In this informative interview with Mike Young, we discuss the courses, format, preparation and how to manage your riding in a Haute Route event. He has ridden several of the Haute Route events over the last few years.

Video Transcript

David: There he is. Fantastic.

Mike: Sorry. I tried the phone, the iPad, and then this. Okay, cool.

David: Cool. Looking fantastic. All right.

So, what I thought I’d do is we’d record this Skype call and then I can just convert it into a video and have it available for people on our membership site.

Mike: Okay.

David: So just before we get started into it, I noticed that the Haute Route has just created a stack load of events, they’ve got Pyrenees, Alpes, Utah, Dolomites, Ventoux, Oman

Mike: Yeah so what-

David: San Francisco. Yeah

Mike: To give you a bit of a history, just for you right now, so they started with a seven day event in the Alps. So they went, it was the one that went from Geneva to Nice. And the following year they put in the Pyrenees, that was the year I did it, and I think 2014 was the first year I did it, and then the following year they added the Dolomites.

So for that third year, they had three seven day events. And then what they started doing was adding three day events on some of the really classic climbs, like Alpe d’Huez, was the first three day even they did, and then they started branching out and they did a seven day event over in the States.

David: Okay, yep.

Mike: And I think what they found was, because of the cost, and basically how hard it is, the three day events became very popular. So they then took the Dolomites away from a seven day event, made it a tree day event, just in the Dolomites, because it used to be Geneva to Venice, and the other problem they had was accommodation. And so the three day events had become very popular, but I think the seven day events are still the … I guess the queen Events if you like-

David: The iconic events, yeah.

Mike: The iconic events, yeah. So the three day events are now the Pyrenees, the French Alps, and the Rockies.

David: Yeah I’ve just seen that, they’ve actually got a little bit more organised on their website now, because I remember going back onto a few, maybe it would have been a couple months ago, and it was like all a bit confusing. So I noticed that they’ve got three day events as a separate page. They’ve got all events, three day events and then the seven day events, but really the Queen Events are the … well they’ve got the Pyrenees and the Alps, and for seven day events they’ve got Pyrenees, Alps, and the Rockies. And you’ve done the-

Mike: Pyrenees, the Alps and the Dolomites.

David: Dolomites. But the Dolomites have converted into a three day event? Is that right?

Mike: Yeah. Which is good actually because there were a lot of long valley traverses in Switzerland. Then the other thing is, it’s a Cyclo Sportif, so it’s timed, the down-hills aren’t timed which really gives me the shits, but the Swiss wouldn’t allow them to time the flat events, so I think Switzerland was just logistically problematic for them, and so … and Geneva as well, so they’ve pulled out of Geneva, starts this year in Megeve, the other that’s really good, is you tend to spend two days now in a lot of the event villages. It used to be just one day in each village and it was a bit of a logistical pain, but they now they’re doing loops and you actually spend two days in a couple of villages, so it’s really a lot better.

David: Right, fantastic, awesome. Alright so let’s run through the, you know, your sort of history of the rides, and your sort of story around your Haute Route journey, going back to, you know, when you first started and you know the format and how it’s changed.

Mike: Yep. Well, I go beyond, before the Haute Route, so I started road riding in 2011, I was a Mountain Bike rider until that point, and a friend of mine said, “We should go do this three peaks challenge in Victoria,” so we did that in … I actually did in 2011, and I’d only been riding a road bike for about six months and it was beyond anything I’d ever done before in my life. I think I finished in 13 hours with my wife crying on the finish line. Because she thought I was lost, you know, the sun was setting, it was raining.

But I ended up doing a few more of those, and the guy who invited me to do that with from Perth, he decided we should have a crack at this Haute Route. So I thought, well I can do the three peaks, I can do the Haute Route. So end up doing the Pyrenees in 2013, it was actually, and then it was really difficult, and I had a coacher named Peter Trench who helped me and we put a bit of a plan together. Wasn’t as sophisticated as what we’re doing now with the power metres and everything, but it … I needed a plan. That one was difficult … one day we did Peyresourde, Azet, Aspin and Tourmalet in one day. So in 98 kilometres, we climbed 4,000 metres.

