The Haute Route and The Amateur Boom

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Away from the Vuelta and USA Pro Cycling Challenge there’s an event in France called La Haute Route, literally “the High Road”. It’s not a pro race, it’s part holiday tour, part cyclosport and goes across the French Alps. And it’s this that gives us interesting glimpse of the future because it combines several aspects of sport, business, tourism and more into a seemingly winning formula.

The genesis goes back to 1982 when the first big cyclosport ride was held in the Alps. The Marmotte was a 168km loop over several cols including the Galibier and a finish on Alpe d’Huez. Before this there were other rides but often run under the rules of cyclotourisme where the aim was to be independent and resilient, taking your own food supplies and placing a premium on navigation. The new events featured signed routes, food was provided and large pelotons formed as riders treated the ride like a race, only over distances and roads normally reserved for the likes of the Tour de France.

Fast forward 20 years and Europe had many of these cyclo events, with many in France and Italy. But they were all one day events until the Transalp appeared in 2002. This was a ride from Germany to Italy, crossing many mountains and offering participants the chance to experience some of the stresses, strains and surprises of a stage race. The mountain bike world had several equivalent rides in the US, South America, Australia, South Africa and Europe but road cycling seemed slow to adopt this.

Go to today and the Haute Route is there with the Transalp, now in its tenth year. The Haute Route is particularly interesting as a case study. It is run by Frenchman Jean-Francois Alcan, the man who launched the Etape du Tour cyclosportive series in France that let amateurs ride the closed roads of a Tour de France stage in the mountains, taking a cyclosportive and adding the ASO touch to give a feel of the Tour de France. Just this summer the company behind the Haute Route, the oddly-named OC Thirdpole merged with Patrice Clerc & Associates, the business of former ASO and Tour de France boss Patrice Clerc.

In summary it offers seven stages as it heads from north to south across the Alps:

  • It’s a tour: there’s a scenic route across many famous climbs used by the Tour de France. The event is able to appropriate the legendary status of these climbs as an attraction to bring in riders from around the world.
  • It’s sport: the stages are timed, there is an overall classification and riders are not expected to stop for lunch along the way. In fact British cyclist Emma Pooley is riding because the stage race aspect is useful training for her ahead of the world championships in September
  • It’s a business: Entries cost €1,200 and that is before a rider has paid for overnight accommodation or any other expenses. The total cost for participants is going to be high but places are sold out fast suggesting the price could be raised.

In short it is a competitive holiday camp. Whilst many might pay thousands of dollars or Euros for a sandy beach or a ski lodge, an event like this is offering the Alps and the chance to

What makes this futuristic? The sport is growing in popularity around the world. Recent editions of the Tour de France have seen many roadside fans waving flags from Norway, Slovakia, Australia and Britain. Now instead of standing by the road – still a memorable experience – keen fans get to try the roads for themselves. The event has sold out and there are plans for a Pyreneean version in 2013 as well as another Alpine version.

Note I’m not trying to give the Haute Route any extra publicity here. Instead I think this is a such a booming area of the sport, if these guys are selling places with ease then there must be room for others to offer something similar. And fill their boots with Euros. There are many tour companies, often run former pro riders, offering cycle touring holidays but I’m not sure if they sell out their vacations within eight hours.

Such is the success I can’t help wonder if pro teams shouldn’t consider closer tie-ins with travel. They can make money on merchandise like selling team jerseys although the economics of this are complicated, the clothing supplier usually pays for the right to supply the team and then takes the revenue. Instead a team could offer travel experiences with its pro riders, putting the team bus and camper vans to use in between pro races. Quite whether a squad wants to do this when many staff want a rest is unknown but I think that people would pay a premium for this, to travel on a team bus or get a massage from a team soigneur so it could be a useful revenue generator. You can charge a premium to experience “pro” life on the road in cheap French motels.

Summary
Women’s teams might be folding, even some of the World Tour teams are hunting for sponsors despite guaranteed Tour de France exposure. Yet some areas of cycle travel are booming. The closer this is linked to pro cycling and the big roads of France, the faster places sell out and the bigger the premium.

