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Tales from Haute Route San Francisco

From issue 77 • Interviews by Brad Roe with images by Connor Robertson

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You’ve probably heard of Haute Route. These generally seven-day events are legendary in Europe and are on the must-do list of riders around the globe. In 2018, Haute Route is running four events in North America. The first was the inaugural Haute Route San Francisco, which took place in late April. Over three days, it featured nearly 200 miles of riding and more than 20,000 feet of climbing. The first stage kicked off with a 12-motorcycle police escort through downtown Oakland during morning rush hour before riders took on the 10-mile ascent to the summit of Mount Diablo. The next day, the peloton rolled across the Golden Gate Bridge with exclusive access to the west-side pedestrian path before riding through Marin County and climbing the iconic Mount Tamalpais, enjoying endless miles through the redwoods and taking in ocean views. We had a chance to talk to two Haute Route San Francisco riders, Kristine Johnson and Rick Oshlo, to get their take on their three-day adventure….

Can you tell us a little about yourself in terms of work, training and how long you’ve been riding?
 Professionally, I am in the sporting goods business, specifically tennis! I was a former teaching pro and competitor. However, tennis became all consuming when I took on the responsibilities for Wilson Sporting Goods as their territory sales manager for six states. It’s my job to not only sell Wilson’s incredible product but also to create awesome tennis experiences for consumers and sponsor events and top players throughout my territory. It is very demanding—and I love it. But if I had to live tennis seven days a week I could have burned out and potentially could have had a loss of fitness. So, one day, I asked my husband to help make me a bike racer—I have always been an avid rider—but I wanted to take it to an elite level. He actually told me to be careful what I asked for; and the tough love and training began. My husband (and Training Peaks!) coached and encouraged me to five national championships and multiple state championships. I am addicted heart and soul to cycling. It is a shared passion between my husband and I, and we also have a son who has been racing competitively and successfully. We ride both road and mountain bikes and our favorite adventures together that we share with our cycling “tribe” of competitive friends are priceless. I can’t wait to rally as many of them as possible to share the Haute Route experiences.

Tell us why you signed up and rode the Haute Route San Francisco? I have been racing competitively for several years…and it tends to be against the same athletes, which is great, but the endless repetition with venues, format and national competitions have reduced the allure of traditional competition. I love gran fondos. I think they are the future of the sport, and there is a new friend around every corner! The reputation in Europe of Haute Route productions brought total intrigue to my naturally competitive nature when they announced their expansion to the United States! I have been truly lucky to ride all over Europe over the past 16 years and having this company come to the U.S. was extremely attractive when I read about the inaugural event in California. The added dimension of timed segments would also fulfill my competitive passion! There is no doubt, Haute Route is an experience that will test your abilities, but it will also reward you minute by minute. I signed up hoping for everything I received—it was thrilling—but I received so much more than I ever dreamed.

What did you think of the three-stage format and the location? I have ridden in California many times and, after the long winter in Colorado, San Francisco was a must-do. I loved the three-stage format. It was a lot of climbing and, yes, at the end of the day you were tired; but then to have the epic experience with the time trial on Angel Island. Well, words are hardly enough to explain this surreal experience. Every person there clearly knew this was going to be a very special day, and it was. What a celebration of the three-day accomplishment! What a great ending to the adventure!

What were some of your favorite moments from the ride and event? Honestly, since I run so many various tennis events, watching the staff at Haute Route work so hard to please every single participant was enjoyable. Their smiles and consistent commitment were very evident. I enjoyed sharing the passion for the sport of cycling with so many different people from different parts of the country. Making new friends. Pushing myself to the limit…and finding out I had more to dig deep for.

Can you talk about the food, wine and atmosphere? The food was absolutely fabulous. The opening reception at Ghirardelli Square [in San Francisco] was a terrific kick-off. We then continued to be very spoiled with the culinary delights prepared by world-famous chef Matthew Accarrino, owner of the famous SPQR restaurant. This was absolutely over-the-top cuisine that was unexpected and world class. The wine pairings were perfection as well. Tired legs magically disappear when such experiences are so thoroughly enjoyed!

