It is a pity that “iconic” has been so misused and over-used in the last couple of years because Alpe d’Huez is the iconic Tour de France mountain stage finish. A TdF HC climb in its own right it has been used in two out of three years in le Tour since it was introduced in the 1960s.
You don’t really go anywhere in the normal horizontal sense of travelling. The climb from Borg d’Oisans to Alpe d’Huez is basically a ladder thrown on the mountainside without a lift offered as an alternative to the ‘stairs’.
There are 21 virages (hairpin bends) from No. 21 at the bottom to No. 0 at the finish. On each is a board with the names of one, or sometimes two, TdF stage winners on Alpe d’Huez and also the height on this bend counting up to 1,860m. Ascent is 1,100m (Sheila wants to go Imperial at 3,575ft because it sounds better).
No gentle start to this one because the hardest part is at the start. Tuesday cyclists who went on our first tour may remember the hill on the Marlborough day that we all walked up (even Determination Mary who went a short way then stalled) – just keep this in mind.
Out of Bourg d’Oisans, round a left hand bend and you slam straight into the climb and rattle down through the gears. This toughest part through the first 5 hairpins has two potential problems. If you don’t make it – game over. If you do make it but are rendered legless then it is still a long way to the top and although instead of being ridiculously very steep the remainder is just very steep, it is probably game over before the finish.
Our tour leader seemed to be incapable of using the st**p word and so had described the climb as a bit grippy on the first part followed by a grippy section on the next part, then some grippy climbing etc etc, with the only variation being to describe one part as “a bit cheeky”.
Anyway we knew all about pacing ourselves and not starting out too fast (joke) and we were going for a personal best. So as we rolled over the start line we checked the calendar. It said Saturday morning, 14th June 2014. We were off. And I ought to mention we had about an hour and a half start on the others.
Grippy the first section certainly was, but we were going well and in a forward direction.
Coming down the mountain and roaring past us were the sports cars on the Coupe des Alpes. Nearly all waved and encouraged us but we were slightly concerned, when the driver and navigator of one open top machine both raised both hands at once to salute us.
Quite a bit of shade, with the mountain between us and the sun on the first half of the climb was welcome. A few brief stops to eat and drink helped us along and Sheila decided a comfort stop was required when we were at the apex of one left hand hairpin.
Reaching Alpe d’Huez with its cafés and shops was great, but the bad news was that we had to carry on through still climbing because the TdF finish is a further 2km on up the Alpe, No matter, with the finish ‘in sight’ we were going well and shifted gear to pick up the pace.
Finally crossed the line with Sheila, somewhat uncharacteristically, urging John to sprint. We checked the calendar again – Saturday morning 14th June 2014 again. Fantastic. A personal best that could not be bettered. Who wants to get into trivial detail like hours and minutes.
But for the record we finished in 2hrs 30mins including stops and we were not caught by any of our group.
Usual photos at the finish, including on the TdF stage finish podium which is left at the Alpe d’Huez line. As we had been on a tandem we shared the top step on the podium.
Watched some of our team mates come in then drifted back down to the village for a coffee.
Going back down was as exciting as ever, but we broke it up with photo stops and brake cooling down stops. Almost felt sorry for the steady stream of cyclists toiling up as we shot past in a blur.
Picnic lunch at the bottom then time to say au revoir to our team mates of the past week.
All in all a great morning out. About the same time as a regular Tuesday ride and we had fitted in coffee at the half way point. Just not sure that Lymington Tuesday cyclists would approve of a route variation that is an unrelieved steep climb to coffee?
PS. thought of buying a T shirt but could not see one that was tasteful enough.