“You know what…”

As we sit at the Britannia Pub shithole in Geneva, sinking a couple of smokey quiet ones, it becomes apparent that a) that went fast!, and b) it’s all such a blur we should take better notes.

So this final blog installment is as much a recollection of events before our demented and glycogen depleted brains forget everything that happened, as it is to write home and tell everyone how much fun we had…

Stage 1: Megève to Megève

104 km, starting from Megève, rolling down in a frosty alpine chill to the stunning gateway of Mont Blanc. The first hill over Le Bettex showed us where we live in the peloton food chain… neither T-Rex, nor ocean krill – maybe somewhere in range of a moderately dangerous marsupial with claws and a bad temper.

Main cols included and the summit finish in Côte 2000. It was at this point we knew we’d probably underestimated the strength of the front third of the 500-strong field. Events would show that most of the back third had overestimated theirs.

Stage 2: Megève to Col d’Loze

With a clearer sense of reality, we both addressed day 2 with caution. The 123km route ended on the daunting La Loze. We were taken unawares by the Loze’s final act of brutality – 23km at 6.6% hid ramps of 20% over the final 4km.

The maths don’t lie… that’s 59 repeats up Withers Way, for those who know what that means.

Stage 3: Courchavel to Alpe d’Huez

Suitably chastened, I’d learned to follow a highly stylish euro-classique rider by the name of Herve. Herve was a rider of panache. Think about that rider we all know with an ill-fitting high-viz jersey from Rebel Sports, crooked helmet, hairy legs, and an ungainly pedal stroke that says “my knees are entities unto themselves, and will go wherever, and whenever they choose in the act of motivating a push bike”. Herve is Michelangelo, to that rider’s Pro Hart.

As all good rip off artists do, I decided to shadow Herve’s every move.

He floated gently up the Col d’Madelaine, the first 25km climb in our gargantuan third stage. His early pace seemed slow, but he knew plenty that we didn’t, accelerating through the climb and disappearing down the other side like a magic act in a puff of cologne and appropriately-lengthened clean white socks.

I was left to ride alone up the Col d’Glandon, the second of the three sisters who, although not unattractive in appearance, had quite the spiteful sting to that tail. With 2km remaining of the 20km berg, one was left wondering how one might escape the mountain given that every possible exit route seemed to be obscured by towering mountain ridges. The answer was to, as Nemo would say, just keep pedalling, up.

After finally escaping the Glandon (probably my one and only mental crunch), we had a fast decent, a neutral feed stop, and a chance to climb the mythical Alpe d’Huez.

As mentioned in a previous post, finishing that stage was only half the battle, and it was best to keep the helmet on and the elbows out in order to get a hotel room, dinner and a massage.

Thanks Jacqui Loveridge for the boost up! 😉

Stage 4: Alpe d’Huez to Col d’Granon

With the Queen stage compete, Adrian and I both felt we had the measure of the remainder of the route. Stage 4 was definitely a “softer” day, starting with a long slow drag up the Lauteret. This berg is long, but not steep, and for once it felt like we were in a proper bike race, where you know, you can hold a wheel, ride at more that 12km/hr, and not be eating handlebars for lunch. The day finished on the nasty climb of Col d’Granon. Ok so yes, it was 12km/hr and handlebar sandwiches.

The highlight of that stage was the brief stop in Briançon. UNESCO listed, spectacular, and sadly, mostly missed by us as we swept through en route to meals and massages and dodgy hotel managers, running dodgy hotels.

Stage 5: Briançon to Col d’Izoard

Stage 4 was a solo time trial up the Col d’Izoard, starting in Briançon. We both thoroughly enjoyed the day, climbing well, finishing atop the famous summit, still adorned with road paint from Le Tour.

Stage 6: Briançon to Pra Loup

Into the business end of the trip, we departed Briançon for the last time. Our main obstacle was the Vars, but the peloton started with real intent to race. It was fast and pushy as Maps sidled up to me, grinning “I’m here”. This was much closer to our familiar domain, and the schadenfreude in us both delighted to see some of the more vocal “lungs on legs” types squirm in this style of racing.

