Billed as the most prestigious amateur cycling event as the world, the seven-day Haute Route Pyrenees events covers hallowed ground rich in cycling history. Velocio athletes (and recently engaged couple- Congrats!), Laura Spencer and Ted King took on this year's incarnation and we asked them for three memorable insights. Here's what they said:
1. Overcoming what feels insurmountable.
570 miles and 60,000 ft climbing in 7 days The enormity of the mileage and elevation gain each day at a race pace was at times more than I could comprehend. Waking up each morning I was more nervous than expected and wondered if it was physically possible to climb another 10-12,000 feet again? The first two days started out technical and fast and I was instructed to stay at the front of the pack for both safety and to keep speed. I was on the rivet so many times knowing that staying in the group would get me to the climbs so much faster but potentially spent by the time I'd get there. Everything is a blur at that point. Adrenaline surging. Everyone fighting for the front. One small miss in a group of 350 and crashes can (and did the final day) happen. I'd arrive at the climbs and immediately be dropped from the front group. But then-- the clanging bells on the necks of the cows rang in concert with my cadence and I looked around me at the vast mountains and green landscape and knew that I was lucky to be there at that very moment.
2. The unity and diversity of cycling. Every day at the start line you'd hear voices around you in French, Spanish, Italian, German, and a variety of English dialects. Somehow my bib had a French flag so many who came upon me would try and speak French to me. Language aside, there's so much of cycling that is non verbal. We communicate with our signals, our body language: pointing out hazards in the road, the elbow flick telling the next person it's their turn, and even that Spanish guy who couldn't seem to take having a lady in front of him and would surge ahead every time I began to overtake him. Day one I saw a bib with the name Zibi and the German flag and realized I was cycling next to an old colleague. The world became small when we realized here we were in a small French village finding old friends.
3. Enjoying the experience. Sure it's a race, but we are in FRANCE. A French bistro at night with copious rosè, steak and frites and chocolate mousse. The flashing "PAIN" signs signaling bread take on a whole new meaning when you're riding past and suffering. The French villages with quaint flowerboxes underneath every house windowsill. Riding through a grove of trees and a waterfall for a momentary relief from the afternoon heat. Smiling at the rider next to you as somehow every day you end up on the same road suffering together--you haven't exchanged words and yet there's already a bond.
1. The People. For sure the people make Haute Route a blast. You go in the first day and after a few hours, after a few climbs, you settle in with your people. There are 350 people in the entire event, but these are the same folks you’ll see day in and day out. They're your peloton. You build a relationship out on the roads that really can’t be developed in a similar way anywhere else. On top of that, doing the trip inGamba, we had a perfectly fitting crew. Traditional Portuguese staff, a handful of guests, were like a puzzle that goes together without any effort.
2. The 7am Start Times. If you asked me at the time, I despised the crack-of-dawn starts. However, in hindsight this is pretty great. Logistically, it allows everyone to finish in daylight, but even if you finish the ride early there’s so much going on throughout the rest of the day that you come to thank the foolishly early start. There’s literally not enough time in the day, day after day. Pull this many people together from all around the world and you’re bound to eek out some jet-lagged cyclists, who don’t know 7am from 7pm. It’s all part of the adventure.
3. The Absurdity. It’s still hard to grasp the volume of the week. 570 miles with 60,000 feet of climbing, covered with 5-6 hours of riding every day is just bonkers. I’ve raced grand tours and spring classics, ridden 200 miles at a go, and pedaled plenty of other wacky spans. They don’t do this kind of climbing in the Tour, but sure, throw 350 amateur cyclists at it and see what happens! There are plenty of “Umm, I’m not quite sure how I’m going to be able to finish this thing” yet it somehow falls into place.