Preparing for the Haute Route – a Discussion: Bikes

sitelogo2To continue my in-depth study of Haute Route’s advice on race preparation, I have carefully copied and pasted most of the words you see below. The tips come from a former pro who rode for AG2R (ahh jzey due air) -a guy who probably knows what he’s talking about – something novel for this blog.

Subject 2: How to prepare your bike for the Haute Route?
Christophe ORIOL
Former professional cyclist – Team AG2R –

As the Haute Route start approaches, you might wish to make some changes to the set up of your bike in order to switch it into “mountain mode”. You shouldn’t need to change your riding position specifically because the geometry of your frame should be set up for your body. If you want to refine your position for the Haute Route, choose a compromise between comfort and performance.

You should also consider the choice of your gear ratios: depending on your level and on your preference, you could choose a compact gear (50/34 or 36) or triple (52/39/30). The classic gear (53/39) is generally restricted to top performers.  This choice has implications on the choice of your cassette. It is necessary to have regular gears and to always be able to find the right gear for the slope.

If you want to improve the weight of your bike, a good place to start is to consider changing your wheels. Good wheels could significantly improve the performance of your bike.  For mountain riding, go for light wheels, with a low inertia: these will give you the best performance up the cols.
You can also improve your bike by reducing the weight of your accessories (crankset, stem, handlebar, seatpost…). Weight is the biggest enemy of your ascent!

Choose tyres or tubes for your wheels according to your preference! If you opt for the tubes, pay particular attention to the bonding process because your downhill safety depends on it. Make sure your brake pads are in exceptional condition (and make sure you have special pads for carbon rims).

It is also important to choose a saddle that feels comfortable for riding all day long, and  for riding for several consecutive days without causing problems. Try several saddles to find the one that suits you best.

We also advise that you have your bike checked by a professional mechanic before the start. He will look over all the safety points and refine your settings, giving you extra peace of mind that your bike is in good condition and up to the task.
Don’t forget to bring your repair kit (tire levers, tubes, pump, chain drift…).

You should make any changes to your bike a while before the Haute Route starts, in order to give yourself plenty of time to test, run in and adapt to the new settings and modify further if necessary. Avoid getting to the Haute Route start line with new equipment, shoes or bib-shorts for example which may be uncomfortable or injure you.


  1. I’m new to thinking about gearing, but I do know it’s important. I’ve got a 50/34, which I think will be just enough for the climbing. I’ve got one friend here who rides a 53/39 (he, of course, kicked my ass in this year’s Etape), which I can’t imagine trying to use on even one long, steep climb, let alone 20 or so of them. My teammates on Team Vicious Cycle have various combinations of the compact, with ranges from 11 to 32 for the cassette. Then (there’s always one in every crowd) there’s one guy who will go with a normal set-up, but possibly look for a hybrid, like a 52/36.
  2. I’m glad M. Oriol concurs with the rest of the world on the issue of weight and climbing. It makes me feel better…but a small part of me wants to believe otherwise (it’s the same part of me that likes beer, I think).
  3. The saddle comment is good, too. Maybe I should think about sacrificing weight for comfort a little. There aren’t many things worse than a bruised bum, especially when you know you have to use it for a week straight.
  4. Another good (but obvious) point about wearing in any new gear/kit you buy before the event. I think I just found one more justification to upgrade now!

If anyone has any comments that our pro has left out, let us know. Thanks.

17 thoughts on “Preparing for the Haute Route – a Discussion: Bikes

  1. All sensible points that become rather more obvious after having done a multi-day ride in the mountains, but it seems you already know a thing or two about this? The appropriate gearing will depend on one’s strength, endurance and an assortment of other factors, but I think it is better to underestimate than overestimate one’s own ability: it’s nice to have that one lower gear when going up that bitch of a gradient in the afternoon of the 3rd day. Also, I think saddle comfort is not given enough consideration by some; I think it’s vitally important. There is no point dampening your ride because of discomfort arising from a poor choice of saddle, bib shorts or both. Both saddles and shorts are very personal choices, so, yes, I think you have a very good reason to start shopping and testing now! I wish you all the best (and am a wee bit jealous!).

