Graham Friend Local Valais cyclist does the Haute Route Alps Geneva – Nice 2017 – An insight in to the physical and physiological demands required to tackle the Haute Route and some useful tips!

Day one and placed 51st so pretty pleased. Went too hard to start so had a terrible middle climb - I just hope I have not done too much damage to my legs - steady day tomorrow with the aim of finishing each climb strongly and to be strongest on the last climb

Day 2 and the 3 weeks of the Tour De Force meant I recovered well overnight. I decided to ride well within myself to ensure I could ride well all week. I was worried backing off would see me plummet down the rankings and that my 51st yesterday was an aberration. But I placed 51st again which is encouraging when I did not go too hard and suffered a short mechanical. I have been riding with a head cold which was worse this morning - I hope I will get over that as it is holding me back a bit but no excuses. My gold medal target is top 50 so I need to hope that the TDF gives me an edge as the week progresses. Weather is increasingly a challenge - it's getting hotter every day.

Sock Porn - coming from a tri background where we typically don't wear socks on the bike to "proper" cycling I had no idea how much I would have to up my sock game. It's a good job I did as there is a daily competition for the best socks and €100 to be won! So today I am sporting these which I am teaming with my lime green Rapha aero jersey. However my expectations are low, like all things in this race I am outclassed in every front, including the socks. However, as always, I am giving it my best shot! The head cold is back with a vengeance and I do not hold out high expectations for today. I have also comfort eaten and am feeling bloated and crap - back to careful eating for today and breakfast at 5:00am and not 6:00 as today which has left too little time for the food to clear. Feeling a bit sorry for myself this AM.

Day 3 and it's all gone horribly wrong apart from my sock game which I am sure you agree is worthy of the €100 prize and note coordination with the jersey. So my head cold has descended onto my chest and despite ventolin I was wheezing like a bloke on 60 fags a day. I was operating on half a lung and basically in survival mode all day and could not generate any power. I am so hacked off as I will not get a chance to see what I could have been capable of. 75th on the Laurent and Sarenne but despite resting for 30 mins by the side of the road in the neutralised zone I was 105th up the "other" side of Alpe d'Huez and about that for the day dropping from 51st to 57th in the overall general classification. Tomorrow is a single time trial up the iconic Alpe d'Huez with the 21? hairpins. It is the first time I will have ridden it and it's such a shame it's likely to be in survival mode! Just been to the chemist for more drugs - just hoping for a miracle recovery now!

Sock porn challenge and Alpe D'Huez - today's programme. I went to see the race Doctor yesterday as I am feeling so bad. They gave me steroids which I took last night but this morning I feel no better and walking up the stairs from breakfast left me gasping for breath. My plan today is to ride as hard as I can without putting too much stress on my lungs and enjoy my first ride up this iconic climb!

Stage 4 Alpe D'Huez time trial - drugged up to the eyeballs on paracetamol, ibuprofen, ventolin and steroids and I rode better than survival mode and relatively hard but without killing myself. I was able to enjoy the iconic climb and all 21 of the named and numbered hairpins. The drugs helped and it was an ok time 1:01:59 placing me 95th and I moved up one in the GC to 56th which is better than I expected. To put this in context the fastest time was 47 minutes and the fastest pro ever was around 10 minutes faster still but 47 mins shows the company I am not keeping. I thought I might slip back further. The gap between 56th and top 50 is about 16 minutes which now feels like a lot of time to make up. Tomorrow is the queen stage - which means it's a bitch! 4,500m of vertical lies ahead so I have to hope for some great recovery today - I am eating well, drinking shed loads and about to try and get some more drugs out of the race doctor!

Sock Porn Day 5 and the Col du Glandon (1,924m), Col de la Madeleine (2,000m) and Col des Saisies (1,650m) await with 4,500 m of vertical. I got onto the sock shortlist yesterday but still no cigar - not sure what tactic to adopt today, with temperatures predicted to be high I am leaning to the subtle, light blue "climbers socks" with the strategy of playing some of my stronger socks later in the week when hopefully others will have exhausted their reserves. More steroids, more paracetamol, more decongestant and I am feeling a little better but it's hard to tell with all the drugs. Usually everyone riders harder after the rest day so I will need to push harder today if I can. I am though backing off my planned watts to allow for the cold - will be interesting to see what happens - I am at least looking forward to the ride a little.

