Originating in the French Alps, Haute Route has become famous for its 7-day events which can offer 800km distance and 20,000m climbing. With the event already expanding as far afield as the Rocky Mountains I began to wonder what an Australian Haute Route-style event might look like. Could the Australian Alps offer a match to the European parcours? The short answer is yes.
I had a close look at the course profile for the 2018 Haute Route Alps and set myself the challenge of plotting an Australian route which could equal the European experience, stage for stage.
I’ll present this as a direct comparison before offering detail on each stage individually. Here’s what I came up with:
So fractionally greater distance, and fractionally less climbing, but a pretty close match is possible. The immense grandeur of the French Alps may stand in some contrast to the understated beauty of the Australian equivalent, but our mountains are real mountains, and the riding experience they offer can be challenging and sublime.
Here’s a look at the hypothetical stages (I’ve considered logistics and imagine the whole event could be staged at three accommodation locations; Marysville, Mansfield and Bright, with transfers where necessary).
Stage 1: Warburton – Mt Baw Baw 104km / 2810m
Apparently the only Australian mountain with a UCI HC rating. Some devilish part of me likes the idea of a bunch of Euro and US Haute Route tourists approaching Australian mountains with scepticism and getting whacked with this at the start. On this route, almost as soon as you turn off from Launching Place you find yourself in beautiful dense forest which lasts until the summit finish.
Stage 2: Lake Mountain – Mt Donna Buang 174km / 4020m
This epic route was done this year by a friend and I’ve intended to do it since. Start in Marysville and do the full Lake Mountain climb before descending Reefton Spur and climbing Mt Donna Buang. After descending Donna, climb Reefton Spur and enjoy the fast Lake Mountain descent back into Marysville. Two HC rated mountains by Strava’s definition.
Stage 3: Eildon – Tolmie 143km / 2455m
Some respite with no HC climbs by anyone’s definition. But beautiful rolling hills and winding roads with a number of second category climbs. The descent towards Jamieson with Lake Eildon on your left is fantastic. The descent down Old Tolmie Rd offers outstanding views out to Mt Buller and is very fast in places.
Stage 4: Mansfield – Mt Buller x2 80km / 2510m
Not quite as famous as Alpe d’Huez, Mt Buller nevertheless offers almost exactly the same distance and average gradient as that iconic mountain. Having done both, I say Buller is the prettier climb. Compared to Alpe d’Huez the climb starts easier and finishes harder. Here there are two ascents with the second going until the sealed road runs out at the very top.
Stage 5: ITT Mt Buffalo 18km / 1010m
On to Bright, the epicentre of Australian mountain cycling, for the last three stages. Mt Buffalo is a gorgeous and consistent climb with rewarding views across the valley near the summit. I always wished the Tour of Bright began with a mountain time trial on Buffalo so I can’t resist throwing it in here!
Stage 6: Mt Hotham – Dinner Plain 166km / 4290m
The Queen stage of this hypothetical event. Australia’s highest mountain climb takes you to 1840m altitude before you descend down to Omeo and come back up the climb to Dinner Plain. A tiring last few km across the top to Hotham Heights deny a proper summit finish, perhaps to the advantage of a breakaway?
Stage 7: Falls Creek – Rosewhite Gap – Tawonga Gap 210km / 3320m
Finishing with the longest stage of the event. Climb Falls Creek from Omeo then ride the Tour of Bright Gaps loop in reverse. I originally had this finishing in Bright but figured it was only appropriate a hypothetical event of this nature have a hypothetical summit finish, right? And there’s a great finishing photo opportunity at the look-out!
So a fun little exercise. I was actually prompted by a friend’s notification that early discount entry to Haute Route Alps 2018 is closed. I would love to ride that event but at present the constraints of time and work and money stand in the way. So 48 hours after I started thinking about it I find myself blogging this.
I also find myself realising what an incredible resource our high country is to cycling and how underutilised it is. We haven’t produced many GC riders on the world stage, and perhaps that is due to how we race in Australia.
There are exceptions of course, but here in Melbourne, with the mountains on our doorstep, club racing is preponderantly on flat or tenuously hilly courses. Not to mention the archaic seasonal demarcations which turn road racing into a winter sport, denying the potential for racing at altitude.
A few VRS races aside, cycling in the mountains has become a mostly recreational challenge, from the 7 Peaks passport to the 3-Peaks gran fondo. We could double the number of mountain races and still barely scratch the surface of possibility.
Hopefully this little exercise in imagined possibility inspires someone. I’ll try to do all these routes one way or another now. But it might not be in seven days!