Our Founder and Managing Director, Phil Kelly, has just returned from an incredible “holiday” (we’re not convinced you could call it that!) where he took part in the toughest amateur bike race in the world, ‘The 7-Day Haute Route Alps’.
Phil has documented his experience via Linked In, sharing his learning from competing on some of the biggest climbs in cycling and what it took to get him to the finish line:
Just over a week after returning from this event, I have tried to make sense of it so have spent some time reflecting and writing down my experiences. Hopefully you can take something from it, just like I have.
The first and most frequent question I got asked after entering the race was, “Why?”
As is often the case, the answer is not straightforward. Having had a couple of poor winters from a physical fitness perspective, battling COVID in 2021 and COVID and pneumonia in 2022, I knew that when I felt better again, I needed a personal goal to focus on to stretch me mentally and to create some positive fitness improvements.
After some research, I decided to enter the Haute Route Alps, described as the hardest amateur bike race in the world. It takes place in August over 7 days in the French and Italian Alps, with over 400 entrants. It covers 755 km and over 20,000 metres of climbing over the mountains made famous by the Tour de France. We would summit 15 mountain passes during the week and would be faced with the usual unpredictable high mountain weather systems and strict cut-off times. A plan was a must!
Finding the time to juggle all of life’s challenges with a training programme that was fit for purpose was always going to be difficult. The ideal preparation would have been to go and live in the Alps for a few months and complete 20–30 hours of training per week, but this was unrealistic, although a lot of my fellow competitors did exactly that and, indeed, treated this event as their very own Tour De France. My goal had to be more reasonable than that, especially being a short, stocky, fast-twitch Welshman! I am not exactly designed to go uphill fast like some of the competitors, who weigh 30–40% less than me and are half my age!
My goal was quite simply to finish each day and, therefore, finish the race and not miss a cut-off time. This, I thought, was achievable, and with a consistent and free-flowing training programme since the spring and regular advice from cycling coaches and friends Jo Tindley and Dean Downing throughout the summer, my fitness improved. Over time, my confidence grew. I had this.
Then, two weeks out from the start date and after a busy week of travel with work, I woke up with a sore throat and headache. Covid had struck again. The last time I had COVID, it had hung around for a couple of months, taking up residence in my lungs and taking a month to clear with medication, so, as you can imagine, things were not looking good for me to even get to the start line, never mind complete the event!
After 48 hours of being laid up in bed, I started to feel a little better. I set about doing everything I could to regain strength. I was determined to get to that starting line. A few days later, I tested negative, and the sudden rushes and crashes of energy started to become less harsh. All eyes were now on getting to the starting line feeling as strong as possible. Riding the bike was out of the question; I couldn’t risk a physical setback, so I focused on equipment checks and ensuring I packed everything that would help me achieve my goal.
I made it to the start line in Megeve (just), and that is where the real adventure began! I had to contend with not knowing how my body would react to the altitude, the physical exertion, and, would you believe it, a heatwave of over 40 degrees!