Alpe D’Huez

April 22, 2017

Personally I was pretty revved up about the prospect of The Alpe, so the fact we took a mechanically induced overnight breather was a big relief.

I wanted to do the fantasies in my head justice and the day’s previous climb and large lunch of spaghetti Bolognese weren't going to help that happen.

Little did I know that the perfect evening’s preparation for taking a run-up at the Alpe was a serious amount of spiralized courgette and a round-table game of 'what bike have you got our kid'. Anyway, evening marginal gains taken and a quick chat about a corporate HR department’s view on website data leaks - straight to bed.

 

Morning, blue skies, bike chat, bike kit, pretending to be relaxed at breaky. On the bike. YES! Alpe d'Huez here we come.

The thing about the Alpe is that you know it, even if you haven't been there.

 

You might know your mate’s time up it, you might know Pantani's time up it (just in case you don't, it's written on the wall after the first hairpin bend) if not, then you've seen it raced on TV. You may have heard it has 21 hairpin bends, it may not be cycling's marathon climb but it's cycling's bull ring. When ridden in the tour, it's one of the great spectacles of modern sport: brutal, chaotic, unpredictable, heroic. We've all seen it, we all know it's imagery.

 

Anyway, all this was in the background of our minds (well some of us) as we approached the start of the climb, but I wanted to ride it with my team, my mates, together.

 

The problem started for me on the first ramp, the sections between the first few bends, where the road is widest, has the most traffic and is also its steepest - not yet shedding the feel of a main road yet still heading up the mountain side, gaining height quickly. The problem was that Longy had hit the front and had a lead of 10 metres! That's all it takes on the Alpe, a flicker and suddenly you're there, you're on the same road that the greats have raced up.

 

One bend gone, and I can see the next, only 20 left, how hard can this be? Oh look there's Pantani's time, 36 mins and he's human, right? It's only a hill and we're both on bikes, let's go, more adrenaline.

 

Each bend is named after an Alpe d'Huez stage winner, cycling greats shared and raced this road. After a while, you're right there - Phil Liggett's voice in the background, imaginary cowbells and drunken Dutchmen in your ears, another hairpin, another chance to break the rhythm and accelerate into the climb and head faster up the so called cocktail mountain, take the yellow jersey and a peck on each cheek on the podium.  

 

With about 14 bends to go I think the spiralized courgette wore off and the adrenaline had stopped for a cafe au lait at the side of the road. Oh this hurts. I was left with 3 things to contemplate: 1. The sheer beauty of the impossibly steep alpine hillside I'm winding up on a staircase-like road; 2. The personal crazy internal dialogue you have with your motivations for entering into the suffering that's taken hold and you're in an arm wrestle with; 3. Where's Longy? I bet he's gaining on me, I can't let him me catch me. He's like the guys chasing Butch and Sundance, can't shake him off! 

 

The actual village of Huez starts with a third of the climb remaining and by this stage it really is time to climb into the pain cave. "Why can I feel my pulse in my teeth?" The bends get a little ambiguous, ("was that a hairpin or not?", "oh jeez, how many left", "where's Longy, how far back is he?")

After climbing through the village outskirts you hit the ski resort and the road flattens out, accelerating through the town and the underpass I'd seen so many times in the tour itself - welcome back adrenaline, a sharp left turn and a short sprint up to the official finish line - Glory!

Being something of a cycling Mecca the finish line is populated by the cycling fraternity’s rich tapestry. I think Lance Armstrong's British nephew was up there - he said hello to us all and was obviously having a good time.

 

Duncan being the usual excellent master of logistics had organised some lovely French chaps to meet us at the top and share a bottle of champagne. Nice touch.

 

The Fiasco train came across the line in the usual separated fashion. No Longy though.

 

I think he was found by nightfall having followed the road into the village looking for the ski lifts and photo opportunities. Yeah sure, he'll do anything to be first up the mountain!.

 

After lunch with lager for ballast and to help our centre of gravity we hurtle back down the mountain, only to be overtaken by a man who opts not to use brakes, handlebars or tee shirts.

 

Radical dude!

 

David Bomber Payne

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