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Haute Route: Replicating the Tour de France experience for amateurs

Replicating the Tour de France experience for amateurs, Haute Route is hitting the sweet spot for cycling enthusiasts. Event director, Julie Royer, speaks to Kath Hudson about how cycling is the new golf

by Kath Hudson | Published in Sports Management 02 May 2016 issue 119
OC Sport’s Julie Royer talks to Sports Management
OC Sport’s Julie Royer talks to Sports Management

Driven by MAMILs (middle-aged-men-in-lycra), road cycling is enjoying a boom time and it looks set to continue, with China tipped to join the party next. Although predominantly a male sport, more and more women are taking to two wheels, especially in North America.

Global sports marketing and events company, OC Sport, has responded to this trend with Haute Route: a staged road race which follows many of the Tour de France routes through the iconic mountain scenery of the Alps, the Pyrenees and the Dolomites.

“It’s a bucket list experience for many people and that’s how we sell it,” says Royer. “The reason for starting was quite simple: cycling was booming all over the world, but especially Europe. Although there were many one day sportives, we realised what was missing was an event to give amateurs the experience the pros get on the Grand Tour: a staged race, fully timed, ranked and supported. We give them access to a dream, allowing them to be in the skin of a pro.”

The high way
Haute Route was born in the Alps in 2011, with 250 riders. There was clearly an appetite for it, because when entries opened for the 2012 event, they sold out in eight hours. “We saw the potential of the race and the expectation of the riders for more,” says Royer.

The team set to work adding more events to the portfolio. In 2013 a race across the Pyrenees, from Barcelona to Anglet, was launched and this was followed in 2014 by a third race through the Dolomites, from Venice to Geneva. In just five years the number of riders have swelled to 1,500.

Royer says each race has the DNA of the Haute Route, but its own personality: “The Alps is the most popular, because it’s a classic. The Pyrenees is the wildest and very popular with newcomers and the Dolomites, through Switzerland, is the highest with the most dramatic scenery.”

This will be the third year that all three races will run back to back. They are each between 700 and 800 kilometres, with 20,000m of climbing, spanning seven days and seven stages. The competitors only need to worry about pedalling, OC Sport takes care of everything else: food, accommodation, sports massage (with 30 masseurs on hand), mechanical and medical attention.

Only a handful of cyclists do all three events together, but the overall return rate is 60 per cent and, having just opened entry to its latest event, Mavic Haute Route Rockies, in the US, the team expects returnees to be even higher next year.

Returns of investment
Even at €1,400 (£1,090) per event, Royer says it’s proving to be an easy sell: “Cycling is the new golf. Many men are finding it easier to get out on the bike for a few hours and get back to the family. It’s easily accessible, although not necessarily cheap, because they like to spend a lot of money on their hobby.”

Currently only 10 per cent of the riders are women and this is something Royer is keen to change. “We would love to see that number grow, but appreciate it’s hard for women to take the necessary time away, not just for the event, but also to train. We suggest they leave the men at home,” she jokes.

“Female cycling is big in the US and we think the Rockies event might inspire more to do it. Cycling has been a men’s sport for many years, but women are starting to realise that it’s great for fitness.”

Royer and the team are excited about launching the Rockies event in 2017 – their first foray outside Europe – and already have a list of other places they would like to stage events at. “The world is very big so there’s a lot of potential to expand, we have a long list of projects,” says Royer. “The Haute Route cycling series will definitely grow: the market is there and people are keen to take on the next challenge.”

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