Russ did amazing at the Haute Route Alps this year. Click read more to see how he got on Stages 3,
5, 6 and 7 of Haute Route Alps….

They said it was gonna rain…and boy did it. Today was the Ê»Marathonʼ stage in so much as it was billed as the toughest. 3 Ê»mythicalʼ Cols to traverse. First up the Col de La Madeleine. The rain by this point has most definitely started. Enough to already be soaked to the skin. The climb is beautiful, gentle on the legs with no serious gradient. The descent was horrific. Windy and wet, technical and long, by the time I reached the valley my legs didnʼt know what to do with themselves. My core temp droppping rapidly I was keen to get climbing again to warm up.
The Glandon had come with many a warning, the final 2K being pretty strict but if it meant being warm then I was happy to climb. 18Km of sheltered tarmac gave way to 3Km of steep, windy, rough exposed terrain. I gotta say I loved it. When the going gets tough and all that. The top, however, was potentially the most miserable place Iʼve ever been. I didnʼt hang around. Another hyperthermia inducing descent later and I was onto the last climb of the day. Hallelujah. By this point 52 riders had packed it in for the day. Only the hardy and foolhardy would cross the finishing line today. Feeling fresh(ish) and ready to warm up again the incentive to summit Alpe dʼHuez and get showered and fed was strong enough to get me up in decent time. One of the best days Iʼve had on a bike. Yes it was miserable at times, cold, uncomfortable and difficult but a day which I will not forget. Not for a long time.

The sun is out. Iʼm off at 11:16:20. Riders leave at 20sec intervals based on GC position. The plan is to ride my own ride. Under the hour if posible. Go with nobody and if you get caught, cʼest la vie. The first 2K are the steepest. By hairpin 17 Iʼm into the swing of it. The rhythm is there, my legs feel great, I can up the pace. I know from doing 1hr threshold efforts around the park how deep into my reserves I can go but Iʼm riding conservatively until the final 3K. By this point nobody has caught me and Iʼve passed around 20 riders. I know the final run in from yesterday, itʼs quick and the big ring can be employed. Sprint finish for the last 500m and I cross the line in 59:39. 71/441. Great fun and the early finish means a lazy afternoon in the sun watching the Mavic mechanics return riders whips into serviceable order.

In Alpe dʼHuez I was fortunate to share a room with 3 chaps from London, who were riding the HR as a team. After an evening of hotel room chat I knew I had found what Iʼd been lacking thus far, a team. You canʼt ride hard all day on your own here and hope to compete on stages or even place in the top 100. So with that in mind I knew todays ʻMedium Mountainʼ stage was prime to have a go at, with nothing too serious to climb and 60Km of rolling flat at the end, if I could keep a small group of good riders together we could have a good day. I caught the boys on the Col dʼOrnon and we rode hard together over the short steep Col de Parquetout (a 7Km Swains), by the time we summited weʼd moved up through the majority of the 400 strong field. With only the gentle 25Km Col du Festre remaining before the flat a large group had formed of over 30 riders, all strong guys. I knew itʼd be key to the stage to have a small, organisable group on the flat, 6 max, to get a relay working effectively and motor home. This being the case we worked hard together as a quartet on the final climb to shatter the group as much as possible. By the summit the big strong guys had popped and the smaller guys needed to recoup. We moved on.

We were now 5. 3 Brits, an American and a Belgian. We organised as a team for the remaining 60Km of the stage. Taking turns of up to a Km on the front at a time we managed to maintain an average speed of over 40kph for that final section of the day and hold off the larger, stronger but less organised chasing groups. It was a wonderful moment in time. It was the first time Iʼd ever married tactics and athletic ability succesfully and probably the best I have ever felt on a bike. We crossed the line having spared not one bit of energy in 58th place. A hard earned result.

Today started much the same way as yesterday ended. 125Km of flat preceeded the giant Mt Ventoux. Having tried too hard for too long to split up the large group we were riding in I arrived at the foot of Ventoux in bits. The following 24Km climb up the unforgiving and relentless slopes of Ventoux was horrendous. Iʼd popped, the elastic had snapped, I was, as they say, out the back door and wishing it all away. At the Chalet de Reynard there was a feed stop 5Km from the top. Having consumed more Coca-Cola and gels than I wish to remember the remaining 5Km were all about damage limitation. I wish Iʼd played the stage a bit cleverer and been able to enjoy Ventoux. Having said all that I wasnʼt the only one who struggled on that climb as Iʼd moved up 11 places on GC.

Last day. Determined to enjoy my last day of racing, today was always going to be a hard day. Back riding with the HFB30 boys we rode every Col like it was our last. Scenically it was the best day so far. Provence did not dissapoint, beautiful sweeping descents, sun baked mountains and smooth, fast roads it was everything Iʼd hoped for and more on the Haute Route. Having cleared all major obstacles we put the boot down in the last 20Km and finished the day in a very respectable 62nd position.

– Russ Ashford

Photo credit: Haute Route