I wonder if teams can make the crossover here to exploit this? Or perhaps race organisers, for example ASO already does this with the Tour de France but there must be scope for multi-day events with the higher margins given accommodation, logistics and more can be billed. If not then tourism companies, sports event businesses and others are going to be rushing into the space.

  • EDIT: having suggested teams do this I’m now getting memories of the old Cervélo Test Team offering something similar. Proof that if you think of an idea someone has usually done it already.
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{ 39 comments }

regsf August 23, 2012 at 9:51 pm

I love these events and have participated in L’etape du Tour 7-8 times. However, these events are not exempt from dope cheats either. http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/12497/Gran-Fondo-New-York-CEO-Ulrich-Fluhme-speaks-about-EPO-positives.aspx

Larry T. August 23, 2012 at 9:53 pm

Cervelo had sort of a “dude ranch” thing while Trek’s done similar things in the past. I believe Cannondale is getting involved too. I find it kind of funny, having left an outfit we worked ten years with before starting CycleItalia in 1998 because (just one of many reasons) we grew tired of the “I coulda won the Giro if I’d only had the time” attitude of many of the clients. If these operators see money to be made from this type of client, more power to ‘em! While we too enjoy the challenge of some of the famous climbs (in Italy) our goal is to enjoy that challenge without caring about making some sort of competition out of what is supposed to be a vacation. In fact, I take great care to try to screen OUT anyone displaying a fragile ego that they might want to boost by beating up on our other clients on the bike. The only competition we encourage is who can enjoy their vacation the most and we find that person is rarely the one who rides the fastest or does the most kilometers during the tour. While we’ve NEVER sold out an itinerary in 8 hours in our history, our post-tour evaluations and the number of repeat clients convinces us we’re on the right track and offer something unique in the bike tour biz.

STB August 23, 2012 at 10:16 pm

The recently launched ‘RideLondon’ event could also form a template for a lot of pro/am races.

In RideLondon the 20,000 amateurs will start in the morning ahead of the pro race. A sort of London Marathon on wheels. This allows the organisers to get income from paying competitors, and a potential tie-in with a charity which helps smooth the wheels with authorities and make the event ‘worthwhile’ for politicians/sponsors.

Some races already have a sportif side such as Tour of Flanders (which I rode last year), Paris-Roubaix, L-B-L, etc.

I doubt the London Marathon would have the iconic route and finish on the Mall if it was an elite only race for a few hundred competitors. More likely it would be a multi-lap affair on some drab industrial estate. Add in the amateur/charity element and the race becomes a huge community event with spin-offs for other events (such as the shorter family rides in the RideLondon event).

A good formula for a ‘classic’ race should include a womens race, a shorter family ride, a sportif type ride, and a mens pro race.

Several pro races are under financial pressures so combining with an amateur/charity event alongside may be a way of keeping races viable.

Nigel August 23, 2012 at 11:04 pm

…although at £48 a pop, the sportive isn’t really ‘for the masses’ and certainly not the kind of fee I can justify. It’s catering for the London market (i.e. middle-age, middle-class with disposable income to burn and the chance to show off in front of your mates). As markya says below, this is the current boom. On the whole I’d rather ride out on my own or pay £5 to ride the Audax events of the local ctc.

Anonymous August 24, 2012 at 10:40 am

Nearly £50 does seem expensive for a cycle through otherwise free roads but what you’re paying for is the closed road experience and the fact that it is a “special” event.

The comparison to running is a good one – the price of the Nike sponsored half marathon around Greenwich was also £45. This was a much smaller loop, in a much less busy part of town (including a drab industrial estate or two) but still sells out year after year.

David N. Welton August 23, 2012 at 10:20 pm

“Proof that if you think of an idea someone has usually done it already.”

But, as we say in the startup world, it’s not really about the idea, but about the execution: finding that winning formula that gets everything just right in order to really nail it.

