Seven days, 520 miles, 52,000 feet of climbing. I know what you're thinking, “That Tour de France is really hard”. Yeah, it is, but this is Haute Route Rockies I'm talking about, not the Tour.
Held during the last week of June, the inaugural Haute Route Rockies became the first of its kind in the U.S. after taking the same format that's been used in the European events based in the Pyrenees, Alps, and Dolomites. Each of the seven stages has multiple timed segments and offers nothing short of a professional stage race experience in terms of mileage and stage difficulty, yet it's open to any riders who want the ultimate cycling challenge.
Adding difficulty to the already monstrous amount of miles and climbing at the Haute Route Rockies was Colorado’s high altitude, which kept us over the 8,000-foot level for most stages and included a trip over Independence Pass at 12,095 feet.
So what type of riders made up the more than 400 strong group that signed up for the inaugural event? Everyone from retired professional racers with Grand Tour experience down to those not entirely sure they could even make it through such an event.
As you can imagine, training and preparation are key to enjoying and getting through a multi-day event such as Haute Route, but once there, the day-to-day recovery techniques and strategies are just as important. With more riders finding the appeal to something like the Haute Route experience, and additional events coming to the U.S. next year, we wanted to share five important keys that allowed us to stay consistent and strong throughout the 30 hours we spent on the saddle over the seven days.
1- Monitor your effort. If you're new to multi-day events then going into the first day with a game plan of ‘riding into it’ rather than ‘leaving it all on the road’ and putting yourself in a hole early on would be highly advised. During Haute Route Rockies we saw a lot of riders digging deep on the very first stage as if they were in a one-day event. By the time the second half of the week rolled around many of these riders were simply limping along rather than finishing strong.
2- Hydration, hydration, hydration. Unlike when you bonk (that lightheaded feeling you get from lack of liver glycogen) and some quick calories can have you back in the game, it’s not so easy to bounce back from dehydration. Many riders that do one or two big rides back to back don't realize it when their hydration is off, but when stacking a number of challenging days together there's less room for error. Because Haute Route Rockies was at altitude, the dry air also worked against riders. Making sure that a 20oz bottle of electrolyte/carbohydrate drink was consumed every 45-60 minutes when riding, and always having a water bottle to sip on post-stage kept us well hydrated for the week.
3- Fuel your ride. After hydration, this is the next most important aspect of maintaining your strength until the end of the stage, and equally as important, being ready for the next day. As a rule of thumb, cycling coach and Topical Edge ambassador Janel Holcomb says, “What you eat for breakfast and on the bike should equal your caloric expenditure for the ride.” Sounds easy, but considering riders will burn 3,000 calories on the low end and upwards of 5,000 calories on a stage such as day six that covered 106 miles and climbed 11,000 feet, consuming 300 calories per hour of riding is imperative.
4- Topical Edge. When you think about what it takes to stay competitive in an event as demanding as Haute Route, it's hard to ignore the substantial benefits Topical Edge can provide. The sodium bicarbonate topical lotion played an important role in our pre-event ritual with liberal applications, and then again post-stage. Benefits of Topical Edge at an event such as Haute Route Rockies include:
- Lactic acid buffering that could subsequently allow you to stay with a group of riders over a climb that might not have normally been possible. Staying with the stronger riders allows you to benefit from them on the descent and flat terrain rather than riding solo or in a less cohesive group.
- Clinical trials have shown a decrease in heart rate and rate of perceived exertion. A decrease in heart rate while still performing the same workload is an enormous benefit.
- A reduction in DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is another benefit of using Topical Edge. For stages later in the week when muscle soreness would have been a major factor to deal with, that was not the case at all. Without a doubt, there were tired legs, but eliminating soreness was a game changer.
5- Begin recovery immediately. Post-ride recovery should start as soon as you step off the bike, and that includes a recovery drink that offers a balance of protein to rebuild broken down muscles and carbohydrates since your muscles will uptake glycogen at a faster rate immediately after exercise. Then, it’s over to the massage tables. Fortunately for us at Haute Route, a daily 15-minute massage is included, which is the case for many other similar multi-day events. Massage will help dilate blood vessels and promote circulation for increased recovery. If a professional massage isn’t an option, then self-massage or using a foam roller can also achieve similar results in flushing out the muscles.Photos: Manu Molle/OC Sport