I’m cycling through the mountains between Geneva and Nice — essentially the full length of the Alps. To make things a little more interesting this year, next week I’m competing in the Pyrenees equivalent – it’s 800km, with approximately 21,000 meters of vertical ascent. Oh dear.
I arrived in Geneva feeling strong, but the competitors at events like this are of a serious calibre. No gentle weekend riders here, just a bunch of ex pros, club riders and a large share of budding amateurs, including a lot of plucky Brits all buoyed by our recent Tour de France exploits.
The first day was brutal, a battle against the gradients from the off. I gunned it at the front with what I assumed were some of the second-tier riders. For a race known for its camaraderie, there was little here — these guys mean business.
With all the kit on show it’s easy to imagine you are backstage at the Tour de France. Many of the bikes are worth in excess of £10,000 and there was carbon bling everywhere. In keeping with the event, I rode a bike from a rejuvenated French company called Vitus, which was made famous by the great Sean Kelly in the 1980s and is now owned and cared for by Chain Reaction cycles.
By day four, we'd already lost over 100 of the original 600 riders to the official cut-off time. The organisers take no prisoners and intentionally set the bar high to maintain the challenging spirit of the event.
The highs and lows of an event like this are pretty intense but one thing’s for sure: you finish each day with a huge grin on your face. Because, aside from the inevitable slog, there's plenty of time to relax and enjoy your spare time too.
The week came to an end in typical style – another fierce day of racing for those at the head of the pack rounded off by a dramatic police escort down into Nice. By the time we all made it across the final finishing line in the small town of Vence, just north of Nice, many of us had spent our very last drops of energy. I made my best placing too at 52nd – I’m happy with that.
We had enough time to swamp the local bars and coffee shops for a celebratory beer or two and then realigned ourselves for one last time for a relaxed 25km police escort down onto the famous Promenade des Anglais.
For any cycling nut the Haute Route is clearly the pinnacle. The chance to race across the same famous cols as your Tour de France heroes is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the truth is you don't have to race to within an inch of your life, like I tried to.
The sense of achievement will be with me for a while yet, or at least until next week when I begin the second leg – the Haute Route Pyrenees. Follow my adventures here on escapismmagazine.com.