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Maserati Haute Route Norway Test Event REVIEW

by Sean Lacey

NO Flag

Haute Route are synonymous with high class events providing the very best Pro experience for amateur cyclists, with their annual events in the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites, this year joined by a new adventure in the Colorado Rockies.

Always looking to expand the portfolio, the Haute Route team were keen to find a Scandinavian location - not many riders' first thought for a cycling destination but one I was certainly intrigued to experience.The invitation was scant on detail as a lot of the details were hush hush at that point, but it wouldn't be long to wait to find out what I, other press industry folk and invited alumni were in for as the trip was only two weeks away from this point. When the pack dropped in my inbox I'll be honest, my geography wasn't great and the destination within Norway for the three days of riding, Stavanger, was a mystery to me; Google maps proving answers. From what little knowledge I had of Norway I was aware that the further north you get the wetter it gets so it was good to see its pretty far south.

Travelling to Stavanger itself is easy enough, with direct flights from London and Manchester - my journey was a little more complex from Birmingham with a change at Amsterdam but both myself and my bike made it with the only hiccup being a delay out of Birmingham meant I missed my original transfer, so I arrived late, missing the first night's introduction, briefing and meal at a local restaurant.All was well though with comms from the team on the ground and on arriving in my room at the harbour front hotel I found my pack ready and waiting. As with all Haute Route events, this consisted of a backpack (for day kit that would travel on the team cars), a set of Mavic Haute Route Norway cycling kit and all the information I needed for the trip in a roadbook plus other goodies. With the bike built up in the room, bed - it would be an early start.

Day one began with an early breakfast at the hotel, giving me a chance to introduce myself to some of the other participants and the crew before assembling outside for a short ride out to the ferry terminal. Yes, with the Norwegian coat consisting of a multitude of islands and waterways, taking the ferry was the quickest and certainly most scenic way of getting to the more interesting riding roads the region has to offer. Now, I'm not great on boats, but I was relieved to find that the relatively small ferries are pretty swift, and that the coastal sea and Fjords are almost mirror smooth, making for a most enjoyable ride. Docking at Tau less than an hour later, another quick briefing and we set off as a group, around thirty in total. Today's stage was to be hilly but rolling, no great mountains to climb but plenty of larger hills to tackle amongst the stunning roads that ran alongside Fjords and lakes. Keeping us well looked after were lead sponsor Maserati, with a number of their vehicles transporting the crew, feed stops and day bags, key sponsors Mavic proving a team car and secondary vehicle and finally the UK based ONE Pro Cycling team bringing a team car and three of their riders to act as support and of course, check out the area themselves.

This being Haute Route of course it wasn't going to be a walk in the park, and the first climb hit with just over two miles in the legs; rising from sea level to almost a thousand feet over 3.5 miles. The descent led to stunning scenery alongside a Fjord, on an old road that cars now circumvent through a tunnel, leading inland to hiller roads once more. The biggest climb of the day sits almost half way through the day's 80 miles, again taking you from sea level to over a thousand feet, over four miles this time. Once thing that didn't alter over the day was the unbelievable beauty of the place.

As the day drew on the legs certainly started to feel the toll inflicted by the gradients, but the good weather and sights were more than enough to see us back to Tau, where lunch was waiting and then a short hop back to the ferry. The journey back gave plenty of opportunity to chat about the day and reminisce over the climbs and scenery, relaxing ahead of the evening gathering at another of Stavanger's excellent restaurants. First though was a massage back at the hotel, expertly undertaken by a team from a local business to set us up for tomorrows stage - we had seen the route profiles and maps in the roadbook and this was for sure going to be the toughest day!