The first day I have actually started to feel better - hooray! 4,500m and 183 km is a big day but as I had dialled back my watts it was all really quite pleasant. I never really felt too uncomfortable and am getting back towards my normal levels of performance. I was 75th for the day (better than 95th yesterday) on a comfortable ride so relatively pleased although not so happy to have slipped 10 places to 61st. But everyone goes hard after the rest day but the good news is that is a matter of a couple of minutes back to my mid 50's ranking. So currently waiting confirmation from my coach as to the plan but I think tomorrow needs to be a day of do or die although the course is not ideal with a lot of flat sections so if you are lucky or unlucky with the group you are riding in this can make a big difference. Hopefully going to wake up tomorrow feeling even better!

Sock porn challenge day 6 - do or die and so it is with my socks. Not surprisingly I did not make the sock shortlist yesterday. Woke to a cough on my chest that does not bode well and feeling pretty rough again and a poor nights sleep. Anyway, will ride as hard as my body will allow - not feeling too hopeful though. Today did not start well and it seemed my body had chosen the die of the Do or Die plan - after a short descent from the resort we went straight into a steep climb with no warm-up. I was unable to breath despite a low heart rate and had to back right off as I feared some form of coronary. At this point I basically wrote the race off but surprisingly did not feel too bad as It was my health that was stopping me - not weakness of my mind.

I got over the climb eventually as best I could but was then able to deploy my skills developed overtaking lorries on the Verbier hill to pull back quite a few positions. In the valley, I found myself in a well organised Group that was not pushing too hard and causing me to red line so I made good fast progress to the foot of Epine.

Having warmed up I felt a lot better and decided the "Do" option was still open and decided to attack the hill and delivered reasonable watts and felt good. I kept with the same group on the next valley floor before the start of the famous Colombiere - this also went well and I was able to drop and put time into a few riders who I knew were ahead of me in the GC. It was kinda cool thinking about who to attack and putting time into them - very Tour de France!

The descent from Colombiere was neutralised so I took my time to recover and eat and again the same group worked well together to the foot of the Joux Plane. I attacked this the best I can and put in a pretty good effort - again putting time into key rivals and arriving not too long after chaps who I knew to be stronger than me - I had a sense it had been a good day after all.

I was placed 55th overall for the day and moved back up in the GC from 61st to 58th and there are 12 minutes between me and 50th place which is my gold medal target. It will be a big ask to close that tomorrow but the profile of the course might suit me and I am definitely recovering. The plan is full gas, empty the tank and gain positions on the descent whilst hopefully avoiding dying. We will see!

Sock Porn Day 7 final stage - woke this morning feeling the best I have all week. Alarm set for 4.00am and attempted to make porridge, trail mix and blueberry combo but something was very, very off and I still have a metallic, poisoned taste in my mouth - probably the unwashed blueberries or the bowl the kitchen lent me - I'm now worried I will come down with food poisoning! So I binned the lot and had the hotel breakfast at 5.00 and could have had an hour extra in bed!

Not even on the sock shortlist again so going for a more classy little black and white classic combo - hopefully they may move away from preferring the equivalent of the Christmas sweater variety of socks today.

Final stage and the plan is to try and get something of a warm-up in before the start to avoid breathlessness on the first climb - at least now I know it passes.

I have written a list of all the bib numbers of those between me and top 50 so I am going to try and really push as hard as I can today and see what happens - lots of ups and downs so it should suit me!

Do or die once more!

It's done - sorry about the sandals! I managed to finish 58th overall which was my silver medal goal range of 50 to 75. All things considered, I am pretty happy with my final position. Had I not been unwell I think I would probably have made it inside the top 50 but not much more than that. There is a lot more to learn about cycle racing at this level compared to previous haute routes where I was middle ranked. There is a lot more tactics, psychology and mental strength required to race well. So my progression has been 2015 217th, 2016 117th and 2017 58th so I am developing as a cyclist. 2018 I think I will target Haute Route Pyrenees and just do a recce before going for it seriously in 2019. So now I am putting the bike away to focus on ultramarathon running - 3 days of racing in The Canaries and the Oman desert marathon later this year as a prelude to the Marathon Des Sables 2018. But right now I'm going to have an ice-cream!


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