Crowds lining the streets of Toulouse cheered a 400-strong peloton to the finish line of the hardest ever edition of the Haute Route Pyrenees today.

Arriving in convoy, the weary but elated riders celebrated with friends and family at the end of seven punishing stages that covered more than 800km and 20 iconic Pyrenean mountain summits.

The week-long event represents the highest and toughest cyclosportive in the world and the joy of finishing was palpable on the finish line in the heart of Toulouse.

“After the very first day I thought this was unachievable, but to be here now, I’m euphoric,” said Keith Chanter from the United Kingdom. “During stage one I thought I was a hero, by the end of the day I was thinking of buying an early plane ticket home. It’s been an incredible event.”

Now in its third year the Haute Route Pyrenees gives amateurs of all standards the opportunity to ride under conditions usually reserved for professionals.

Haute Route project manager, Julie Royer, said: “The scale of the achievement of all our riders is staggering. In reaching the finish line in Toulouse they have collectively cycled 300,000km – the equivalent of seven and a half laps of the planet; climbed 8 million metres – over 1000 times up Mount Everest; and subjected themselves to more punishment than any right-minded individual ever should.

“The essence of the Haute Route is not defined by winning or losing; it’s about conquering. All of our riders are champions today.”

The competitors were supported throughout by the Haute Route’s main partner Mavic; their fleet of iconic yellow support vehicles trailing the peloton over some of the most formidable and famous mountains in cycling.

According to riders like American Wagner Baron, finishing the event seemed a remote prospect. “Certain moments were so hard for me,” he said. “I wanted to quit a hundred times. It was so tough I had to take every minute as it came and when I finally crossed the finish line in Toulouse, I put my hand on my handlebars and cried my eyes out.”

The Haute Route’s new official time keeper TAG Heuer lent its reputation for excellence and precision to the event, playing a key role in staging day five’s time trial. With a TAG watch awarded to the winner, competition at the front of the event was ferocious, as it had been throughout the week.

Austria’s Stefan Kirchmair triumphed in both the time trial and overall standings at the end of the event while a dramatic finish in the women’s race saw Amélie Laurendon cling on to overall victory by 51 seconds. This despite losing over three minutes to American Brooke Mead in the final stage.

The Kenyan national team picked up two stage wins. Six riders dreaming of future success on the professional circuit took part in the Haute Route Pyrenees to build experience. There are limited opportunities to train on paved roads and race in a peloton while back in Africa.

And as most of the competitors celebrate long into the night, 28 ‘triple crown’ riders prepare themselves for the second of three consecutive events. The Haute Route Alps begins on Sunday, finishing seven days later in Geneva before the event travels to Venice for the conclusion of the Haute Route Dolomites Swiss Alps on August 6th.



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