Photos: Manu Molle

From two hulls to two wheels

Fraser Brown, Paul Larsen, Mark Turner, Andrew Palfrey and others beat themselves up on the Haute Route

Friday August 26th 2011, Author: Lou Newlands, Location: France

Known for their achievements on board multihulls, monohulls and speed machines, a group from the world of professional sailing, are lesser known for their prowess on two-wheeled speed machines – until now. This week the likes of Andrew Palfrey, Artemis Racing coach and Olympian, Mark Turner who heads up the Extreme Sailing Series, Extreme 40 and round the world sailor Fraser Brown and Vestas SailRocket's Paul Larsen – perhaps the most ‘extreme’ sailor out there as he chases the 60 knot speed record - are all competing in Europe’s highest and toughest cycling challenge…the Haute Route – a taste of what pro-riders do in the big Tours, day after day of huge calorie burns along with a good deal of pain and suffering!

A surprising number of professional sailors have cycling as their alternative pursuit when they are on land – including French stars Franck Cammas and Thomas Coville, and Olympic and America’s Cup sailor Jochen Schumann to Olympics sailors such as Paul Goodison and Nick Dempsey.

The first edition of the Haute Route has 300 riders competing as Solo, Duo or Team entries. Starting from Geneva and finishing in Nice, in total, they are pedaling more than 730km, over 15 famous Cols and grinding their way up over 17,000m of Alpine terrain; nearly twice the altitude of climbing Everest from sea level.

They are tough guys, between them they have raced around the planet on two hulls and one hull, withstood the pressure of the Olympic trials, America’s Cup and the cut and thrust of everything pro-sailing brings, but the Haute Route is testing their limits…


“Your body is on a knife-edge – get the effort or fuel wrong and its all over…” says Mark Turner.

“Just a matter of hanging on for a little bit longer… I’m pretty shagged…” Andrew Palfrey

“Pretty stuffed…stop telling me the finish line is just round the corner….”  Fraser Brown;

“Third time in a week and it doesn’t get any easier…”  Paul Larsen.

These are just some of the words they managed to utter as they attempted the third stage of the Haute Route from Bourg Saint Maurice to Serre Chevalier – distance 162km, 3 cols (Madeleine, the Télégraphe and the Galibier), 4,000m ascent and 3,000m descent.

Check out the video of the Team Cyclosailors as they conquer stage 3 of the Haute Route reducing Mark Turner to tears (he’s not one to hold back on his emotions!), and even turning Kiwi Fraser Brown in to ‘emotional’.

Hannah White tried out the individual 12km time trial on stage 4 on Wednesday: “This is a really tough event, you just can’t rock up with no training and do it… “ She hadn’t done any training. “I don’t think it’s going to be easy by any stretch of the imagination…” She was right, 6km later… “Come on heart-rate come down…” 8km later, the language is deteriorating: “Shit man, I haven’t done any training, this is the easiest day and I’m finding it very, very hard but I’m nearly there…” And in the end Hannah made it, a great achievement but not sure she’s going to swap sailing for cycling just yet!

Also Francois Vergnol, Commercial Manager at Extreme Sailing Series who spends his working days securing sponsorship deals for the Extreme Sailing Series is competing in a multi-national team but today suffered a near catastrophe, crashing off his bike at a roundabout. Bruised and bloodied but not beaten, he’s back to ride another day tomorrow.

The Haute Route finishes on Saturday in Nice and for the riders that complete the event they will know they have finished the highest and one of the hardest cyclosportive on the planet. Follow our heroes here

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