais Megève at 7:30AM, this time for a more classic Alpine cycling stage with a long climb of the Col des Saisies, a long valley to the base of the Côte de Montagny, and then a very special climb through Courchevel to a newly-paved road open only to cyclists, leading to the summit finish atop the Col de la Loze.