In other words, Google was not the first web search engine by a long shot, and Facebook came along well after Myspace and Friendster.

maryka August 23, 2012 at 10:27 pm

Surely this boom in cyclosportive tourism is just another (more extensive and expensive) aspect of the boom in cyclosportives in general. One-day sportives in Surrey, UK (home of the Olympic course and Boxhill) charge anywhere from £20-50 to ride a fully-signed supported sportive course and they are sold out long before the day — that’s 1500 participants at £25 each… pretty good profit I’d say, and where in the past local clubs might have promoted a sportive to raise funds or to help a charity, nowadays it’s the territory of private companies only concerned with profit. Meanwhile amateur local road racing — the kind of race that costs 20 quid to enter — struggles to find organisers and marshals.

Certainly some aspects of cycling are booming all right and right now those aspects are the ones that attract people who want to be led around a route while pretending to be racing even though they’d barely last 5 minutes in a real road race. Harsh? You bet. You’d probably feel the same way after the upteenth time a load of sportive riders descends a hill recklessly or comes around the corner on your side of the road, determined to get the “pro experience” for their 25 quid. That’s the amateur boom.

The Inner Ring August 24, 2012 at 9:24 am

I know these things can get money but 1500 x 25 = £37,500 for a day is smalll compared to 600 x 1200 = €720,000 for a week. This is my point above really, taking the boom in one day events and turning it into a full service adventure and travel experience should be highly lucrative.

Of course there are costs for both, this is income not profit. But with the Haute Route doing the Pyrenees and Alps next year they will be turning over in excess of a million euros.

Chromatic Dramatic August 23, 2012 at 11:47 pm

The thing I don’t get for many of these types of events (I’m thinking more 1 day MTB events), is that they still generally rely on volunteers.

Which I find bizarre. The events are run by private companies, for profit, yet they need a whole heap of people to volunteer their time.

While I have no doubt it makes things cheaper for everyone and I appreciate that people will volunteer their time to help put on great events, I just find it a little wrong.

Robert Armstrong August 27, 2012 at 5:26 pm

At a glance, one would think that charging a fee and having free volunteers only pads the organizers pockets, but having been the event organizer for a Triathlon Series in Canada for a number of years, I found this not to be true. My events (which included the Canadian National Championship), relied heavily on volunteers, for without them the race fees would have been astronomical. I also spent countless hours marketing my events to corporate sponsors, which highly subsidized the race entry fees. I made a small amount of money from the event, but when I calculated the hours worked to deliver a high quality experience for the athletes, I was receiving a little more than $1.00 per hour worked. That said, I get a little upset when I see other races that offer a fraction of what I provided at the same price I charged. These race organizers either didn’t work hard enough to secure corporate sponsorship to offset their costs, or they were pocketing significantly more money than I. For the most part, if you take on the responsibility of being a race organizer, you’re doing it for the love of the sport, not to make money.

matthew August 23, 2012 at 11:55 pm

having done a bit of stage racing on mountain bikes I’d thoroughly recommend the experience. pain and suffering become your friends, eating becomes a chore and great friendships are formed. and you get to ride your bike lots

Tom Simpson August 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm

Nigel and Maryka – thank goodness for choices! Following my own cherished routes is absolutely free – and I do on a regular basis. And choosing to ride with some other organization doing the heavy lifting for me and charging me a fee for that service – another great option I can take. Our sport has evolved – like whatever happened to big ‘cross country MTB races from the 90′s? What’s happened to 24 Hour MTB events this last decade? They’re all evolving into THIS decade’s current rave fave – and will continue to evolve in the future.

We used to have $10 Centuries in my neck of the woods – back in the last century – complete with banana and peanut butter/jelly sandwich-powered rest stops. Those days got left in the dust and Centuries now compete with Gran Fondos with their significantly upgraded services and facilities. They are noticeably not $10 anymore. Is this current fad/style/format going to last? If I knew that I’d be playing the ponies and making real money. Speaking of money – quantity times price (that’s 1500 participants at £25 each) only equals gross revenues. What you get to keep is profit and that’s after expenses have been tallied and paid. Net profit is waaaaay different from revenue.

