It has been now 12 days (>1500km, 35000m of climbing, ~70 hours of cycling) since I started this incredible cycling challenge. After completing the first 7 day stage race in the Pyrenees, I was very exhausted – physically and especially mentally. The first two days in the Pyrenees really got to me. I wasnt prepared for the very steep climbs. My bike wasnt set up for the gradient as I was riding a 28 tooth cassette. Only after 2 days I finally changed it as my back and knee problems became unbearable. Now, this begs the question why I am putting myself through this challenge but it is actually quite the opposite: I am having the time of my life. Never been to the Pyrenees before, I was stunned by the scenery and the amazing route that Haute Route led us through. The challenge combined with the new terrain and the camaraderie made it an incredible experience.  Everyone who loves a life-changing challenge in a professional setting should consider Haute Route, and even Haute Route Triple Crown (3 7-day stages races back-to-back) However, I also want to mention that this isnt a walk in the park and so I want to shed light on what is going on behind the scenes.

Happy but drained.

When I finished the last days in the Pyrenees, I was happy but also drained. Haute Route is definitely not for the faint-hearted. For a reason, their website states that is an amateur cycling event that comes as close as possible to completing a professional Grand Tour.

Right after the last stage ending in Toulouse I transferred to Nice arriving at midnight. Then, I had one rest day that was also the day of registration of Haute Route Alps. Although it was only one rest day I felt great again. I met new friends of the Haute Route Alps and immediately had people to connect with. I found that so important – to build a support network during such a challenge. It is an incredible energy boost seeing the same smiling faces on every climb and at the finish line or passing me and exchanging encouraging words while we are struggling up a climb.

Day 1 of the Haute Route Alps was tough but I didnt have the same feeling like day 1 of the Pyrenees. It might be because the climbs are more gentle in the Alps or it might be because I am not easily imitated anymore after the steep climbs in the Pyrenees. But if I learned one big lesson during these now 12 days is to respect every single stage and every single climb. Nothing comes easy. I have to rather over- than underestimate it. I made the mistake during stage 2 climbing up Col d’Izoard as I was so focused on the last of the three climbs that I thought I would be just “passing over” this 1000m elevation climb. I was mentally so exhausted on top of Izoard that I was seriously worried about the last climb – Granon.

I knew I would make it, that was without question. But in what state I would make it that’s what I was worried about. In contrast to one-day races, I want to finish every stage looking semi-forward to the next stage and not with the thought that I want to sell my bike.

Day after day a massive cycling challenge

Day 3 would be the third challenging day in a row. The first three days accumulated to 410km with over 10600m of elevation gain! I am taking each day as it comes as this day that included Col de Lautaret, Col de Sarenne and Alpe d’Huez came differently than expected. It became a bonding- stage with an friend of old times in DC. We chatted for 5 hours straight through. And for those, who know, they know I am not exaggerating. We could have started a radio channel during that time – we covered every topic that was out there. We picked another friend up at the last feed station and talked ourselves up those last bends of Alpe d’Huez and crossed the finish line three-wide. Those are the memories that stay.

When the legs feel surprisingly good.

Although I was so convinced that day 4 – the time trial up Alpe d’Huez would be a recovery day, it was not. My legs felt great. Since this doesnt happen every day, I took it as it is and went hard up Alpe d’Huez. But I wish I felt the same day on day 5. This was definitely the toughest stage of all of them. I woke up with brain fog. That kind of feeling where you cant wake up, feel extremely tired and even 5 coffees didnt wake me up. With this being the queen stage of 182km an 4500m of climbing this was the wrong day to feel like crap. I had to get the energy from somewhere because I, myself, didnt have it that day. While climbing up the first climb, Col de Glandon, Manny and I came across Darrell, a fellow racer from New York City. Long story short we stuck together for the entire day – 9 hours of riding. An anticipated really bad morning became not only bearable but enjoyable.

If I am talented in one thing on the bike is that I can talk for hours. So I told Darrell about my toughest ever race, Trans Iowa, my adventure racing life getting chased by wasps, wading through the swamps of the Everglades, the latest Tour du Mont Blanc story, walking into a striptease in Canada or dealing with 8 flats during a 300km ride. There was enough material for 9 hours. 😉

But by the end of the day, it was the feeling of having the mental and physical support for this stage that made me cross the finish line with a smile. As the video above explains, it is the accumulative fatigue that is taking its toll and day 12 was the “explosion” of everything. I love the experience because although I might feel fatigued, I am living truly to the fullest of the life I want. I am cycling, feeling challenged and surrounded by like-minded people.

I am currently heading to Au, Austria for the Shimano media camp so I am missing the last two days of Haute Route Alps. However, be assured that I am very excited for the third and last 7 day stage race in the Dolomites that goes from Innsbruck to Venice starting on 2nd September.

Until then, we take a quick “Haute Route break” and get excited first for the Shimano camp introducing the new Ultegra groupset followed by the Eurobike.

Have a great day!

Monika