Chasing the Tour – Part five, Alpe d'Huez

Like riders in the Tour, we planned two separate assaults on the mountain: the first on day 1 being a 55km loop taking in the Alpe d’Huez and Col d’ Sarenne which just happened to be the route that the tour will be taking for Stage 18 and the second on day 2 being a hairpin filled side road parallel to the race course to drop us on the race route below hairpin 9 in the village of Huez to watch the race come up the mountain.

  The climbs between the hairpins during the first half of the climb are deceptively steep.

The climbs between the hairpins during the first half of the climb are deceptively steep.

  The road gains altitude very quickly from the base of the climb- making for some impressive views!

The road gains altitude very quickly from the base of the climb- making for some impressive views!

Like riders in the Tour, we planned two separate assaults on the mountain: the first on day 1 being a 55km loop taking in the Alpe d’Huez and Col d’ Sarenne which just happened to be the route that the tour will be taking for Stage 18 and the second on day 2 being a hairpin filled side road parallel to the race course to drop us on the race route below hairpin 9 in the village of Huez to watch the race come up the mountain.

  We left a little bit of #TeamKP on the mountain for future generations!

We left a little bit of #TeamKP on the mountain for future generations!

  You'll find #TeamKP here- on the final hairpin on Alpe-d'Huez!

You'll find #TeamKP here- on the final hairpin on Alpe-d'Huez!

Day 1 was incredible.  It’s indescribable it was that good. The 13km climb of Alpe d’Huez is tough, especially in sections where the gradient kicks up in to the teens for km’s on end, but the hairpins are actually flat and there are easier sections (7-9%) scattered along the way that provide some respite. But none of that matters in the slightest.  There are literally hundreds of thousands of fans lining the road singing songs, chanting “allez allez” and offering everything from cups of beer (did you catch the photo of Adam Hansen with a beer in hand during the race?) to a friendly push, and we were climbing a full day before the race!

   The balcony road from Alpe-d'Huez to the Col de Sarenne was breathtaking!

 The balcony road from Alpe-d'Huez to the Col de Sarenne was breathtaking!

  Don't be mistaken about how hard these climbs really are! Claire might be smiling in half of the photographs... but this is the gritty reality of how hard it is!

Don't be mistaken about how hard these climbs really are! Claire might be smiling in half of the photographs... but this is the gritty reality of how hard it is!

After summiting Alpe d’Huez, we then headed over a balcony road to Col d’ Sarenne which by comparison is only a Categorie 2 climb versus the Hors Categorie Alpe d’Huez (uncategorised because it’s that hard).  The ride was reasonably short between the two peaks, but we could see that the weather was starting to turn and wasted no time in commencing the descent.

  I was always camera-in-hand, so there are plenty photos of Claire... I thought perhaps a photo of me wouldn't go astray!

I was always camera-in-hand, so there are plenty photos of Claire... I thought perhaps a photo of me wouldn't go astray!

  Claire and I summit Col de Sarenne, what a ride!

Claire and I summit Col de Sarenne, what a ride!

The 10km of descent was extremely rough, covered in gravel, single lane, and steep with hairpin turns off-cambre just to add to the fun.  As a tourist I was able to take the descent within my limits- but there was much discussion in our group about just how much carnage there would be when the pro’s came down this descent at a much higher speed the next day!  As it turns out the Pro’s descended without much fanfare, although Contabore (renamed because he didn’t exactly light up the Tour as expected) did at least try to attack on the descent.

  The Col de Sarenne descent is a bit like the Samford Goat Track, only steeper, faster, five times as long and rougher... scary stuff!

The Col de Sarenne descent is a bit like the Samford Goat Track, only steeper, faster, five times as long and rougher... scary stuff!

  The view down the valley was breathtaking, but there was little time for taking photo's... this was one scary descent!

The view down the valley was breathtaking, but there was little time for taking photo's... this was one scary descent!

Day 2 was the day when the Tour would make its first ever double-ascent of Alpe d’Huez with a hill top finish and we would watch the first pass from Huez village above the Dutch Corner before descending a side road and watching the second pass from a local Brasserie over lunch.  It is estimated that 1 million people were on the mountain that day and the atmosphere was simply incredible.

  Race day at the Dutch Corner. What a scene!

Race day at the Dutch Corner. What a scene!

  I stood on the side of the road for 3 hours waiting for the GreenEDGE car... in the end- they were a no show on Alpe d'Huez!

I stood on the side of the road for 3 hours waiting for the GreenEDGE car... in the end- they were a no show on Alpe d'Huez!

We saw the riders come by late in the afternoon, took some photos, but I recall only a little bit of detail as it was just so incredibly overwhelming being there in that moment.  Simply beyond compare.

This was an extremely special stage, and I admit to having a new found respect for riders of the Tour. I woke today to read a tweet from Cameron Meyer saying that he was glad to “survive the mountains and was looking forward to Paris”.  I get it, I really do.  These guys suffered in a way that few of us can relate to, and they do it day after day on mountains that are just monumental.

 

  Pain beyond compare... and this is only the first time up it for the day!

Pain beyond compare... and this is only the first time up it for the day!

  Riblon (AG2R) would eventually go on to win the stage, catching Tejay Van-Gardren in the final few KM's on the hill.  What a ride!

Riblon (AG2R) would eventually go on to win the stage, catching Tejay Van-Gardren in the final few KM's on the hill.  What a ride!

Next time I’m sitting watching a mountain top finish on a Hors Categorie climb with 10km to go with Phil and Paul chatting away about how hard the climb is, I won’t be thinking how easy it would be to attack and take the stage win… I’ll think back to what I felt like looking up at the never ending switchbacks and knowing that 10km was still a very very long way to go. 

If there’s just one thing that I’ll always remember from the Stage it was the faces of the Groupetto as they climbed the mountain for the first time.  The detail is so vivid in my mind of gritted teeth, dirty skin and eyes of pain.  I’ve seen the photo’s before, but to see it up close (and I mean close) on a 10% section of a climb is something that will stay with me for a long time.

Cam

Cameron is the Club Captain of the Kangaroo Point Cycling Club and will be blogging his way around France with the support of Claire the Treasurer and Aaron the President of the Kangaroo Point Cycling Club.

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