David: It sounds like here in Mansfield you know.

Mike: And then you know, I finished that, so I was pretty happy with it, and I thought I gotta get more regimented about cycling and training and stuff. The following year we did the Alps, so that was the one from Geneva to Nice, so I was a bit more prepared for that, but I was still struggling with eating on the bike over the long period that they days were.

And then I took a year off, and then in 2016 we did the ride that went from Geneva to Venice, and I really nailed that one. That was the one where I brought you on as a coach, now day one, didn’t listen to the coach, and we know what happened, I phoned you and we modified our plan. But, when I did listen to my coach, I had a blinder. So the first was devastating because I went too hard too early, but the second day went really well.

What’s interesting about the Haute Route is, you get about 300 people give or take, on each of the rides, the first 100 people are professional athletes. So these are guys that are, they’re, not tour riders, but guys who are in development squads, there’ll be people who are athletes, triathletes, some professional rugby players, Emma Pooley, people like that are in that sort of 100 group. And they’re off first, and they’re racing, right.

The next 100 are people who are sort of professional athletes, but they have to work to support their habit. And then I call the third, one third, is the numpties like me who are professional in another part of life that love riding, right, but still like doing things like three peaks and the Audax and things like that. And my goal was to finish in, at least the top of that last hundred and into the second hundred. And leaving aside the first day, I did really well. In fact, I finished right in the middle on day seven. And that was about, that was the one that taught me the plan that you needed to have to do a Haute Route. So it had taken me three of them to actually get everything together; training, feeding, and the discipline you need for recovery.

So that’s the one we can really draw on for this discussion.

David: Yeah, well let’s get into it, let’s talk about that then. Yep.

Mike: So when I was thinking about it, when you and I talked about doing this, I was thinking about the thread needed to be, what the common thread needed to be for this discussion, and it ended up being discipline. So, a lot of people, you know, hearing this, will be people you’re training. They’ll have a training programme, they’ll be disciplined about their training, they’ll be disciplined about their diet, I hope. But on the day, this is like three back to back three peaks. The day of a three peaks [now the Peaks Challeneg Falls Creek] is harder than any single day on the Haute Route. It’s a longer day, and you’re doing a lot of climbing. But, on the Haute Route, you’re doing seven days, you do get a rest day which is a time trial, but it’s a time trial up [inaudible], you know or Tourmalet or something like that, so you know … a rest day.

The thing that I find that breaks down is your discipline. So on a given day, you’re getting up early and having breakfast, you got to make sure that you eat, and you know, that sounds like given, but you might’ve had a bad night’s rest, or you might be nervous, so you might not eat properly.

On the bike, you’re on the bike for long days, and there are fuelling stops during the day, and they have got a lot better with it. There’ll be Coke, there’ll be oranges, there’ll be bananas, there’ll be power bars. But what I tended to do, was, I had the food that I eat, which are Cliff bars and Cliff blocks, and I know they work. And then I’ll have a couple of oatmeal cookies for later in the day as a treat. But, I have a very disciplined way now of stopping at each of those stops. So I stop for five minutes, I have a Coke, a water, an orange, banana, and then I get on again and go.

And the temptation is that you stop and have a chat with people, and you know, you have a look at the sights, you take pictures, but I’ve found, if you stay more than five minutes you get into that problem where you’ve got to get your legs going again. I just found, stopping quickly, doing the food, doing a routine, you know was really good.

The other discipline on the bike as we talked about was, having that plan on, if you’re using a power meter or your heart rate, sticking to the coaches instructions. Particularly the first few days, it will seem very easy, so in my case, you had asked me to stay on 180 watts. On day one a group went past so I got on to the end of them, I was doing 240 watts, which was … I blew myself up and the last two hours was just very difficult.