A large group punched hard over a 2km initiation climb, followed by some roads best suiting the rouleur (including Col d’Pallon) to the base of Col d’Vars, 19km @ 8%. Riders filtered into familiar groupings on the main climb. I’d lost sight of my man-crush, Herve, and I felt the loss deeply. I grovelled over the climb, but had my moment of swashbuckle as I went down on the other side faster than a short skirt with too much lipstick.

One final push over the 8km ramp to Pra Loup, and we were home. Finally into a comfortable hotel, and with only one day to go the sudden realisation that our adventure was coming to an end.

The Grand Depart from Briançon.
Maps issued tickets to the Hurt Train on the final climb to Pra Loup.

Stage 7: Pra Loup to Saint Etienne

There is no doubting the mixed emotions we both felt waking for the last day of Haute Route. Tired, but with feelings of emerging strength, we both sensed we were gaining momentum. Missing home, but with an undeniable twinge, of the kind that reassures you that life is being lived as it was intended.

As the week unfolded, the race settled into a familiar and self-seeded rhythm. Climbers can climb, riders can ride, and the both skill sets were needed throughout the week.

Taken in its entirety, the last day was a whopper! Separate stages, totalling nearly 200kms, with one major climb in each.

Stage 7, climbed Cime d’la Bonnette, allegedly the highest mountain road in Europe. This little beast climbed for 24km at 7%, and peaked at 2802m. The altitude was such at the summit that most riders resembled 2-pack-a-day smokers late for the bus.

Utterly stunning views from the summit of Cime de la Bonnette (thanks Kim Retore, and sorry for ripping photos off your Strava, but I couldn’t stop coughing long enough to hold the camera steady up there!)

Race timing stopped at the summit, presumably because the long drop into Saint Etienne de Tinée was potentially quite tricky. But, 24km at minus 8-10% grade, with ribbon-like switchbacks decorating a mountain of astonishing beauty was nirvana.

Stage 8: Saint Etienne de Tinée to Nice

After a brief interlude in Saint Etienne de Tinée, the peloton restarted for the final lunge for Nice. A combination of delightful sunshine, a very pretty village nestled in a valley of the alps, and the general sense of it all being a downhill run from here lulled more than one rider into a false sense of completion.

The reality was probably the most exciting stage of the entire journey!

Dropping further into the valley for the first 35km, the bunch tipped 50-60km/hr for, what felt like forever… I found my main man Herve again for the final major climb up to Saint Martin (16km at 6.2%). Entranced by the hypnotic beauty of his pedal stroke, I was like a moth to a light bulb. The practical element to holding Herve’s wheel was that he was easily the most efficient rider to follow on the subsequent fast, sketchy, and generally insane 30km descent down the back side of the mountain into the steep edges and Mediterranean weather of the final run to Nice.

Weather forecasts of violent thunderstorms materialised, and we raced through sequences of rain, hail, and stifling heat and humidity, seeming to pass through a different weather system every 10km.

Not having time to get off the bike and take too many photos, I’ve shamelessly ripped this one from the daily Haute Route recap. Let’s just say it got pretty wet!

Unperturbed by the weather, the distance, and the inevitable crashes, Maps and I both had our best results for the week, sliding our way upwards in the general standings.

Results were academic, however, and crossing the finish line brought us both immense satisfaction. Job done. We came, we rode, we had a laugh.

Actually, strike that. We had an absolute f@cking blast!

Crossing the finish line in Nice.
Adrian’s parents Kath and Wilf were on had at the finish.
Even after a week of racing, Maps is still flexing his quads for photo ops…

So it’s homeward bound now… back to the real world.

We can’t end this without acknowledging Mel Ward’s astonishing efforts in planning and arranging. Thank you Mel – your effort and organisation is greatly appreciated. The pressure is well and truly on Maps to come good with that Fendi… kidneys or not.

Signing off, Maps and Morgs.

Calling home..

Dear Mum,

So sorry we haven’t called in a while.. I guess you could say we’ve been busy. Frankly in the last couple of days, I haven’t had two spare neurones to bump together.

Racing generally starts between 7am and 8am, which means rising at 5, showering, breakfasting, race numbering, and fastidiously bike readying.

The Alpe d’Huez stage this week, from woe to go, including neutral sections, was just on 7 hours.

