First-year Orwellians Stephen Heary, David Cahill and Kevin Sammon all completed the Haute Route Alps in August.
Taking in 855KM and over 22150M+ of climbing, it's a course that attracts aspiring mountain goats from across the world.
Starting in Nice, the race made its way to Geneva over some of the most famous Cols in the Alps including Bonette, Madeleine, Izoard, Croix de Fer, Galibier and Lauteret.
A drop-down menu administration error from the organisers had left all the Irish Haute Route riders with Iranian flags on their race numbers for the week. Rather than put a sticker over our flags, we embraced our new identities and formed the Tehrani Wheelers. Our back-story evolved as the week went on. We trained in the Zagros mountains all year. Rough roads, great elevation though.
Almost 550 riders started the week in Nice with a wet stage one leaving the riders in the ski resort of Auron. The rain continued on day two where Bonette and Col d'Izoard were marked off in atrocious conditions that led to nearly 30 abandonments from a combination of accidents and broom wagons.
The third day brought much better conditions as the race stopped in Serre Chevalier for a 12km 1000m ascent of Col du Granon. The winning prize was a Tag Heuer watch. None of us came home with a new timepiece - none of us even came within 20 minutes of winning!
Exhaustion from lack of sleep and being constantly on the go set in after day three. Day four saw us set off into the hardest stage of the week with 4200m of climbing over 168kms. None of us had done anything like those numbers before.
The heat and the elevation were too much for many with more and more riders abandoning.
Each stage after that became the toughest days that any of us had had on a bike. Even with less elevation, the fatigue from the four previous days was taking its toll.
We rolled into Geneva on fumes, the week's efforts having left us completely drained.
The Haute Route bills itself as the highest and toughest sportive in the world. There are definitely tougher individual days to be had at events like Marmotte/La Sufrida, but you'll struggle to find an event that will test you mentally and physically as much as the seven-day Haute Route.
For anyone looking for a more in-depth account of the week, I've penned a more extensive account on sammonkevin.wordpress.com.
Dan Coulcher also completed the Haute Route in 2013, you can have a read about his account if you log in to the Touring forum.