From Average Joe to Top 33% Amateur Stage Racer in 5 years

Fredrik Norman
7 min readNov 26, 2022

In July 2022, I became a top 33% finisher in the Haute Route Pyrenees, a five-day stage race in France covering 600+ km of distance with 15,000+ meters of elevation gain. Just five years earlier, I joined my very first social group ride with Rapha Cycling Club in London. What happened?

On the Col de Portet (2215m), last climb of the Haute Route Pyrenees 2022

Hi, I’m Fredrik, and this is my cycling story.

In the past few years, I have completed three Haute Route races, some of the world’s most prestigious multi-day cycling events for amateur riders: In the Dolomites, Provence (Mont Ventoux) and Pyrenees.

And I am currently training for the Haute Route Alps, the highest and most challenging event in the series: A 7-day stage race in France, from Megève to Nice, covering 750+ kilometers with 20,000+ meters of elevation gain.

Climbing the Col du Tourmalet (2115m) at Haute Route Pyrenees (2022) — Photo: Sportograf

Now, I am far from a top racer, coming in at 80th out of 253 finishers in the Haute Route Pyrenees 2022, just within the top third. So I feel inadequate to the 79 faster riders, and know there are many, many more out there.

But my focus is not the result: It is to participate, experience and complete. And here is what I have learned along the way.

Learning 1: You have to start somewhere

The biggest challenge for me was building up the confidence to even start. I wanted to join the Rapha Cycling Club chat laps in Regents Park, their entry-level ride. But would I be fit enough? Fast enough? Or cool enough?

From the Rapha clubhouse in Soho after RCC Regent’s Park chat laps (2017)

I knew Regent’s Park was a short and flat loop of only 4.5 kilometers, so I could easily do the ride. But I was nervous about not fitting in. At 35 years old, and relatively successful in my career, this was an unusual feeling.

Fortunately, I gave it a shot, and was met with the same positive energy I have experienced everywhere in the cycling world since: Rapha’s ride leader Aleda made me feel very welcome, and that got everything started.

From the beginner’s group, I moved on to the more advanced. Always a bit nervous to ride with younger and stronger riders, but never regretting it.

Learning 2: Variety is the spice of life

Building from the laps in Regents Park, I slowly graduated to the rolling loops of Richmond Park and the hills of North London — even the punchy climbs of South London — meeting an even bigger group of great people.

Occasionally, our rides were even joined by Rapha founder Simon Mottram himself. Talk about living the brand, as the ultimate cycling gentleman.

Rapha founder Simon Mottram at the RCC North London Hills (2018)

With my confidence slowly building from group rides in London, it was only natural to aspire towards a bigger challenge. And with the great Rapha experiences I had, there was little doubt that I had to check out Rapha Travel (RIP) for a training camp on the Côte d’Azur.

Same worry yet again: Would I be fit enough? Fast enough? Or cool enough?

In short, we had a blast. My first long-weekend riding on the riviera opened my eyes to what cycling could be: Col de la Madone, la Madone d’Utelle, Col de Braus and more. Iconic climbs, and an awesome atmosphere.

Just casually hanging out at the Café du Cycliste with Rapha Travel (2018) — Photo: Christoffer Askvig

Learning 3: Learn from those who have gone before you

With the experience from Côte d’Azur, I started to think about doing a proper race. Some years earlier, I had discovered the Haute Route series, and knew that a friend had done one. But he was fit. And fast. And cool! See a pattern here? But I got some insight into how it worked. Tempting.

To see if I could actually complete a Haute Route event, I signed up for a training camp with The Service Course in Girona, riding Els Angels and many other lovely places, ending with a climb up Rocacorba on day five.

Tristan Cardew showing me around Girona (2019)

I learned that my Girona guide, Tristan, and his buddy Christian had done well in a Haute Route race recently, and he gave me good tips on how to train and how to ride. When he said I could do it, I started to believe.

Learning 4: Set your goals high

So I signed up for the Haute Route Dolomites (2019), a three-day event based in Cortina d’Ampezzo in the north of Italy. The year before, we had done a family holiday to the Dolomites, and I did two test runs: One climb up Passo Stalle and one loop of the Sella Ronda. I saw that I could do this.

From my ride up Passo Stalle (2052m), South Tyrol, Italy

Still, standing on the start line of my first Haute Route was a daunting experience. Three massive days of riding. One climb I will never forget (Tre Cime di Lavaredo — oh boy). And so many fast riders!

At the end, I came in at 130th out of 275 finishers, just barely in the top 50%. But way above expectations. And I even got a finisher’s medal!

Haute Route Dolomites (2019) — Photo: Photorunning

Learning 5: Any great ride has its ups and downs

Inspired by the Dolomites event, I immediately signed up for Haute Route Ventoux, another three-day race, but this time based out of Bédoin in southeastern France at the foot of “the Giant of Provence” — Mont Ventoux.

Long story short, I came in with too much adrenaline, failed to properly prepare my bike, got a replacement bike during the race — and rode way too fast to catch up with the peloton. Of course I crashed and ended up in a French hospital. My only DNF so far. Thankful to Alpcycles for helping me.

(Trigger warning — blood)

It’s not all fun and games… Thanks to the doctor who rode behind me (!) and Ben (legend) from Alpcycles

After recovering from my crash came Covid-19: No traveling abroad in 2020. I also caught the disease at the end of the year, leading to a break in my training. With cycling, as with anything, you deal with ups and downs.

As the panic of the pandemic receded and travel re-opened, I got back on the horse and signed up for the Haute Route Ventoux 2021. This time, I finished, placing 80th out of 189 (top 43%). More important was the feeling: Feeling great, and knowing I could do an even bigger event. I want more!

Approaching the top of Mont Ventoux, Haute Route Ventoux (2021) — Photo: Photorunning

So I set my sights towards the Haute Route Pyrenees 2022, a five-day stage race from Biarritz on the Atlantic coast to the ski resort of Saint-Lary-Soulan, including iconic climbs such as Col du Tourmalet and Col de Portet.

First, another lovely training camp with The Service Course (now in Nice with Alexis). Ended the race as number 80 out of 253, just in the top 32%. While this is clearly a pointless number to anyone but myself, it proved to me that I had reached the best shape of my life at the age of 40. Amazing.

Racing in the valleys at Haute Route Pyrenees (2022) — Photo: Sportograf

So: The first five years of my cycling journey has now taken me from being nervous about joining a short and flat social group ride — to training for a highly demanding seven-day stage race in the French alps.

More importantly, this journey has given me many incredible experiences, new friends and helped me look at life in a different perspective. If you’ve made it this far, and feel just a little bit inspired: Follow your passion!

The best rides are not necessarily the most demanding or competitive ones. I am particularly proud to be a road captain with the Oslo Dawn Patrol, an open, diverse and inclusive cycling community. But racing has played an important role in my journey, and I owe a lot to this experience.

I still don’t feel particularly fit, fast, or cool. But I am forever grateful, and hope everyone gets to discover and pursue their interests and passions in life.

The author in Nice, France (2022)

Thanks to the many people who have supported me and been riding with me along the way, including but not limited to Rapha London (Aleda, Paul, et al), Rapha Travel, The Service Course (Girona, Nice, Oslo), Alpcycles, Oslo Dawn Patrol, Velochef Clubhouse, 101percent training & most of all: My wife and kids.