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Five Minutes With: Matt Holden – Haute Route

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Haute Route Rockies is coming June 2017, 875km from Boulder to Colorado Springs.

“I would say it’s an event that’s what you want it to be. It’s a challenge
whoever you are and about pushing your limits, whatever those may be.”
– Matt Holden

‘Haute Route’ means high road, and that is no empty brand name when it comes to the Haute Route series of events in Europe. These multi-day, timed events were created to celebrate the great mountain ranges of Europe – the Alps, the Dolomites, the Pyrenees – and offer what just might be the ultimate challenge for the amateur cyclist. Think of it as seven of the toughest gran fondos imaginable, back-to-back-to-back. For 2017, June 24-30th, Haute Route is coming to the US. We chatted with Matt Holden from OC Sport, the event’s organizer, to learn more about these unique events.

peloton/Images: @oppcreative

[peloton] What was the inspiration for Haute Route in general? It’s such a different kind of event, half race, half fondo, but inspired by the great European week long stage races. Is that an accurate assessment?

[Matt Holden] I would say it’s an event that’s what you want it to be. It’s a challenge whoever you are and about pushing your limits, whatever those may be. Somewhat similar to Ironman events in that it’s a race if you’re at the front, it’s to compete with your peer group in the middle and for some nearer the back, a challenge to make it to the finish line. It’s inspired by the iconic mountain ranges more than the European Stage Races (Alps, Dolomites, Pyrenees and now Rockies). We had the idea in 2010 to create a multi-stage, point to point amateur cycling challenge. You could do a one day Gran Fondo, but nothing more.

Matt Holden rides the Haute Route Rockies test event in June 2016.
Matt Holden (right) rides the Haute Route Rockies test event in June 2016.

[p] When you launched the event, were you worried it might be too difficult for riders to accomplish and you would scare your field away?

[MH] No. People want a sense of achievement, of a challenge, and we find the few percent of people who don’t complete the Haute Route European events generally do so from being ill or having a recurrent injury issue rather than the event being too hard. It can be accomplished by virtually all cyclists who have put in some training and have the desire to complete it. However, I think being a little bit scared is part of the process, if you thought you could just turn up and complete everything, every time, where would the fun be?

[p] How hard is too hard for Haute Route, any examples of things you guys wanted to do, but decided to exclude due to difficulty?

[MH] (For the Rockies) our concerns were primarily around altitude and the acclimatization time, it’s the safety first aspect that we use for all our events. So, we could have made the course higher and harder and up to higher altitudes straight away, but we chose to err on the side of caution. In Europe we’ve had more vertical (probably 20% more), but obviously less altitude, so we had to strike a balance.

Also, the event should be fun, have an amazing course, taking in some great host communities rather than being ‘too hard’ and then it becomes less fun for most of us as it’s survival, rather than enjoyment as well as some suffering. There were several ideas involving time trials or stage finishes up one of the 14,000 feet peaks you have in Colorado, but you also have the issue of distance and geographical location in the US, much more than in Europe. Maybe something like this will be on the cards for 2018!

[p] The off the bike program – where people stay, how they are taken care of, transfers – how important is that to the overall flavor of the event?

[MH] It’s critical for us. We see the event in the field of ‘mass luxury’ and a premium level of service, we have 600 VIPs on every event. We offer a good standard of hotel, some amazing host communities, massage, post race food, Mavic jerseys, bibs and arm warmers as well as options via tour operators to add a team car, mechanic, physiotherapy, chef etc. It’s the full ‘supported like a pro’ experience that we’ve found so many people love, both on and off the bike. The aim is to take all the stress out of the week, so you focus on riding your bike and having fun, soaking up the scenery, meeting new people, all that good stuff

[p] Why America and the Rockies?

[MH] Several reasons. We want to expand the series globally and we’ve currently covered the three main mountain ranges in Europe. Our ethos is around iconic mountain ranges and the US certainly has this in the Rockies. Mavic (our title partner) is launching a new range of tires and we decided together to have a heavier focus on gravel than we do in Europe, so Colorado and the Rockies was perfect. We asked a lot of our current riders, journalists, cycling industry professionals, etc… where they would want to ride and the overwhelming answer was the US and specifically the Rockies in Colorado. We also wanted to do something a little different, where the concept isn’t quite as mature as the European market and again, the Rockies made sense.

To learn more about Haute Route and the 2017 schedule of events check out: hauteroute.org

2017 Events
Rockies: 24TH TO 30TH JUNE 2017 ($2400 entry plus $1890 for single accommodation)
Pyrenees: 13TH TO 19TH AUGUST 2017
Alps: 21ST TO 27TH AUGUST 2017
Dolomites: 2ND TO 8TH SEPTEMBER 2017