Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Alpe d'Huez report

Chris and I were supposed to go to France in July and it was this stage that we were going to watch. Unfortunately we had to change our travel plans at the last minute and rebook our trip for August, thus missing the Tour. However, things worked out cause I probably wouldn't have been able manage getting to ride it the day were watching this stage, you know, unless some team asked me to fill in or something.

After a few days in Paris, we made our way via train to Grenoble, picked up our rental car and drove in the rain (it only rained twice our entire trip) to Le Bourg-d'Oisans, at the base of Alpe d'Huez and checked into our hotel. It was late in the day with no time to ride (not that I wanted to ride in the rain), so we decided to take a drive up to the top. Let me say that it intimidated the hell out of me. I had a tough time sleeping that night anticipating the climb that I would do the next day.

This little village comes alive during the Tour. Flags and jerseys still hung above the street.

I found a bike shop in town (there were two) that rented bikes and was able to get myself a very nice Look carbon beauty with a nice build kit and wheels. The plan was to ride in the general area, get a good warm up in, see some sites and then tackle the legendary climb. The shop had printed up suggested bike routes in the area and with the shops mechanic help, he helped me choose a "warm up" route that was about 64km return that seemed to follow a nice valley. The mechanic said that there was only one tough climb. I thought to myself, "No worries. It'll be a good little warm up and I'll see some stunning alpine scenery then I'll grind my way up d'Huez.

The problem is . . . . well, there was something lost in translation . . . . or perhaps the European mindset, especially this guy's who probably grew up riding his tricycle as a young child up such routes that he was sending me on, was a little different from my idea of a "warm up ride".

Shortly onto the valley road to La Berarde, road narrows, side cut into rock wall so vehicles can get by. It appears flat - it's not.

The ride started off pretty well. Had to follow a busy main road for a few km's until a branched off onto the valley road on my way to a little village called La Berarde. Was on that road for about 2km and then it kicked up. I knew this wasn't the "tough climb" that the mechanic told me about, because he said it was about 10km in. Then WTF was this?!?!?

Tunnel - it appears flat - it's not.

This is where I figure the "tough climb" was. Turns out it was a 12% grade for over 2km.
I ended up climbing for about 30km.

La Berarde
Took me about an hour and a half to get to La Berarde, and only 35-40 minutes to get back to La Bourg-d'Osians. Filled up the bottles, grabbed some food quickly then back on the bike to tackle Alpe d'Huez, it's average grade of 7.5 % and the 21 switch backs to it's finish line.

Lots of paint on the road still leftover from the Tour.

- one of the 21 switchbacks in the background

They're nice enough to put up little reminders of how you've come or how far you've got left to go (for those "is the cup half full or is it half empty" types) - each sign has a Tour winner's name on it.

switchbacks - the only place on the entire climb where you could recover, but it lasted only seconds then you were climbing again. The average grade is listed at aprox 7.5% . . . . that takes into consideration the end (which is flat'ish) and the beginning starting near the village. Most all of the grades seemed to be around between 10 - 8%.

there's a little tiny place on the way up - La Garde - with a lovely little church . . . perfect place to receive your last rites if you cannot go on. I considered it.

that's La Bourg d'Osians down below with many of the switchbacks in the forefront

kissing my cross as I come over the finish line
funny, there were no crowds of screaming fans, cameras and photographers at the end like I always saw on TV while watching the Tour . . . . a little disappointing.


I don't know my time. For the first half, which by the way is the hardest & steepest, I had the camera and stopped to take a few pictures (it was an excellent excuse to stop!) - then about half way up Chris met me and grabbed the camera from me . . . then I had no excuse to stop.

The disputed record time up d'Huez was set by Pantini in '95 with a time of 36'50". He was also at the time pepped up on EPO and whatever drug he was abusing at the time which made him higher than the mountain he was climbing and faster than cheetah on speed.

I don't think I rode it faster than him. After my little "warm up" ride, I was pretty spent and managed to turn the legs over at an average speed of about 9.5-10 km/hr over the 14.5km climb - that's with a few stops and so on. I probably would have beaten his time if I started it with fresh legs. Keep in mind when he did set his record, and those who subsequently came close to setting those records, had rode all day (and rode climbs like Col du Galibier or Col du la Croix de Fer) and finished on d'Huez. Drugs or no drugs . . . pretty freak'in remarkable.

**Side note: this was my first time to France and the alps, so all I've ever known about riding in the mtns is what I've seen in magazines and on TV. Alpe d'Huez is a classic, famous climb . . . however in saying that, the whole of the alps (including Switzerland and Italy - went there too) is littered with amazing climbing and pristine roads. I think I was a little naive thinking that this would be "THE" toughest ride - I came across many, many others while driving that looked equally as tough or tougher, and as long or longer. I cannot wait to go back!**


Roman Holiday said...


Jerome said...

Dude, looks like you had a great trip. Nice.

Shorty said...

the pictures are absolutel amazing Craig...


Unknown said...

awesome post Craig. I'll be there this Sept. Thanks for the heads up on the La Berarde.

angelosam123 said...

Wow, nice blog, it is really helpful for me. I have scribed the blog to get blog updates. Looking for more information on the same because i love mountain....
Alpe d'huez hotel