So it’s about the discipline on the day, but also discipline on eating, because as you get down to five/ six hours, you know, your stomach’s not feeling good, you’re feeling pretty bad. But, it’s really being disciplined about eating, and I think when people are training, then they really need to train themselves … they need to go one those long back to back rides to find out what still works for them in energy, after five or six hours on the bike. And some people won’t have experienced that and as you know, hitting a wall is just the worst thing. So, it’s really important you keep the fuel going and find out what works, and yeah you say time and time again, don’t try something new on the day of an event. And there’s nothing truer than for this, right, you really have to stick with what you know and … and that’s, I’ve got a routine about when I have my Cliff blocks, top of the hour, bottom of the hour, and I do it religiously and everything works.

So you know, I’ve got that down pat. You come in from the ride, and then you’ll come into an event village, and there’ll be massages, shower massage. It’s only a 20 minute massage, but it makes an enormous difference. There’ll be food there, so there’ll be local volunteers doing you know, pasta, rice, lots of carbs. So, and also having a recovery drink, so what I do, I just use the milk that comes in the UHT packages and Sustagen. Everybody will have their own recovery drink, and again, it’s the one that works for you. And it’s really important I think, that you do that first.

So you’ve come in, park your bike, you know everyone says you’ve got an hour to replenish your carbs, but really there’s that 20 minute window where those enzymes are just going, I’m just going to put these straight into glycogen, straight into muscles. And so that’s a really good routine, and again you’ve got to have one that you can stomach after being the bike for six hours. And what works for me is Sustagen, what works for you might be something else. But whatever works, do it. And it’s really important, and again it comes to disciple, because you’re gonna be absolutely fatigued. Some guys are in tears when they cross the line, and girls. And so you’re gonna be tempted to just lie down and do nothing, but I think it’s really important to get that disciple going and if you stretch when you get off the bike, you’ve got to be disciplined about doing it.

And what’s gonna happen is, you’re gonna be so physically and emotionally spent, that the discipline will break down. And I think you know, these big long rides, they really are mental. They really are. And I think you’ve got to just have that discipline to do the same thing every night, you know about the recovery. And then you’ll have your shower, you’ll have your massage, you’ll be back to your accommodation, you might … your bike might not need some work, there’s some really good support on the bikes, so Mavic will have vans there, there’s a bike shop that will have vans there, they’ll fix your bike. I was having problems with my derailleur and they fixed it last year.

There’s support on the roads, so Mavic will have a couple of cars on the road that’ll actually, there’ll have spare tyres, spare bikes, just like a tour. You know you’ve got to be pretty well self-supported and have a chain breaker and all that’s tuff, but if you are, if thing do really go pear shaped, then Mavic will be there. So, you tinker with your bike, you go back, if you can get a rest in, you get a rest in, you know even 10 minutes just lying on the bed. Then you’ll go have dinner somewhere with, say you’re riding with people, you’ll go have dinner somewhere. You know obviously you’re going to have a high carb, protein dinner. And then get to bed, get up and do it all again. So that’s a regular day. So, again it’s just about discipline and doing the same thing day in, day out for seven days.

David: Yeah, fantastic. And you’ve never ridden them back to back? You’ve never done the three events back to back, have you?

Mike: No, that’s called the Iron Riders. Mainly just, you know I work full time, I would’ve like to have done it. I would like to try two, I think I could’ve done two, three is hard work! You know, three weeks, and you’re basically doing three mountain weeks of a tour. You’re actually doing more. If you do three of them back to back, you would be doing a tour and then some. But I don’t think you can do three back to back anymore, because they’ve moved the seven day even to the Rockies.

David: Yeah, they have.

Mike: Yeah, so I think the logistics were just getting tough. But I’ll tell you, the one seven day is an achievement, it really is.

David: Yeah, I know. I’ve certainly coached quite a few people for it. They all come back saying that it’s an epic event, so, ah fantastic. So tell me a little bit about logistics about getting there, registering, qualification, and what sort of process is involved to actually, before you even start even training for the event, what sort of preparation do you need to do? And travel arrangements and those sort of things?

