The Lanterne Rouge Haute Route Dolomites/Swiss Alps 2014 stage one
For the second year running I was lucky enough to land the “Lanterne Rouge” job for the Haute Route cycling events in August/September. It is really hard to think of a better way to spend three weeks…
The real Lanterne Rouge in a pro race is of course the rider with the slowest overall GC time; but not in the Haute Route. My mission is to be at the back of the pack helping to encourage and motivate the riders who are either having a bad day or maybe have not put in quite as much training as they would have liked. When we get to the final climb I stay with the last few riders to talk them through the pain and be the last over the finish line. The aim is to try to keep people going when they would much rather rip off their number and get in the “balai” or sweeper bus.
The first day of the week is invariably the most interesting as we only discover as the day progresses who the Lanterne Rouge’s “clients” will be. Often a rider you have down as a sure fire back marker shoots off never to be seen again while the svelte guy in the smart kit suffers up the cols at 9km per hour.
Day one of the HR Dolomites took us from the delightful town of Conegliano over the San Boldo and its iconic hairpin tunnels to Cortina via the infamous Passo di Giau. We started with a neutralised section out of the town and a gentle warm up through San Pietro before the hounds were unleashed at the start of the San Boldo, 23km into the ride. The pack went from a compact and cohesive group to a ragged stream of riders all apprehensive about how they would fare on this first test.
The first feed stop at the top already showed some competitors under strain who had started too hard and were now paying the price, or gone too hard on the Prosecco the night before; they would soon sweat that out. There followed a rolling ride over 60km of classic Italian landscape, good roads, good weather and good banter before hitting the gentle lead in to the Giau.
Any smiles and chit chat soon disappeared as the last 14km of the Giau saw the slope vary from 7 to 14%, the temperature drop sharply and menacing clouds roll in from the North. It was now every rider for him or herself and we unfortunately lost two to the broom wagon only 6 km from the summit. As I finished the last 3 km with two Brits and a very determined Russian the heavens opened and we were pelted with hailstones, a first for me on a bike – and very painful on the legs, but we were soon at the summit, over the finish line and into the warm bus for the descent into Cortina. Our Russian rider at first opted to continue down (after a vin chaud) in the Siberian conditions but when we caught him halfway down he was more than happy to defrost in the muggy warmth of the bus.
That first day was “only” 115km and 3000m of climbing but there were six more days to come: over 750km to pedal and 16,000m of vertical to ascend, I knew that the Lanterne Rouge had plenty of motivating ahead of him.
Haute Route Lanterne Rouge 2013 & 2014.
Fergus travels with the AeroComfort 2.0 TSA bike bag
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