Then then real test of human endurance beings…

Cross the line, collect your race bag with post-race food, warm clothes, rehydration drinks, and all the rest of it.

Then ride down from the summit the to race village – which has typically been 8-10km down the slopes from the summit.

Line up for a hot meat – absolutely essential following each stage – the sooner the better.

Book in for a massage.

Line up for the massage.

Get the massage.

Beg for more massage.

Ride to the hotel, sometimes another 6kms away.

Line up to check in.

Check in.

Line up for dinner.

Eat dinner.

…and so it goes. The bike race is only the first part of the day!

But don’t worry, Mum. We are eating lots of food. Anything, everything. Gels, bananas, potatoes on offer at the feed zones, biscuits, jelly beans, dried apricots, sports bars, muesli bars, handlebars… Even the cows on the climb up Glandon looked at me with furtive eyes.

I told you that Maps and I have been a bit on the windy side… But somehow, the maths don’t quite add up. After all the food we’ve put in our mouths, so little of substance has emerged from the, you know, “other end“. Many who know us would say we are full of it – I guess this just proves it.

Anyway, enough of that talk. We rode from Alpe d’Huez to Briançon yesterday, and finished on a big hill. And today, we started from Briançon and finished on another big hill. It was very Iozard. Adrian lay on the road, for some reason. Maybe he was tired? Or maybe he doesn’t like our hotel.

The hotel is ok, depending on your viewpoint.

The viewpoint from our hotel is really nice.

It’s best if we look from our hotel, and not at our hotel.

We’ll be home soon. We are having a great time playing make believe professional cyclists. We only have two more days to go, which is lucky because we are nearly out of clean underpants (we forgot to pack a soigneur – ooops, next time).

Love, Stuart and Adrian.

Time to feed the arsehole!

The cycling community in Melbourne is adorned by a little known, but much loved old school cycling hard man.

We’re mates in this picture… no really we are!

Drafted in an era of cycling where bikes were made of steel, and so were the riders, “Geoff” (his real name) made his chops racing in Belgium during the ‘60s and ‘70s. A wharfy, and lover of Fords, Geoff was a hard man, in a hard sport, racing in an era of hardness where eating glass for breakfast was regarded as only barely hard enough.

Geoff is the owner of many original, and a number of blatantly stolen, but nonetheless highly valid truisms of the sport of cycling, and those within it. Maps and I call these, Geoffisms.

My favourite, and most instructive Geoffisms:

  • Don’t buy your groupset from a fishing shop,
  • Most riders who race overseas could park their bike at the airport and have the same results.
  • Good riders have a bit of see you next Tuesday (if you catch his drift…)

It is this last piece of advice that Adrian and I cherish most, and inspired by Geoffy’s wisdom we set out to unmake some friends on Stage 1 of the Haute Route!

This blog is not a blow by blow account of our collective swashbuckling cycling exploits. So here is the short synopsis of events.

The stage featured 4 decent climbs, 97km, and 2600m+ of climbing, finishing on Cote 2000.

Adrian rode a great race, climbing hard but saving juice for the bigger days to come. I climbed ok, enjoyed the descents, and finished in good shape as well. We are both well placed in our categories, but far enough behind that, well, we ain’t gonna win…

But, the first stage of a multi-day race is about positioning, observing who’s who, who’s at your level, and how the races are likely to unfold.

So, what did we learn today?

Riding up hills turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Who knew?

Maps farts a fair bit on the carbs,

Some of these guys can really climb.

There appears to be a correlation between Britishness, and the capacity to completely phark up hair pin corners, by seemingly taking every possible line except a good one. (Maps is a a rare and welcome outlier).

Did I mention Maps farts a lot? I mean A LOT! In fairness, and in the interest of full disclosure, together we would give the Grimethorpe bass section a fair crack….

Hot, but maybe not in a good way..

Thankfully we both managed to avoid any mishaps. The trip nearly ended a week early yesterday however, when during the Haute Route Ambassador’s ride, a nearby rider was heard to utter “He has very beautiful legs”. Assuming that the comment was in reference to his own, bronsly-oranged pins, Maps declared that it was mission accomplished, race done, he’s heading home.

”I got what I came here for – the international recognition of my legs!”

Adrian “Maps” Ward, 2019.

