Previous editions of the Haute Route have been run under fabulous weather conditions. However, as any cyclist knows this isn’t always the case, and it is quite possible you will have to ride in bad weather.
In which case, you will have to change your approach…
Wet weather in the high mountains can be a real problem. While in some of the valleys the temperature can be as high as 40°C in the shade, it may be close to zero and even snowing on the cols 1500 m higher up. Add to this the chill factor of descending fast in wet clothing, and it can be very cold indeed!
The best advice we can give for riding in these conditions is to wear the same clothes as you would for wet weather in winter. Forget the fact that it is actually summertime, and get out your winter gloves, leg warmers, waterproof overshoes and Gore-Tex type winter jacket.
The question then becomes what to do with these bulky clothes when the rain stops?
Two options: if you have taken up the Race Services offer from Alpine Cols you can drop them in the car (and even get them back later if it starts to rain again); otherwise you will have to carry them with you. In this case wear two jerseys, one on top of the other. Use the first one to carry the extra clothes and the second one for your energy bars and gels, pump and inner tube.
The low temperatures increase your need for energy at the same time as your frozen fingers make it more difficult to eat and drink. Don’t hesitate to stop at the side of the road to consume a bar or a gel and take a drink. The 30 seconds lost are negligible compared to the time you would lose by running on empty and “bonking” from hypoglycemia.
Obviously, a long steep descent must be handled differently when the roads are wet: both the braking distances and the speeds in the corners are seriously affected. The most important piece of advice is to stay alert and highly concentrated. You must anticipate each corner and brake well in advance in a straight line, in order to be at the right speed before entering the corner. In the wet, once you have started to turn it is too late to brake.
If it has been raining for several days and the road is clean, you may still have some grip with your tyres. In this case it is still possible to lean your bike in the corners… to a reasonable extent. You will have to feel for the limits and stay well within them.
The grip in the wet is often improved by reducing the tyre pressure by 1 to 1.5 bars: do this before starting out in the morning.
Choice of wheels
For all but the most experienced riders, we recommend you ride the Haute Route with the best possible aluminium wheels, fitted with clinchers. These offer an excellent compromise in terms of performance, safety and practicality.
Many people are tempted however to ride the Haute Route with a set of carbon wheels. These offer certain advantages, especially if fitted with tubulars: they may be lighter and more comfortable as well as offering a possible gain in performance and a lower risk of the tyre coming off.
However, there are significant disadvantages, especially in the wet where braking on carbon wheels is far less efficient than on aluminium rims. There is a short time delay during which nothing happens while the brake pad eliminates the water from the rim. Once this is done the brake starts to operate. However, if you squeeze the brakes too hard you can transition almost immediately from no braking to blocking the wheels. This can be highly disconcerting and requires considerable anticipation.
Finally, if you are riding on tubulars, be sure that you are able to repair a puncture by yourself!