    • Chikashi, thanks for the comment. I do have a little experience with multi-day rides in the mountains, but not racing, which will be a bit different (e.g. I can’t sit down for lunch). Your comment on the bibs is timely, since I just put in my ‘vote’ on the HR site for ‘shorts’ in their survey on the subject. I’m used to bibs now, but I’m more comfortable in shorts…which begs the question, why do I ride in bibs? I’ll get back to you.

      I see you’ve done l’Eroica. I’ve got a friend who has done the long version twice and I’d love to get over there and race it myself. I just don’t have a bike old enough…

      • I initially tried bibs out of curiosity. Finding the right bibs that suit your anatomy and riding position is, I think, a matter of luck as you cannot really rely on feedback from others since everyone’s body / ride position combination is unique. However, once you find the right pair, I think there’s is no turning back. And, this is coming from someone who is yet to be convinced that one really ought to be allowed to venture out in public wearing Lycra.

        As for l’Eroica, I did the full monty this year, and it was an absolute cracker:

        • I’ll keep looking for the right bib. I know my Mavics have a little ‘tug’ when I don’t want to be tugged, that’s for sure. Nice work on l’Eroica, too. Are you going back this year?

  2. Great advice from Mr ORIOL.

    Regarding the saddle. Now that it’s fairly easy (given enough money) to get a bike to weight under 15lbs, you can invest in a saddle that’s to your butt’s liking. Years ago I rode a non-padded Flite carbon fibre saddle to reduce total weight of my bike. Given my current bike only weighs 14.5lbs, I’m looking to add weight to make it legal, and saddle comfort, as Chikashi mentions above is something we no longer have to compromised to save a few grams. BTW – I like the saddle you’re thinking about; I guess that’s because it’s the same as mine.

    The best piece of advice that ORIOL provides is to use nothing new on race day. Every component on your bike, every piece of clothing and most importantly, everything you use to refuel your body shoud be tried, tested and tested again. As much as everyone knows this simple rule, there’s going to be one person that learns this lesson the hard way and I suspect Haute Route is a very unforgiving beast for those riders that ignore this golden rule.

    • Weird, I didn’t even know I was looking at the same saddle as you, although probably it was something subconscious, since I’ll bet you told me before. Does the thing have any padding at all?

      I agree re his best advice, and thought it would be a no-brainer, but you’re right, there could be a few out there who buy something new just for that event. Solid advice M. Oriol.

  3. Another thing to consider is the overall cost. In case you haven’t noticed, this entire trip is rather expensive. 🙂

    For me, because of the cost, new wheels are out of the question. Fortunately I carry decent wheels, which are more than ample for the alps (they have been tested plenty in the Blue Ridge hills!). I could get new wheels to help go faster, but I hear they are going to have speed controls on the descents, so it probably doesn’t matter. Aside from the weight, the wheels won’t make a tremendous difference on the climbs

    A comfortable saddle is a must. I’ve already been shopping around and have a couple I’ll try once I get some quality riding time.

    • Absolutely, although I have an edge on cost since I only need to spend €25 to get myself to Geneva! I’ve upgraded the wheels, and even though they’d probably be the first things I should do again, I couldn’t stomach it after only one season. My saddle is OK, but I don’t have too many issues usually with them, unless it’s a very long day. Let me know what you end up getting.

        • That’s the model that came with my Bianchi. I have no complaints with it so far, but it’s a bit on the weighty side. The carbon version is lighter, though.

        • It’s also the brand I have on my Cervelo, although mine is a lower model and pretty worn down. There is a fine line between comfort, weight, and performance. I think this one is okay at all of these, although you could probably find better.

  4. Test and try and, if necessary, fine tune your nutrition. Even though I ate and drank plenty during this year’s L’Etape, I obviously still didn’t get enough electrolytes into me. With the heat on La Toussuire, I had a hard time those last 10 km…

    • I did too, and I think it was the same reason as you. The heat didn’t help either, but I should be used to that, living where I do.

      Thanks for the comment, and great site you have there!

      • Thanks. And I quite like yours, too. 🙂 Considering where we live, I should be used to heat as well, but somehow I never stop learning more about how many body reacts to it. The cramps I experienced those last few kilometers during L’Etape certainly were new to me.

        • For cramps, I found that a dose of extra (prescription) strength magnesium (powder) consumed at the start of the day is very effective in preventing them.

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