Legs like this don’t happen by themselves.

Best we stay hydrated 😉

It’s like herding Maps…

With just two days until the Haute Route kicks off, the objectives for the day were simple…



Don’t crash.

Contain the uncontainable, curbing the enthusiasm of Maps, such that he doesn’t leave his best race on the training track.

“Are my legs in the picture?”

Yes Maps, you may discontinue the flex.

Striking out towards Saint Gervais, then Passy, we hit one of the main climbs for Stage 1, the Plateau d’Assay – 6km at 7.7% (or roughly 12% if you listen to Adrian), and finally Plaine Joux at 1750m.

The Mont Blanc in the background from Plaine Joux.

Muffin accomplished.

In other news, Haute Route has announced that a new jersey competition will be held at this year’s event. The Orange Jersey will be awarded to the rider who most exemplifies the spirit of Haute Route: tan lines, big pipes, and the ability to flex one’s quadriceps at all times. Performance enhancing cosmetics will be prohibited… sorry Maps.

If only you could bottle a day like today!

How do you describe looking up, to clouds high in the sky, and then seeing mountain peaks looming magestically above them, seemingly suspended from another world.?

I don’t have sufficient command of the written word to come up with anything more profound that “Holy Phark! Just LOOK at that!”.

It has become apparent that we must record for all time, the actions and utterances of my travel companion, Adrian “Maps” Ward..

Today, our first full day in Megève, began with a lazy morning coffee and croissant, a catchup with our new mate from Dubai, Ahmed, and a roll out for a casual 3-4 hours floating in awe and wonder around the local roads.

Soon after rolling out came the revelation that Maps had washed his hair with dishwashing detergent, and was planning to go shopping later for shampoo in order to wash his dirty cycling kit.

Ahmed’s Trek Madone is adorned by more electronic gadgetry than Houston mission control. Engrossed in his numbers, Ahmed soon had a problem. More to the point the Italian rider who was reentering the atmosphere from a local peak had a problem, as Ahmed drifted aimlessly into his path. No lives were lost, but we did learn some new Italian words!

Given Map’s tenuous command of the practical use of kitchen liquids, I did the cooking. Maps did the sleeping. Mel, I feel your pain.

(Note the discrete product placement, Russ Lee…). *Commercial fees apply.

Later, a spot of shopping around the uber-expensive town centre in Megève. Mel, rest assured that Adrian is on the hunt for your Fendi. I’m assuming that Fendi is a flavour of ice cream, or else at these prices we may need more kidneys.

Travels, tribulations, and the global search of good muffin.

Aaaand we’re off!

Maps and I have made our way as far as Geneva, currently, at the time of writing en route by bus to Megève.

Adrian’s strict weight loss program now includes the contents of his wallet… stung 5 big ones for 10 small kilos (and not the boogie board kind). Thanks Etihad… your stadium was shit-house for football, and your customer service ranks just below the Boronia thirds.

Alas, his enthusiasm for the adventure at hand is undiminished, and we set our sights on the most immediate task… where to find a bit of muffin in this town.

Turns out that the airport cafe was not that place.

And while Maps watched his abs, and I watched Maps watching his abs, we weren’t watching for the connecting bus from Sallanches 😱

The odyssey continues…

Sure, sounds like fun!

A conversation over a coffee was all it took to kick this baby off the ground.

Time travels, and it’s nearly a year now since my buddy Adrian, and me, Stuart, agreed to tackle the 2019 edition of the Haute Route Alps. For Adrian, known from this moment as “Maps”, this race is a celebration of his 50th anniversary of being alive.

As for me, (known from this point as easily led astray), I took a minimal amount of convincing that 900km in 7 days, with 20,000m of climbing seemed like an eminently sensible thing for middle aged men to try.

So in a combination of coffee, muffins, bravado and complete ignorance, we agreed to enter the race, and so it began….

What is Haute Route?

Well, it’s a Sportif cycling event, a race for those who want to race, but a journey for everyone.

The race features a number of hors catégorie climbs, including famed Tour de France climbs Alpe d’Huez, Col du Madeleine, and Col d’Iozard.

The competition ranges from uber-fit former pros, to complete novices who probably don’t know what emergency life preservation measures await them.

Stay tuned…