And thinking of other sports who make money involving the public – Major League Baseball teams have had great success selling “Spring Training Camp” experiences to their fans – they also have web sites and on-line business aspects (merchandise sales) with NBA, NFL that remind us what a backwater business cycling still is. UCI – this is handled by the league offices – could you compete with these guys and Premier leagues and tennis/golf/rugby? If you can’t – would at least get out of the way?

TheDude August 24, 2012 at 2:56 am

Gran Fondos seem to be multiplying across the U.S. in the last few years.
One in NY in May 2013 is charging the sale price of US$220 +$11 processing for the privilege of riding 110 miles. Um, just $2/mile. Some blather about coverage insurance refund if the participant becomes ill or injured 72 hours before the event.

http://granfondony.com/
http://www.365competitors.com/submit_claim.php

I’m still smarting a bit by the increase in license and race fees since my local racing association was commandeered by USACycling to join the collective. Nothing has changed in the local crit race scene, except for race day fees have increased by $10 on average, and annual license fees have increased by $70.

Maybe sportive cycling is the upcoming active pastime for the uber rich, and soon-t0-be convicted of LIBOR rigging fraud. Sell the Porches and Ponies and “lycra up” on a McLaren Venge for a more modest weekend in the Hamptons. :-)

Anonymous August 24, 2012 at 11:34 am

$2 per mile…and some of the miles are just the same ones in reverse…

Rider Council August 24, 2012 at 9:11 am

nice, I wonder if your bike is as dialed in as you are @inrng ?

btw; was waiting for the evidence to be posted to comment on your other post but Chiappucci still races, with the A’s and rides a prize every now and then. Pretty cool eh?

p.s Capodarco was won by P Kennaugh a few years back.

Rider Council August 24, 2012 at 10:15 am
Bundle August 24, 2012 at 9:25 am

€1.200 without accomodation?? A ridiculously expensive holiday.

benDE August 24, 2012 at 9:34 am

‘euro 1.200 without accomodation?’
Sounds just about right for people riding euro 7.000 two wheelers without a motor.

- This is simply a more commercial version of something like the BRA that existed (still exists?) in the ’80′s?

Robert Armstrong August 27, 2012 at 5:30 pm

You wouldn’t want to vacation with my wife. Sounds like a bargin to me.

Vincent August 24, 2012 at 10:38 am

A nice example outside the Alps I think is the Viking Tour (www.vikingtour.org) in Norway. It is an interesting trend.
And while pro-teams all have clinics to ride with the pro’s (Skoda and Rabobank organize clinics on the Cauberg several times per year) for one day, these usualy are limited to one day. But I have also noticed events organized on a small scale with pro’s over some days. These are presented as upmarket events for the true enthousiast willing to spend money on their hobby. In the Netherlands Blueonbike organizes trips to Il Lombardia on this formula and several cycling clinics.
I agree the pro-teams could do this as well, or could affiliate with organizers (and share in the revenue).

Carla August 24, 2012 at 2:10 pm

The nice thing about the Viking Tour (which I’ve done in 2008) is that it is way less expensive as the Haute Route. Another example is the Giro Sardegna (www.sardegna.it), a 7 stage cyclo (ie one week)which charges 200 euro excluding accommodation. So there are other possibilities around, which are less expensive.

TimB August 24, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I don’t think that luxury cyclosportives are really a surprise – it’s just the appearance of a new market top-end. As mass participation cycling events get bigger and bigger then the available range of offers shifts. From what I read on forums it sounds like UK Audax events (non-timed long rides) are seeing dwindling numbers while paying cyclosportives are booming; the market responds to demand by producing more expensive and exclusive events.

Whilst talking about the Haute Route, does anyone know how Emma P is dodging UCI rule 1.2.019 ? Is it not applied to female pro-cyclists because they get paid so little?

RogerH August 24, 2012 at 8:40 pm

“Forbidden races
1.2.019 No licence holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognised by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI.”

Good question.. Perhaps as the Haute Route is a officially a cyclosportive, not a race? I can’t see a link from their website to the results, which are published on a different website. Possibly for similar reasons?

