An Analysis to Help Choose Between the 3-day or 7-day Race
Time and time again I am asked the question as to what Haute Route event is best and how to compare a 3-day gran fondo against a 7-day gran fondo. One is a week-long point-to-point gran fondo modeled on the Tour de France, while the other is a weekend of gran fondo rides from a single locale. Last year I rode both the Haute Route Ventoux and the Mavic Haute Route Rockies.
Up until a few years ago, Haute Route only offered 7-day events in the Alps, Pyrenees and Dolomites over classic Grand Tour cols. These epic week-long rides are what Haute Route is famous for. Recently they added 3-day events built around legendary European climbs like Ventoux, Alp d’Huez and Stelvio. Now Haute Route also offers 4 events in North America with three 3-day (San Francisco, Asheville, Utah) and one 7-day (Rockies) kicking off the start of summer.
Both ride options have their advantages and disadvantages to account for …
Cost (30 Points)
Haute Route events are premium products, with premium pricing. You won’t find a Haute Route deal on Groupon (though the alliance with GFNS may help a little). While typical gran fondo entry fees run $100-150/day, Haute Route events are an eye-popping $300/day. Add in air travel (you + bike), lodging, transfers, food, etc. and the total cost easily approaches $2,500 for a 3-day and $5,000 for a 7-day. That’s a pretty penny, so I give the advantage to a 7-day since it’s the best value – in for a penny, in for a pound. Although, a Haute Route within easy driving distance is enticing if you don’t have wads of bucket rider bucks or don’t enjoy watching your bike get a TSA cavity search.
3-day (14/20) | 7-day (17/20)
Training (20 Points)
Preparing for any Haute Route requires a lot of time in the saddle. The 7-day event requires a lot of monotonous time building endurance to survive a week of tough, long, mountain stages. Training for a 3-day is much easier since the average stage length is noticeably lower with only one long stage and little time for accumulated fatigue or physical difficulties to set in. Weekend warriors can prepare for a 3-day on 7-9 hours of training per week compared to 12-16 for a 7-day. Hands down, training for a 3-day is more enjoyable and attainable.
3-day (20/20) | 7-day (16/20)
Logistics (20 Points)
Let’s face it, at multi-stage events like Haute Route finishing each day is only half the battle. The other challenge is managing logistics to keep things simple and stress free so you can recover to suffer another day. This is where the 3-day really shines, by operating out of a single venue. Rent a room, ride, recover, relax and you’re all set to do it again. At 7-day events wandering around trying to find your hotel in a strange town after a long stage is a pain-in-the-arse, especially when all you want to do is collapse. The 3-day is also work and family friendly since you only need a few vacation days and the family can come along to do cool activities while you’re out on the bike impersonating an extra from The Walking Dead.
3-day (20/20) | 7-day (15/20)
The Suffer-like-a-Pro-Experience Factor (40 points)
If you do a Haute Route you want it to be tough, or what’s the point. That’s the reason why all Haute Route events include miles of climbing and wonderful support to help you perform your best. Support includes safety motorcycles, mechanics, corner marshals, aid stations, route notes, masseurs, customer service staff and an exciting start/finish village. As far as suffering like a Pro though, the 7-day event delivers an unparalleled experience.
You get a real sense of the pain a Tour de France rider goes through, and the thrill of making it to Paris (or in my case Colorado Springs) without admitting defeat in the back of a Broom Wagon. Convincing your aching legs to get over another monster climb on day 4, 5, 6 and 7 is a conversation every bucket rider needs, at least once in a lifetime.
3-day (30/40) | 7-day (40/40)
Final Analysis and Considerations (100 points)
For riders with time, money and desire to see how far they can push their bodies on the full course 7-day Haute Route experience is a must-do bucket ride. Riders with real jobs, families, limited time to train, a mortgage and no need to suffer like a dog for days on end can taste the Ride Like A Pro Experience during the 3-day.
If your Ride Like A Pro budget is more blue collar than blue blood consider GFNS events that offer a time trial in addition to a gran fondo. Of course, if you want a real taste of amateur stage racing you can pick up a USA Cycling license and head to the Tour of Gila. With 6 months until the race start, get training!
It’s a great time for gran fondo riding in North America with many bucket list worthy events to consider. Whatever ends up on your bucket list, you can’t go wrong with time spent in the saddle.