Mike: Yep, so you need a … when you register in the event, you have to get a medical. So your doctor has to say you’re fit to do the event. There isn’t any sort of official, or what do I call, rigorous, like what rides you’ve done beforehand. But there is a, in the application, it does say what rides have you done? So you know obviously I’ve done the three peaks and all that stuff. Registration process is very good, you know you pick accomo- there’s different levels of accommodation that you can do. We just picked ones that are, you know, honestly what they do with accommodation, it’s actually quite clever. Every accommodation in a village will have a rating, and it’ll be from five star to one star. You will, everybody will have the same rating by the end of the week, so sometimes you’ll stay in five star and sometimes you’ll stay in a one star, sometimes you’re close to the village, sometimes you actually have to be transported to the village.

Now there is an option where you pay a little bit more money and get better accommodation. It costs a bit, but to me, I think it’s worth it. But the accommodation is fine, we’ve had, you know we’ve stayed great places at the top of Alpe d’Huez, and then we’ve stayed in these sort of places 10 kilometres away from the race village, where all we had in the morning was breadsticks for breakfast. So, you know, there’s different accommodation. When you get there, you want to get there a couple of days at least before the event to get over jet lag, to make sure your bike is working, if you’ve got a problem during transport, then you want to get it fixed.

And then on the day of registration, there’s a process, you know you’re carolled through a queue, they check your bike, they check your helmet. There’s minimum requirements that you need, you then get your race pack, your racebook, if you’ve ordered shirts and shorts, you get all those. It really works really well, it’s very efficient. What they’ll do, I think with the Pyrenees, because we started in Pau and we finished in Pau, what they’ll do, is they’ll actually give you luggage so they have standardised their luggage. And the reason they’ve done that, is so that they know exactly how many bags fit in their trucks. So if everybody has different luggage, it’s too difficult. So they give you a bag, it’s a 90 litre wheeled duffel bag. It’s actually, it’s enormous right, you can fit a Samsonite suitcase inside it, and your bike bag and bike box, depending on the event, so the Alps will be shipped from Megeve to Nice. So when you get to Nice, everything will be waiting for you in your hotel.

Your bike bag … you’ll get a daypack. So the day pack you bring with you on the day, so when you’re moving hotels, you pack everything up, you’ll go down to the lobby, tomorrow’s hotel will be printed on your bag. There’ll be a sign that says this hotel, put your bag here, so you leave your bag in the lobby, and then it gets moved to your next hotel. Your day bag you bring with you to the start line, it’ll then be taken to the finish line. So when you get to the finish line, your day, not your overnight bag, but your day bag will be there. So you’ll have, you might have your compression pants, you might have a pair of flip flops, thongs, jandles, whatever you call them. And you’ll have your energy drink, you might have some food. Whatever you want to have at the end of the day, at the finish line. So that’s great as well.

And your luggage will be moved, sometimes it will be in your room, sometimes it won’t. Bicycle storage has a chequered history, sometimes you can keep the bike in your room, which I prefer, sometimes they prefer that you don’t take the bikes in the rooms. They might be stored in say a ski lockup room. There have been thefts, so, do bring an extra lock, that’s really personal. You can, because you’ve got the luggage that you can bring it, so I’d suggest bringing it. Because if sometimes goes in and they’re stealing bikes, and it’s locked then they’ll go to the next one. But I think they’ve beefed-up security, but certainly the year we did it in the Alps, eight bicycles got flogged. Yeah so that’s something to think about, maybe take your front tyre up or something like that, but it’s a very small risk, but it’s a risk nonetheless.

and then, what else?

David: Equipment and clothing. What sort of weather are you gonna experience? You know, what sort of equipment?

Mike: Yeah, so on on the Alps ride, we were in Courchevel and it was raining and it was six degrees, and on the top of Madeleine it was about two degrees, windy, and I got pulled off the course. I actually had to finish that day early because I had hypothermia. So you can get conditions from two degrees and horizontal rain, to 30 degrees and sunny, and you know, for example when we climbed Stelvio, in the valley it was really quite warm, but by the time you got to the top of Stelvio you wanted arm warmers and a gilet on.