Can you tell us a little about yourself in terms of work, training and how long you’ve been riding?
I am a 70-year-old retired geezer—keep paying into Social Security for me! I was fortunate enough to retire and move from Houston to Breckenridge, Colorado, in 2002 when I was 55. In my former life, I was an officer with Conoco, a major integrated oil company. I had been a runner since finding myself becoming too “well rounded” physically in the very early 1990s, but became bored with that following retirement and took up road cycling in 2005. I absolutely fell in love with cycling—my wife says I’m obsessed and addicted—and the rest is history so to speak. I ride about 7,000 to 8,000 mostly climbing miles and typically do three to four multi-day events each year. I don’t mind being the oldest so long as I’m not last! Renee Eastman [six-time national women’s masters champion] has been my coach and taskmaster for the last several years.

Tell us why you signed up and rode the Haute Route San Francisco? I already was very familiar with Haute Route, having met several of [event organizer] OC Sport’s key folks and having done the seven-day Dolomites-Swiss Alps event and portions of the Rockies Test Event in 2016, and the inaugural Haute Route Rockies event last year; and I had committed earlier to doing the Haute Route Pyrenees in August this year. So San Francisco was a bit of a spur-of-the-moment “what the heck, why not?” decision. I knew several folks who were going to be there, had been chatting with [Haute Route chairman] Alain [Lambert], whom I’ve known for seven years, and, perhaps most importantly, my wife was interested in a long weekend in San Francisco.

What did you think of the three-stage format and the location? I think the three-day format is great. Haute Route SFO was essentially a three-day, a long weekend, destination gran fondo—“ride for time or not, riders’ option”—and going forward should be a very attractive option for folks who cannot manage or are not interested in a full seven-day event for whatever reason: cost, time commitment or fitness. I’ve never done any other destination gran fondos, because generally they are one-day events and it’s just not worth the air travel in my view. The three-day Haute Route format makes the “overhead” associated with travel, shipping a bike, etcetera more tolerable.

What were some of your favorite moments from the ride and event? You can count on an Haute Route event to feature iconic climbs and, as such, the Mount Diablo climb was a centerpiece and a favorite 70-minute long “moment.” Day 1 was a tough but very gratifying day—welcome to Haute Route. If I’m not mistaken, 168 people started Day 1 and 132 completed the full route. I thought the Day 2 route was fantastic from a scenery perspective. In particular, I enjoyed the ride through the redwoods. I’ve had that on my list for some time and, given that I was performing lanterne rouge duties on Day 2, I could take a more relaxed pace, stop, look around and thoroughly enjoy the surroundings. The Angel Island TT was another favorite moment. I’m a climber and not a TT specialist, so it’s very rare that I’m able to ride on a totally closed course when I can pick my line without any concern about “what’s coming around that bend.” It was a hoot to ride Angel Island ahead of the daily public opening.

Can you talk about the food, wine and atmosphere? The aid stations, lunches and receptions are well done and the general atmosphere is both festive and well organized. Dinner is pretty much on your own. This has been true of all three Haute Route events I’ve done. My wife and I did find some good restaurants and wine, as you would expect in San Francisco.

Would you do it again or do you plan to do any other events? Sure. At my age, potentially so little time and so many opportunities. As my wife and I say, the age of deferral is over!

Following the Haute Route San Francisco, the 2018 Haute Route Cycling Series continued on American soil with the inaugural Haute Route Asheville on May 18, followed by the seven-day Mavic Haute Route Rockies starting on June 23 and Haute Route Utah on September 14. In Europe, the Haute Route events started with three three-day events: the Haute Route Stelvio on June 8, the Haute Route Alpe d’Huez on July 13 and the inaugural Maserati Haute Route Norway on August 3. Then come the two classic seven-day European Haute Route events, the Haute Route Pyrenees on August 18 and the Haute Route Alps on August 26. The 2018 series continues with the revamped three-day Haute Route Dolomites on September 21 and finishes atop the Giant of Provence with the Haute Route Ventoux on October 5.