Making The Cut

As I was struggling up the little mountain behind Nîmes today, I got to thinking about being slow and how that would affect my bragging rights after finishing the Haute Route next summer. Then I remembered – it’s all about The Cut-Off.

You see, each stage of the Haute Route has a cut-off time, just like a professional stage race. The difference is that, with the HR, you don’t get your ass booted out of the race. You DO however get erased from the list of overall finishers, i.e. you won’t be ranked (shudder..). I’ve read a few accounts of riders not making the cut (18% this year) and most seemed to take if philosophically, which is admirable, but something I think I’d rather not have to be philosophical about, if you get me. When I got back from my ride I needed to get to the bottom of this, so did a little research.

For the cut-off it seems as if the organizers are going with 15 kph for most stages and 17 kph for ‘easy’ ones. Now, you really have to know what you can do in very mountainous races for this to mean anything because obviously your average speed in a flat or rolling gran fondo will be much higher than one of the monsters that await us in the Alps.

Good thing I’ve done an Etape du Tour or three. In my first Etape last year, I managed a respectable (if I don’t say so myself) 2037th place out of over 8000, I think. My average speed was 19.28 kph. 

Then, after a year of Coach Rob’s punishment (aka the training program) I finished 585th out of around 4000 in my 2nd Etape of the year – with an average of 23 kph. The stats are to give you an idea of where an average speed MIGHT put a person within the standings of a big international event.

I feel much better now, of course, but there is one small problem with projecting these Etape averages onto the Haute Route – the Etapes were one-offs, meaning I could bury myself completely and not have to worry about the following day (other than driving home, which was painful enough). In the Haute Route – 7 consecutive Etapes, more or less – the trick will be to pace yourself, I suppose, or be in such awesome shape that you can take a week of ‘full on’.

All the nitty gritty is ahead of me and I’m very fortunate to have a roommate like Coach Rob to do much of the thinking for me. For now, I shall rest easy and train hard and hope that I didn’t make any errors in my calculations above.

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8 thoughts on “Making The Cut

  1. I’d be dead curious to know what my average would be over a full mountainous étape. I like to think I would be well within the 15 km/h limit, but then you never know until you do it, do you?

    • I’ll bet you could get an estimation if you were good with math. You’d need to have done some major climbs and known the average speed going up. Then figure out how fast you descend, etc., etc. These big stages really bring a usual average down, I can definitely say that. My normal average speed is over 30 kph in the races I’ve done, often because I’ve found myself in generous and fast groups of riders. This doesn’t happen on giant mountain stages, except for the short flats you have between climbs. It’s just up, then down.

  2. From my brief experiences in the mountains (not Alpine, of course), that doesn’t sound too bad. Even on my weakest days, I think I have destroyed those averages with flying colors. Even with fatigue setting in, that doesn’t sound terribly difficult. But we cannot get too confident. This will count stops, mechanicals, delays, etc. My thinking is we should probably work as a team as much as possible, share the work on flats and climbs, and hopefully finish respectably together.

    • You’ve brought up an important discussion point for the team. My first inclination is to ‘go it alone’, since I wouldn’t want to hold anyone up, and wouldn’t want to wait either! That being said, if we work together as a team, like the pros do, I think it would be great (and probably what you’re suggesting), except for the ‘sacrifice’ portion, i.e. we obviously won’t have any domestiques.

      I think what will happen is that we can work well on the flats, but then the group will split up on the climbs, therefore I’m talking about only one ‘flat’, since everyone will be scattered after that. Staying together on the climbs would be excellent for morale, but only to a certain extent, in my opinion.

      I think it would be best to work it like a pro team would and be together on each climb (if possible) and hope we are all of similar abilities (not going to happen, in my short experience). Breaking up into smaller groups on the climbs would occur naturally, I’m guessing.

      • You’re right that we’ll probably separate on the climbs. Assuming people do not fall too far behind, I wouldn’t mind waiting at the top and trying to stay together, but yeah, I wouldn’t ask people to wait too long for me. Of course, even without team support, there should be plenty enough people and a variety of paces that we’ll always have a group. We’ll have plenty of time to talk about strategy and stuff.

  3. You’ve identified the key difference between doing a single day vs multi day endurance race. The day after day accumulated effect will have a profound impact on performance And all it takes is one off day due to poor recovery from the previous day’s race, and that 15km/hr average speed will feel like torture when you’re struggling up a 10+% col and the best you can muster is 9km/hr. Our training program will feature elements to handle the endurance required for 7 days of racing, strength and power training to manage the extreme climbing, focus on diet to reduce our weight thereby increasing our power to weight ratio, and most importantly, understand how we recover (diet, rest, sleep, etc) from the daily rigors of riding the hardest mountain stages for an entire week and be race ready every morning. Can hardly wait.

    • I’m sure you’re correct. This is all uncharted territory for us – even you – so I’ll bet there are a few ‘unknown unknowns’ (to quote Donald Rumsfeld..) out there waiting for us. When I did the long weekend in the Alps with Shoko this summer I felt like I could go every day, all day, but I was totally bagged after one day in the Etape, just a month before that. Have to time the training perfectly, I think. It’s the ‘off day’ you talked about that scares me because nearly everyone will have at least one, I’ll bet.

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