The movie “Icarus” — about performance-enhancing drugs in the bicycle racing world — focuses on the Haute Route. The brutal 7-day, 480-mile, ride in the Pyrenees — with 60,000 feet of climbing — is the amateur equivalent of the Tour de France.
When John Daut saw “Icarus,” his competitive juices started flowing. He’d been biking since 1998, the year a knee replacement forced the longtime athlete to find a low-impact sport for rehabilitation.
After seeing “Icarus,” the Westporter — whose day job is in airplane sales — spent 9 months training for the Haute Route. In all kinds of weather, he rode all over Connecticut and New York.
As in, all over. A typical day included a ride to Bear Mountain; biking up Bear Mountain, and a ride back to Westport. He’d be home, Daut jokes, before his kids were out of bed.
His hard work paid off. Daut just returned home (by plane, not bike) from Europe. He finished the Haute Route.
But that’s like saying Greg LeMond or Lance Armstrong “finished” the Tour de France. Daut won the 60+ men’s division. He was the 4th fastest of the 28 Americans who completed the course — and 61st overall out of all 280 racers.
There was no photo finish. Daut finished first in his age group every day — and won the full race in his age group by an astonishing 1 hour, 20 minutes.
This was definitely not “Breaking Away.”
Daut trains with Westport’s two cycling centers. Eneas Freyre of Total Training & Endurance “very subtly turns people into real riders,” Daut says, while Jean Paul Desrosiers of Sherpa helps with things like heart rate and power. In June, Daut joined Desrosiers’ 410-mile ride to Montreal.
Like many bikers, Daut can’t get enough of riding. He loves the rush of endorphins and adrenaline, and the sport feeds his competitive nature.
But there’s a social aspect too. The 61-year-old enjoys riding with the 200 or so other bikers who regularly take to the local roads.
Of course, Compo Hill is hardly the Pyrenees.
Daut knew the Haute Route would be the toughest challenge of his life. Over 400 riders signed up; half were “ultra-competitive” like him.
Going in, he admits, his mindset was “fear.”
“I’m pretty good in New England,” he says modestly. (In fact, the week before the Haute race, Daut won the Connecticut state 55+ championship.)
“I ride 1,000 miles a week, including the winter. But I do maybe 50,000 feet of climbing a month.” This was much more — in much less time.
But on Day 1, Daut realized he could compete.
He won his age group — and finished 70th overall. From then on, he says, “I got more aggressive.”
The third day was the toughest. It was cold and wet. And much of the race was downhill.
That sounds okay — until Daut explains that, going down a mountain at 35 miles an hour in those conditions, “you and your bike are shaking badly. The curves are frightening. You just want to climb, to get your heat back.”
Day 4 started out even worse, with a torrential downpour and temperatures in the 30s. Over 60 riders abandoned the course.
Other days were “beautiful” — though “long and hard.” Daut pushed through. He flew like Icarus (thankfully, with better results).
Now, Daut is riding back in Westport. So how does the Post Road compare to the Pyrenees?
“Lots of people want to ride with me,” he says. “They sit on my wheel. I get some credit from my buddies. And a lot of guys want to beat me to the top of the hill.”
(Hat tip: Iain Bruce)