Day two then, another early start and another ferry; this one a longer ride at around an hour and a half with breakfast provided on the boat. This ferry journey was to be a bit special too, taking us out on our very own mini-cruise through the islands and along the length of one of Norway's most famous Fjords, with sheer rock cliffs looming high above you; passing the famous Preikestolen (Pulpit Rock), a plateau at the cliff top that juts out 1900ft above the Fjord. Also along the way was another scarily high cliff used for base jumping, dramatic waterfalls cascading from 3000ft up and a huge pipeline running from the Fjord up the almost sheer looking rock, with a wooden staircase alongside  it comprising frightening number of steps, part of the Hydroelectric plant in Lysebotn, our destination. Oh, and a bike ride yet to come too, I had almost forgotten, enchanted by the views.

We gathered at the tiny port, unsure of what to expect. The initial profile looked almost comedic as the biggest climb of the day was first up, after just a kilometre of flat road. Ahead of us lay the imposing mountain road that would take us from the base of those huge cliffs up and over the top on a route that would head back toward Stavanger.

To the job in hand then - setting off together we began to split up as soon as the road started to rise, no sooner than the effort increased we entered a tunnel carved into the mountain, almost surreal, dimly lit and bare rock walled it rose up with a vengeance, spitting me out the back of the group early on and leaving me with the cars at the back, at least providing me with good lighting ahead. With a hairpin bend in the tunnel it was a little disorienting, and when daylight stung the eyes on the exit the true majesty of the climb was revealed. With an average of 10% over its six mile length and 27 hairpin bends, most of which you can see tantalisingly right above you as you climb it's no easy task. This is Haute Route though and it isn't meant to be easy. What I will say though is that it was possible the most visually impressive climb I've ever done and one I'm longing to ride again as I write this, despite being off-form and pretty much the last rider up to the top. The road levels out before the actual peak elevation, and the crew were on hand with snacks and a top-up, plus and extra layers you needed for the faster and flatter sections of the ride. Heading out into the wind and rain (yes, it had caught us up today) made for hard riding, group efforts are definitely required here.

The following miles took us on a journey across the highlands of the area, very sparsely populated by people, trees or animals and covered in cairns - piles of stones, by the hundreds making for a very unusual vista. The road gradually fell away into the more lush green forest we've seen so far with the road now rolling rather than hilly, passing through an alien landscape of huge boulders at one point and another tunnel hewn from the rock and no shortage of stunning views to keep your mind sharp. Chatting at one point we all brought up similarities in the landscape with different countries; New Zealand, Wales, Scotland and others - it was like taking all of them, mashing the best parts together and turning it up to maximum. You probably get the gist of it, but it really is stunning.

The day was due to end with a road transfer back to Stavanger around 75 miles in as the final routes hadn't been finalised, and we couldn't have asked for better transportation than the fleet of Maserati's on hand for our support, with the bikes taking steerage in the van trailer, a luxurious ride for us at least in the very comfortable Levante.

Day three was a little more relaxed - if you can call a Time Trial that - with a later start, and being held in Stavanger itself. After the last two days and my form not being great, this would be a bit of a challenge, despite its modest 11.6 miles. In TT terms this was a 'sporting' course, read that as 'hilly'. Deciding it might be best, I was first off from the start point near the University, with a course that started fast along some of the bigger roads in the city before heading into the more urban areas for the tougher sections. I hadn't paid too much attention to the profile for this one, just noting that there was around a thousand feet of climbing over the short distance. What I wasn't prepared for was the little surprise at the end, having given something near maximum effort for the duration all I'm saying is that I'm amazed I finished without climbing off. I won't spoil it for you!

A hearty lunch was provided back at the hotel as we said our goodbyes and headed back home. I've long been intrigued with Scandinavia but never made an effort to go - that was a mistake. I was truly blown away by what an absolutely amazing place Norway is, the land, the people all made me wish I was staying for longer. This of course was helped by the first class experience that Haute Route provides, they tell you you'll be treated like a pro and you certainly are, from the pin sharp logistics to the pinnacle of support and hospitality on the road you'll come away wishing you could do it all again. Put this on your radar for next year, I guarantee you will not regret it.