Garlanded with wispy clouds, jagged mountains rise sharply above glassy lakes, mirrored to sky with such perfection you’re nearly dizzy with how upside down all of it seems. Or is mirage – from exhaustion? From the second 250 cyclists clattered nervously, like skinny, helmeted warriors on to a ferry at 6.45am to battle via the water in mist and rain for 45 minutes even earlier than the beginning, it was clear this could be no peculiar event. Cycling in Norway is much less travelling on land, extra an undulating collection of roads and bridges linking breathtaking fjords; a relentless motion between mountain, sea and lake.
Haute Routes sportives are at all times difficult, designed to copy professional-level using, besides not like Alpine routes, this inaugural event is three days lengthy, pleasingly positioned in a single place, the harbour metropolis of Stavanger on Norway’s west coast. One lodge, one race village close by, and three days of round routes. So the logistics had been simple, every part shut at hand, and the post-ride meals and massages had been glorious.
A dank and misty begin at Lysebotn, Norway, simply off the boat. Photograph: Peter Kimpton
But don’t let that comfort idiot you, or the route profiles with apparently shorter climbs than many within the Alps, Pyrenees, or Dolomites. Day one, starting with that ferry to Tau, additionally then required a really damp 12km warm-up journey to the official begin at Jørpeland earlier than 157km of relentless ups and downs totalling 2,700m of ascent – breathtaking in each sense.
Route for Haute Route Norway 2018
I had nervous that the longest heatwave since 1976 would make this even harder, however Norway kindly dropped to a extra conventional British 20C simply as we arrived, accompanied by that acquainted ration of steady rain. The routes general had been beautifully conceived, shelling out equal doses of magnificence and ache, gorgeous views, rolling hills and brief, sharp climbs. Sadly, poor first-day visibility decreased the wonder and elevated the ache, resulting in a 40km ultimate carwash-like slog again to Tau by way of a ultimate nasty climb.
Riding via the moist on the primary day nonetheless introduced placing sights of lakes and bridges. Photograph: Manu Molle
Soreness apart, the second day (125km/2,350m ascent) step by step introduced the gorgeous visibility we craved, not a lot on the outgoing boat alongside one of the stunning fjords in Norway to Lysebotn, however bettering from Lysefjord bridge and round Pulpit Rock and Kjerag Rock, after which ultimately to Sandnes, our vacation spot.
The route round Kjerag Rock introduced spectacular landscapes. Photograph: Manu Molle
The route’s dramatic fjord base-jumping areas had been additionally used within the newest Mission Impossible movie. Not that we had a lot time to ponder this – our personal mission unimaginable started with a protracted, brutal climb – nearly 10km at 9% common gradient, with 20 hairpin bends. On the way in which up this included all of us in backside gear and panting like canines alongside a sizzling, darkish tunnel for 3km. Never have I been extra grateful to see the sunshine.
Ascending steeply via a protracted tunnel on day two. Photograph: Manu Molle
Finally on the high, and onwards round Keirag mountain, this was a shocking day. It was one to savour from that first summit specifically, when a couple of kilometres of descent had been untimed to permit for what turned out to be very minimal vacationer visitors.
The solely gripe of the day was the necessity to cycle an additional 25km again to Stavanger after the tip of of this stage, which, with a extra car-filled, city setting, was a drag.
The ultimate day, a 17.5km time trial from Stavanger harbour was against this a sunshine burst of adrenalin. Its profile seemed to be flat, however once more hardly ever was, and included three brief however lung-busting climbs of effectively over 20% gradient, ending with a celebratory view over town.
Sharp climbs on the time trial went above 20% gradient. Photograph: Manu Molle
And then all of the sudden it was throughout. I used to be very happy to have deliberate a brief further keep to benefit from the space, and revisit these views at a extra leisurely tempo, in higher climate by boat or on foot.
Leisure time: the highest of the gorgeous Pulpit Rock, Norway, after a protracted stroll. Photograph: Peter Kimpton
Any event like this is stuffed with private ups and downs, digging deep, going to darkish locations, but additionally great camaraderie and humorous moments. The distinguished visitor rider was former professional star and now pundit David Millar, using along with his spouse. He cheerfully shared gallows humour in regards to the toughness of the course, though he’s hardly out of practice. On the time trial stage he principally destroyed the remainder of the sector.
David Millar speeds off through the time trial. Photograph: Jed Leicester/Maserati GB
Acts of kindness, resembling stopping to surrender your water bottle to a needy rider, or serving to one another on lengthy, windy, remorseless stretches, can heighten the sense of humanity and esprit de corps to a profound, emotional degree, and even some gentle chit-chat actually helps move time on lengthy false flats. And I couldn’t assist however admire the rider who, I used to be instructed, stopped to assist one other with a caught chain, even through the time trial. And on this identical, brief, frantic stage, nor might I cease laughing as I rode previous a really carefree competitor who determined to take a pee after solely 2km. It proves that even with the clock ticking, using and enjoyable can nonetheless be extra vital.
But for the climate, and paying £10 for a Norwegian beer, it will all have been excellent – however that’s a threat that comes with the territory. Skål!