The Inner Ring August 24, 2012 at 8:48 pm

Good point but this looks like a rule where people will turn a blind eye. I don’t like rules existing to be ignored, it’s ripe for a review for a case like this.

RogerH August 24, 2012 at 9:15 pm

I certainly hope people would turn a blind eye, and there’s plenty to distract the UCI from any such nitpicking at the moment.. But I hope Pooley isn’t relying on people turning a blind eye. If she’s using it partly as training for the Worlds, in principle could the other competitors or national federations bring it up? Pooley comes across as much too clued up to have overlooked such a possibility though.

ave August 24, 2012 at 11:54 pm

Unfair and certainly not marginal gains, I say.
That rule is there for a reason.

Da rren August 24, 2012 at 7:19 pm

Belgium has Flanders Classics, which provides cyclo-sportive versions of 5 or 6 of the Spring Classics that take place in Flanders. Professionally run events, offering parcour options (+/-45km, +/-85km, +/-130km), refreshments along the route sponsored by the likes of Aquarius and Etixx, all for €12.00!
I took part in two this year, Dwars Door Vlaanderen and Het Scheldeprijs, and enjoyed the events, and they are well run!

Then there is a new event that started this year, the Andrea Tafi Classic, and such a huge success that it will most likely become an annual cyclo-sportive. The idea was to have an event that ‘commemorates the old parcour of the Tour Of Flanders with the legendary Muur in Gerardsbergen, as well as the Bosberg, etc. It also offers different parcour lengths.

While all the above cyclo’s tend to attract celebs, jumping at any chance to pose on their bikes for the press, the Andrea Tafi Classic trumps them all with Andrea Tafi himself riding along, joined by Ludo Diercxksens, Peter Van Peteghem, Robbie McEwan and a bunch of other ex-profs! One phat peloton riding over the hills and cobbles at a ‘gentlemanly’ pace, until about 15km’s before the Muur – everyman for himself until the end in Ninove! Great fun!

Seeing as how these kind of events can be smoothly and professionally run in Belgium for an average entry fee of €12.00 I cannot fathom how the Brits can charge more than £40.00!!!!

Will do other Flanders Classics next year, and definitely the Andrea Tafi Classic for my re-match with The Muur!

Bryan Hill August 24, 2012 at 10:31 pm

Haute Route rider 428 here, using wi-fi from a reasonable hotel in Auron – finish town for stage 6.

Some random points:
The organisational challenge of this thing is huge. 600 riders going from place to place, having their luggage moved to the right destination hotel, 20 masseurs, 35 moto riders, camera crews, start and finish villages, food at the end of each stage, medical crews on the road, press, controlled road the whole way (not closed but with people controlling traffic at pretty much every junction).
By all accounts, from those who know the organiser, the event isn’t making much money at all. Seeing what they’ve had to organise, no-one is surprised at this.

There is a “race” element with maybe the first 25 riders. The first 75 on the overall classification start ahead of the rest of us be a few minutes. Most of those are dropped by the front group on the first big climb. In terms of competition, Cat 2 racers are grazing the top 100. Mid-table obscurity for the Alpe D’Huez TT (after three days of hard rides) was 1hr 10mins ish. Winner did 42 minutes. Emma Pooley just broke 50 mins.

The rest of us are here for the challenge. There’s a real mix – finish times on todays stage ranged from about 3 hours 30 to maybe 8 hours? There is a time cut off every day – if you chose to continue riding you might not get support (i.e. road controls). There is a sweep bus. If you miss the cut off on any stage, you don’t get an overall classification. About 15-20% of people have been eliminated. It’s hardest for the slowest, as they are out for much,much longer.

It is very much like a bike holiday for people who like to ride 6-7 hours each day without a lunch stop. You’re finished maybe 3pm each day. I’ve done 10 bike holidays and as I got faster, was frustrated with having to stop for lunch, coffee, snacks etc. Here, I get up early (about 0530 is fairly normal), riding by 0730, finish mid afternoon.