So, I would spend the money on getting high quality cycling specific wet weather gear. So I opt on that, that’s another I’ve learned over three years. I’ve tried to go with, you know I’ve got jackets that are multiuse, and fleeces, but they didn’t work and so, you know, you’ve got to carry it all yourself. Now Haute Route does has a service that you can pay extra for, where you can have a second bag like a bag that you carry …

David: Valet bag

Mike: Valet bag, exactly. And it would be somewhere along the route, so if you know the weather’s gonna change or you know the weather’s gonna be crappy, you can actually change your wet weather gear. So that’s, look, I’ve ridden with guys who do the entire day wearing nothing but you know, their jersey and their shorts and one water bottle, they’re just machines. They’re superhuman cyborgs. You know, and then there’s other people who just need lots of food, lots of water and want a change of clothes. So it depends on what kind of rider you are, but that option is available. I’ll probably end up doing it this year as well.

David: Yeah alright. And equipment, you know, bikes, gearing, tyres-

Mike: Ah gearing, yeah, gearing is a good one. So I remember doing the first three peaks, and I just didn’t have, I wasn’t compact enough, and I remember seeing Michael Rogers climb Zoncolan, and I actually did a closeup of his rear cassette, his rear derailleur, and it was an Ultegra, and he had a 32 on it. And I thought, if he can do it, I can do it, right? Okay he was going up Zoncolan, but, so I do ride compact with 32 chainrings, so I’ve got Ultegra DI now, so I can run that with a long cage. So I strongly suggest having that, because you might be a machine, you know, your FTP might be over 300, but you’re not gonna hold 300 for eight hours, right? And you’re gonna be doing climbs at the end of the day that are gonna be hard, you’re gonna wish you had another gear. You’re going to do what we call grab a granny, and she ain’t gonna be there right?

So it’s just better to have that extra cadence, they don’t time the downhills, and when you’re on … I’ll come to another interesting point, so they don’t time the downhills, so you’re not gonna run out of gears, right. The downhills are not timed for safety, so they just don’t want people, you know, doing a Richie Porte, right, I mean despite that is till like going fast, but. The other things that’s interesting is that as the days wear on, you’ll find yourself around the same group of 20 or 30 people, because you’re all the same calibre rider.

And you’ll start to form pelotons on the flats when you’re in the valleys and the false flats and you’ll end up doing chain gangs and it’s a mixed blessing, because you’re in with a bunch of guys that you’re sheltering yourself and taking a pull on the front. But you don’t know how they ride, now must people ride pretty well, but you do see the odd accident, so just be aware of that. But you will form sort of friendships of people that you haven’t met before, that you’re riding with every day. So that’s quite good, and if you can get into a group, it’s obviously worth doing, you don’t want to be you know punching out all those k’s by yourself on the flat section or a false flat. So that’s really interesting, and I’ve found that strategically, you do want to make sure that you … you don’t want to burn yourself out, and if you’re in a group of guys who are too fast, then you really need to drop off and wait for the next group.

But I’ve found that, certainly in the ride we did from Geneva to Venice, that every day we were in the same group of guys, worked together really well. You fall apart on the climbs obviously because everybody’s got a different climbing capacity.

David: Yeah, standard, fantastic. And tyre choice? Just go with racing tyres, or you-

Mike: No I’ve done … so I had a bike, first year I did it, my lovely wife bought me a lovely Specialised Venge, it had 23’s on it. And then that was just too hard. So I’ll ride around 28 to 25’s. The 28’s are hard to get past the break locks, but the only time you take the bike off and on, there’s no air in the tyre. So I’ll probably ride around 25’s or 28’s about 90 psi. We know now that, that tyre pressure and tyre width isn’t as big a deal as we used to think, but you want to be comfortable.

I still run a pretty aggressive geometry, that’s just the way I ride. So, you know, you gotta think about that, but I think if your body’s used to a particular geometry, you’re probably want to stick with it. I would think when you’re training, one thing I did do, and I’m really glad I did, was I did a lot of training, long rides on the drops. And the reason I did that is just because when you do get isolated, you really want to be aero. You want to really maintain an aero tuck if you’re riding by yourself. On the uphills I used to have a really good habit, what I would do is I would do 10 breaths on the drops, 10 on the tops, 10 on the hoods and then I’d basically stand for 10, just to stretch your legs out. Have a drink a drink and do it all again.

