Words: Russell Finsterwald
Photos: Noble Guyon
My bike has allowed me to explore many beautiful places all over the world, but sometimes the most inspiring of those can be found in your own backyard. Growing up in Colorado, I have done my fair share of exploring what this great state has to offer, but to “see it all” would take an entire lifetime. When I signed up for Haute Route Rockies, I was looking forward to the competitive aspect to it and using it as a solid training week, but even more so, I was excited to ride new roads, see new vistas and experience roads I’ve driven numerous times to access the mountains at the pace of a bicycle.
What is Haute Route?
While Haute Route is new to North America, it already has a strong footprint in Europe. Haute Route events aim to give every rider the same experience that professional racers receive during a stage race. This includes daily massages, luggage transportation, mechanical support both during the race and after the race, well-stocked feed zones and an event that is organized to the very last detail. The format is similar to an enduro in the sense that you race various timed segments and ride casually to the next one. These neutral sections are a great time to soak in the view and chat with other riders.
This year’s Haute Route Rockies was composed of seven hearty stages that included more than 50,000 feet of climbing over the course of 530 miles. A majority of the roads would be ones I have never seen before and those are the ones I was looking forward to most. Stage 3 had the most unfamiliar terrain and was probably the one I was the most excited about when reading the about the courses. For that stage, we began the day in Winter Park, CO and finished in Avon via the backroads. This part of Colorado is one that is relatively untraveled compared to other areas, but in my opinion, offers some of the most beautiful expansive vistas in the state.
The highlight of the day was Trough Road, a 24-mile rolling dirt road. As we headed out of the aid station and into the timed segment, I decided to twist the throttle a bit and see if I could put the hurt on my fellow competitors. I was a bit surprised to find myself alone, with over a 30-second gap at the top of the first hill and had to decide if I should continue going alone solo for the rest of the 20+ miles into a swift headwind. I opted to go all in, in hopes of gaining some time and moving into the race lead.
I kept the hammer down the rest of the stage and really began to feel at one with my RLT 9 RDO. On one of the dirt descents, I managed to hit over 50mph! There was a lot of suffering going on in this segment, but I also made sure to look around on occasion and take in the landscape. When I crossed the line, I waited for the others and was told I put 2:20 into them on that section; enough to move into the leader’s jersey. At this point, there were still four challenging stages ahead but I managed to hold onto the lead until the end. Haute Route Rockies was such a memorable event and one I can already not wait to do again.
Haute Route Rockies was a bit of a last minute decision for me. Three days before the event, all the pieces for my RLT 9 RDO came together. I’ve never been as excited about a skinny tired bike as I am about my RLT. It will serve as my everyday training bike on the road, my gravel bike and with mounts for packs, I will also do some overnight trips with it! Being that Haute Route Rockies was a mix of both road and gravel, I opted to run some bigger tires than normal. I ran the Maxxis Padrone TR tires (28mm) on a pair of Stan’s Avion Pro wheels. The tubeless setup allowed me to run 80-90 PSI, depending on the course, which helped smooth out the ride. Stage 7 always loomed in the distance, and with the sustained 10+ % grades up to the summit of Pikes Peak (14,115 ft.), I opted to run an 11-32 cassette in the back and a 52-36 chainring combo on my SRM Origin Powermeter to ensure I had enough gear range to make it to the top of the 14er. As always, I ran my Union Sport RXSEL Saddle and ODI bar tape. I’m happy to report I had no mechanicals or flat tires over the course of the 32 hours of riding and 500+ miles!