It’s out of reach for most people due to the cost. They’ve estimated there are four million euros of bikes here. There are some £10k-£12K bikes on the road. Cervelos are most common.

It sold out in eight hours, with no need for “pro-rider” associations. After Etapes, Marmottes, Maratonas, Irommans (men?), what else do you do – if you don’t want to race?

I’d agree with the Transalp/Transrockies etc. associateds. But for people with more money.

Right, sleep – up at 0515…

The Inner Ring August 25, 2012 at 12:36 am

Have a good ride and if you spot a rider called Guillaume Prebois, wish him well. He wrote a good piece on the ride for Le Monde today http://www.lemonde.fr/sport/article/2012/08/23/maillot-jaune-sur-mesure_1750769_3242.html (in French)

Da rren August 24, 2012 at 11:12 pm

On cyclingnews.com you will see at the top of the page a video selection, including three videos providing highlights from the first few days of the Haute Route, including an interview with Emma Pooley!

Jim August 25, 2012 at 7:17 pm

There are reports coming through that a Swedish cyclist was killed today when he fell off the road on a descent that the organisers had already marked up as dangerous. That’s bound to lead to questions of who should and shouldn’t be doing these sort of rides.

http://www.eluniversal.com.co/cartagena/deportes/ciclista-muere-tras-caida-en-la-haute-route-de-ginebra-niza-88664

Bryan Hill August 26, 2012 at 1:49 am

Terrible end to the week. Most people are pretty shocked by the news, and condolences to his family and friends.

We passed the accident site maybe 15 minutes after it happened. The medical crew were on the scene very quickly but I guess there was nothing they could do. Very fast, sweeping descent through a tight narrow gorge, vertical cliff on one side, close to sheer drop on the other – with barriers. Sight lines generally good. Very different to the high mountains descents we’ve been doing all week – more carving turns rather than sharp hairpins.

The descent had been highlighted in the safety briefing the night before. By all accounts Pontus was a very good rider – certainly by his position in the overall ranking he’d have to be. It was one of those descents that was brilliant to do, but with a high consequence for anything going wrong – a puncture, a car coming around a blind corner, gravel on the road. Quite frankly, it could have happened to almost any of us – road cycling in the mountains, at speed, has inherent risks. I think everyone who does an event like this needs to understand that. Even riding within our personal limits, something can still go wrong.

As to the point on who should or shouldn’t be doing these rides – I agree. I’m not sure how you’d put qualification criteria in though, but riding an event like the Haute Route is tough mentally, physically and needs a certain level of experience. I’m fairly cautious by nature and I’ve done weeks in the Pyrenees and Dolomites previously. Riding big mountains, both up and down, isn’t to be taken lightly. There’s no way I’d have entered without previous experience. However, amongst all the people with Etapes, Marmottes and Maratonas here, there are people who’ve never cycled outside of the UK.

Generally, safety precautions have been excellent. Lots of motos, medical teams, briefings each night. The points of danger on each day’s route have been over-cautious, from a personal viewpoint – descents highlighted as dangerous would barely have been mentioned on other trips I’ve done.

Brian Nevin August 26, 2012 at 11:15 am

Hi there, Brian Nevin – Haute Route bib no.506. Lying here in my hotel in Nice after what I can only describe as the toughest week of my life. I’m most certainly an average rider, completing the event in 40 hours- 18 hours behind the overall winner. But that’s what carrying 80kg up high mountains will do to you! Plus very difficult to train for this in Ireland where the highest mountains only go to 1000 metres!! Inner ring , I’m a big fan of your site, but I do take umbrage to your description of this as a holiday camp. As Bryan has said early starts in bunk bed style accomodation & nuclear shelters, stumbling through the fog of fatigue as you try to shovel down calories is not my idea of a holiday camp. At the same time our team- Loftus Hall- chose the basic package so our expectation dial was set low. I certainly dont remember the last time I was on holiday pushing myself to my absolute mental and physical limit. Granted we CHOSE to do this and could afford to do it but we chose to do it because it was hard. I had huge respect for this from the moment I signed up, dropping 10kg, on my bike 6 days a week, but it was simply not enough. I dont believe for a moment that a £10k Cervelo would have got me, or anyone, up the Glandon or the Bonnette any quicker. There is no ability in your bike. OC Third pole did an outstanding job getting almost everyone to Nice safely, albeit in a physical mess. I cannot commend the staff and organisation enough . Nothing was 2 much trouble for them. Final point on entry fee- most Ironman events are €500 plus for a days racing, a crap goody bag, and the right your skin with a brand logo. Inner ring- take on the Haute Route this year, you will enjoy the emotional rollercoaster and the physical torture- that I can gaurantee! Peace – Brian Nevin P.S RIP to the fallen rider, Pontus Schultz,And to his devastated family & friends