And that just made … I mean you’re on some of these hills for an hour. So just kind of made … it sort of broke it down, and that’s the best way to climb a hill. Certainly I think you don’t wanna muck around with your geometry too close to the even, you wanna get your geometry right. I would be doing a lot of core work right now, right now and leading up to the event, yoga, just make sure you’ve got really good flexibility, particularly in your hammies.

Your core is going to do a lot of work, your back will get really sore, if you’ve got a weak core, it should help, so if you do core work, step it up, if you don’t do core work, do it. And then of course in your back pocket you want to have some anti-inflammatory and some Panadol, just because you know … the third ride, by the time I did the third ride, because I’d found this fantastic book called yoga for cyclists, and I started doing some of the yoga stuff that’s in it, and I’ve got a routine that I do now, and on the ride from Geneva  to Venice I didn’t use any anti-inflammatory and any painkillers.

David: Fantastic, yep.

Mike: So just that, and it’s really, it really is static stretching rather than spiritual yoga, so it’s all really aimed, it’s really aimed at cyclists. My wife joked, “That if there was a book called kale for cyclists I’d eat kale,” but I said, “That’s true, but you’re not gonna find one.”

David: Fantastic, awesome. Ah mate, I think you’ve covered most of the stuff, is there anything else that you want to add to anybody doing the event?

Mike: I remember a couple of years in a row, I rode with a guy who was a journalist, he wrote for a bicycling magazine in Great Britain, and in one of his articles, he just covered the tour, and then he did the Haute Route, and he said it was like jumping over the fence, and it really is, it has a real tour atmosphere to it. So, there’s a start gate, there’s over 100 support staff out on the road, so there’s medicos there’s marshals. The roads are marshalled, which is a really good part of it, so you’re not stopping for yield signs, stop signs, give way signs, they actually have marshals stopping the traffic. If you do get on major roads, there is a police escort, so it’s very professional … the roads aren’t closed, but they are marshalled, and so it’s as close to a tour feel that you can get.

When you do the time trial, you leaving a ramp, there’s a guy counting down, you know it really is like being on a tour. You finish at a finish line, you know the guys who are going out the front, there’s people cheering, by the time I’d got there, they’d all gone home, you know the pigeons were in the square, but, it really does have a great atmosphere. I mean I keep going back for more, because I love it. So I’m doing the Pyrenees, the will be my fourth one.

You’re very safe on the event, so like the first time you do it, you’re unsure about what goes on, but every day, you know, everything just happens, it’s really well organised, they have a … it’s really important to go, this is something a lot of people skip, but every evening they’ll have a … I forgot about this in the early part, but every evening they have a day’s wrap up with a bit of video, and then they’ll talk about tomorrow’s day. What the hazards are gonna be, the big climbs. So that part of its really good. But out on the road, you’re never alone, there’s always guys motorcycles, Mavic, the cars, guys filming, you know? And in the event village of which there’s lots of places you can buy extra food and clothing and things like that, so it’s just a moving rolling carnival.

David: Wow, fantastic, Mike it has been absolutely awesome and very insightful, you know the day in the life of a Haute Route rider, so it’s been fantastic. So I really appreciate you taking the time out, I know you’re a very busy person, talking-

Mike: Oh no, because as you know, I broke my collarbone, so I’m only working-

David: Of course! I know, I know, so anyway, that’s you know, the way things happen. But that’s been fantastic, alright well what I’ll do is, I’ll hang up this call and then I’ll reconnect with you, and then we’ll talk a little bit about how you’re going with training and then we’ll finish up tonight if that’s okay? Fantastic.

Mike: Alright let me just show you something.

David: Yep.

Mike: That’s my collarbone.

David: Ah boy! Mate … and they didn’t want to plate it?

Mike: No. No they didn’t, so that’ll grow a big knot of calcium and then what’ll happen is, the old bone will disappear and the new bone will grow where the old bone was.

David: Right.

Mike: Isn’t that amazing? Yeah okay, have you got my training peak stuff up?

David: I can bring it up, takes me like three seconds.

Mike: Alright cool.

David: I’ll hang up this call, and then I’ll call you back.

Mike: Alright mate, thanks no worries.

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