On a crisp and clear morning in Stavanger, the Haute Route Norway peloton descended into the dark mouth of the Ryfast Tunnel to reach the start of timing at the very bottom, 292 metres below the sea. The steady climb back to the surface split the peloton into groups before everyone emerged into the sunlight to enjoy the challenging and hilly course to Jørpeland.
“We never get to ride the tunnels,” said Kristin Eidsheim Sønnesyn, the winner of the Women’s Original Course Stage 1 and a Stavanger local now living in Bergen. “Not just Ryfast, but the other tunnels are reserved for cars, too. It was fun to start that way, even though it was cold in the tunnel!
While the exit to the tunnel was a steady 7% grade for a few kilometres, the climb to Heia featured switchbacks and pitches between 10-12%, but rewarded riders for their efforts with tremendous views across the water. After dropping down from Heia, riders bypassed another road tunnel to enjoy the narrow and scenic lakeside road along Tysdalsvatnet.
After a few more ups and downs, riders reached the second feed station, where the Original and Compact courses split. Turning right, it was time for the Original course riders to climb to the highest elevation of the day, 328 metres above sea level, atop the Kragåsen climb.
Rebecca Johnson, winner of Haute Route Alpe d’Huez only a few weeks ago, commented that the shorter, punchy climbs of Haute Route Norway left a different impression compared to the Alps. “In the Alps the climbs are long and you get into a rhythm and just go, and then you have a long descent to rest. Here, the climbs are shorter, so you feel like you should go harder. But then, there’s less of a descent and lots of rolling hills. It was beautiful, and tougher than I thought it would be.”
After a number of selections, the front group for the Original competition narrowed down to about 20-25 riders. According to Timothy Harris of Australia, who finished 2nd on the stage, the race got more serious on the final climb. He attacked the group and got a gap, but was reeled in and passed by eventual stage winner Filip Eidsheim.
The descent from the Kyrkjebakken summit was untimed, meaning Eidsheim’s time gap at the summit remained, despite the two riders regrouping for the final timed run to the finish line in Jørpeland. Harris negotiated the tricky final kilometre fastest and crossed the line first. The time gap back to Edsheim, however, was not big enough to overcome the Norwegian’s lead from the climb. “I’m looking for two seconds tomorrow, and then for a good time time trial,” Harris said after the stage. “My wife and I are each riding eight Haute Routes this year, and of them, this course is the most advantageous for me.”
After being welcomed to Jørpeland by the voice of Haute Route, Fergus Grant, riders grabbed their backpacks and some recovery fuel, then spun their way down the coast road to hop on the ferry back to Stavanger. Riders had time to relax, grab a snack, and swap stories during the cruise back to town and the Clarion Hotel, where the team of massage therapists were ready to help get everyone ready for Stage 2.
The stage for Saturday begins with a ferry ride up Lysefjord, passing under the famous Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock) on the way to Lysebotn. Once back on dry land, riders will start the stage up the Stølsdalen climb, often referred to as the “Alpe d’Huez of Norway” because of its 20+ switchbacks. Over the course of 8.5 kilometres, the climb ascends from sea level to 896 metres with an average grade of 10% and short pitches up to 15%. With the largest single climb over with, the rest of the Original and Compact courses gradually step down – although with some additional climbs – on the way to the finish in Melshei.