The Inner Ring August 26, 2012 at 12:03 pm

Well done. When I suggest “holiday camp”, it’s not people sitting around with cocktails and paper umbrellas shading their drinks. More an adventure holiday, just as some trek the Sahara or climb the Himalayas.

Da rren August 26, 2012 at 10:09 pm

Rode the last 120km of Liege-Bastogne-Liege this morning in 40km winds, 15 degree temp, and constant rain! The descents are 4-5km average, and in the rain can be very dangerous, so safety was key concern with lots of braking! After crashing headfirst into a car last week at the end of a training ride (his fault) I was not about to take any chances!

My condolences to the rider who died during the Haute Route! We do take risks performing our beloved sport! Part of our way of living life to the fullest!

Mark Turner August 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Interesting to follow the debate above – all fair comments – but as someone who both rode the Haute Route last year and this year, but also has to make it add up as Chairman of OC Sport the organiser, I’d just like to share with you some of the realities from an organisation perspective. A seven day sportive like the Haute Route, across the French Alps, is about as complex as it gets in terms of logistics, safety, and communication. Effectively we have attempted to combine the efforts of professional teams that look after their own small teams of riders, in to one massive group of 600 riders and do our best to provide services and safety that makes them feel as close to those professionals as possible. Furthermore, in order to make it financially sustainable, we have invested in the media and communications side, especially TV, in order that the event will attract good commercial partners in the future. In case anyone remains convinced that a 4 figure entry fee means we are ‘raking it in’, I can confirm that in year 1 we invested (or made a loss) of several hundred thousand, and this year will again make a loss albeit smaller. It will take many editions to get to break even. This is because we are committed to continuing to develop the event, to get better at every element, to continue to improve the rider experience, and at no time compromise the safety and sporting aspects which have been since its inception last year a real hallmark of this event (whilst the tragic event of yesterday will mark us as a team forever, I believe the Haute Route riders on Inner Ring will confirm that safety cover has been very clearly the priority for us and delivered to the highest possible standards).
The Haute Route is a very different experience to a one day event (and requires a very high level of commitment and fitness), and whilst the entry fee might seem high to someone comparing it with a one day event that they can drive to down the road, Brits for example are each year shelling out well in to 4 figures to travel to an Etape or similar event, staying 3 nights or so, travel, etc.. Or an Ironman event at £500 just for one day. The Haute Route experience is at the top of the pyramid in terms of difficulty, experience and rewards, and most people entering make it the main event of their entire year.
We have also been very careful to look after riders who put their confidence in us in 2011, who got a hefty discount this year, and will again for 2013 when we open shortly the entry just for 2011 and 2012 riders as phase 1. We were ten times oversubscribed for 2012 and expect it to be at least that much again for 2013 when taking in to account the feedback we already have.
In terms of the debate how to manage who can enter, it could be a long debate…but just to pick up on a couple of points. The boom in the sport should not be a negative for anyone, although when any sport changes there will be people that preferred it to stay the way it was, which is fair enough. Events like the Haute Route probably would not be developed though without these new audiences, and new people coming in to the sport. We have been very conscious with this event to ensure it is open and accessible to both ‘career cyclists’ that are regularly competing, including in the big classic one day cyclosportives, as well as newcomers who don’t race in a club, but are taking on the challenge. This latter group of course come in many shapes, sizes and levels of fitness. And unlike the one day sportives who have probably seen the average performance level drop, as an event we can’t afford for that to happen. So we have a tough minimum speed to be a Finisher and we always will – the event already has a reputation of being very difficult to finish every leg, and its something we will maintain. We need people to know they have to train very hard and for a full season, to be able to take the Haute Route on. We endeavor to care in equal amounts about the guys fighting for victory at the front, as the guys grinding it out just to finish. We want and need both, and it adds to the quality and atmosphere of the event, where we are mixing nationalities, backgrounds, levels in a huge melting pot for a week. The result has been excellent in this regard, with so many bonds and friendships developed in 2011 and 2012, spanning the globe.

We have a lot to improve on in the event, the Alps and the Pyrenees (first edition September 2013) are extremely difficult areas operationally and present many challenges for organisation and riders that one day events simply don’t have to be concerned about. But I have no doubt at all that this formula will remain a winning one, and will help the sport continue to develop, appeal to new athletes, and continue to motivate and inspire a new generation.

Thanks to the Inner Ring readers who also supported us and rode the Haute Route. It didn’t end how we hoped of course, and that has cast a big shadow over it for us personally. But that aside (hard to use such a word in this regard), we were delighted with progress we made with the event, and are now focused on how to improve areas of weakness and make it even better in both Alps and Pyrenees for 2013.

The Inner Ring August 27, 2012 at 2:23 pm

Thanks for the detailed comment.

I suppose I should clarify my “raking it in” comment! I can’t see your accounts but still believe you are on a lucrative path if all goes well and presumably so do your backers. As you say, there’s plenty to learn but you’re in a sweet spot with the growth of the sport, the great roads and the way events like the Tour make these roads so famous.

The Pyrenees could be a challenge, finding hotel rooms and food in the smaller towns there will be a headache.

Finally a thought for Pontus Schultz, RIP.

Mark Turner August 27, 2012 at 2:34 pm

Totally agree about the Pyrenees, it will not as simple for sure, and the Alps are definitely not simple! It will involve some transfers, which we largely managed to avoid bar a few shuttles in the Alps. We have done what we do in sport for 15 years now as a company, because of the passion we have for it, for inspiring, for performance, for motivating people to either compete, or through those that do. But at the end of the day the ability of a company to take the risks (financial and other) to get new events going such as this, depends on managing to make existing events financially sustainable as well. A bad business can’t create new events. So its always going to be a delicate balance between re-investing in an event, and ensuring that we have the financial firepower to keep developing new events too. Hopefully we’ll continue to get that balance right so that we can come up with other ways for riders, runners, sailors….etc, to push themselves to their limits with the rewards that that brings.

Mark

david emery September 5, 2012 at 11:25 pm

I’ve done the Haute Route in both 2011 and 2012 and will be looking forward to 2013. Hopefully! I think one thing, not mentioned above, that reflects perfectly how those competing feel about the event, would be the number of people coming back for more. The post event survey will no doubt again show, that the vast majority of riders rate it as the best cycling experience of their lives. I for one have no intention of doing an Etape or Marmotte. It ‘initmacy’, organisation and spirit of the event leaves a lasting mark on all of those that compete.
The danger is that as it grows, statistics dictate that you’ll get more people finding something to moan about. We have the same problem in my club, where memberships have risen to over 500. Managing expectations becomes a challenge in itself. In my view, things were not perfect and they probably never will be (nature of the event), but the organisers strive to do a fantastic job, learn and improve and make it the best experience they can give to the riders. There’s hasn’t been a moment on road where you’re left thinking someone is cutting corners and focused on profit. That’s not something that can be said of the vast majority of UK sportives, expensive or otherwise.

As for UK races being under marshalled, the clubs have to take some responsibility here and be far more proactive with regards to progressing new riders towards racing and volunteering. The numbers are there, but the organisation isn’t. Want proof? Look at the antiquated way most clubs and event are run and the way in which they communicate with members. Mostly stuck in the stong ages

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