2013 Tour de France Travel Log #8

July 18, 2013

Day 8. Alpe d’Huez.

In the morning I packed my backpack full of extra food and extra clothes just in case it might be cold up on the mountain. Rain was also a possibility, but we were not going to miss Alpe d’Huez! I left the water pack portion of my backpack at the hotel as it was not going to be hot like Ventoux and this allowed me to fit more clothes, supplies, and a rain jacket into my pack.

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We rode our bikes down from Les Deux Alpes in the morning so that we could ascend Alpe d’Huez with the massive crowds. Alpe d’Huez was a huge party on wheels (and beer)!

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There were big bottlenecks at times with hundreds of riders ascending at once so we had to walk our bikes a few times. The climb goes via the D211 from where the distance to the summit (at 1,860 m (6,102 ft)) is 13.8 km (8.6 mi), with an average gradient of 8.1%, with the 21 famous switchbacks all numbered as you ascend and a maximum gradient of 13%. L’Alpe d’Huez is climbed regularly in the Tour de France. It was first included in the race in 1952 and has been a stage finish regularly since 1976. The fastest recorded professional times up were just over 37 minutes, but these cyclists were later found out to have been doping! Greg LaMond the famous American cyclist who did not dope made it up in about 48 minutes. Depending on what websites you believe the American musical icon Sheryl Crow reportedly climbed ADH in about 1 hour 29 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes when she was dating Lance Armstrong. I don’t think he shared his EPO with her; she did it on her own natural ability. However, I’m quite certain he gave her a $12,000 carbon Trek bike to use for the ascent.

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As I was riding up Alpe d’Huez there were professional photographers snapping riders’ photos. One of them handed me a card as I ascended so I was able to order my shots from their website. A fun bit of memorabilia! Just after I reached the 4km to go banner the road split and the gendarmerie (police) forced me to ride up the remainder of the way on the road to the right. This is not the official way; it’s called the “alternate route,” but I can assure you that it was no less steep. I got to top on this side in about 1 hour 15 minutes. Not bad! At least I beat Sheryl Crow. After looking around a bit and snapping some photos I descended back down to the 4km to go sign so that I could attempt to go up the “correct” side of the mountain. So basically I did the top of ADH twice! What’s better than one sufferfest? Two!

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Once I was done with my double ascent I descended on my bike to switchback #5, our designated meeting spot, to try to meet up with my riding companions. Only Chuck made it. Jennifer and Joni were stopped at the summit and had to view the race from up there, but we would not know this until later that evening. Chuck and I stayed at switchback #5 and partied with a cool bunch of Brits in blue Union Jack body suits. Allez!  It was fantastic. We did the wave, cheered for the amateur riders going up, sang to the music and thoroughly enjoyed the party atmosphere. We even ran into Lesli, Dave, and Justin from Cyclismas who were also partying Alpe d’Huez style! Lesli told us that Dave and Justin were trying to figure out how to get a keg up to the summit on a bike. Basically it seemed like everybody except the children were drunk on Alpe d’Huez.

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Once the race was on we had twice the fun because the riders had to ascend Alpe d’Huez twice for the stage. We saw Teejay Van Garderen lead the pack up the mountain two times! So exciting. However, Van Garderen’s efforts were unfortunately in vain as the Frenchman Christophe Riblon overtook him in the final 2km for the win.

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One interesting calamity occurred for me and my riding companion, Chuck. We had fully expected to meet Jennifer and Joni at switchback #5, but they were not allowed to descend from the summit. Before the race Chuck and I had found a place near the woods to stash our bikes while we watched the stage. We had a bike lock with us, but Jennifer had the key. So I advised Chuck to lay simply the lock over the bikes and make it appear that they were locked, but instead he actually locked it! Our bikes were secured together with no key. With nothing to do about it we watched the race and hoped that the key would come. However, once the race was over it became clear to us that no key would be arriving. How on earth would we descend with our bikes locked together? No problem. It turns out that there a lot of great would-be bike thieves up on Alpe d’Huez. In no time at all Chuck was able to find a Belgian with a small hand saw and a Dutch guy with drill. They had a drunken contest to see which one of them could break through our bike lock first. The Belgian won hands down and we were on our way.

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The descent down Alpe d’Huez post-race was challenging to say the least. Imagine thousands of spectators on foot or on bikes along with hundreds of cars and vans. Add to that the entire procession of the TDF caravan which had been parked up on top after the first ascent and needed to come down. We were all packed onto one narrow, steep road and made our way down the 21 switchbacks together.  What a nightmare. It felt like two days of descending and my hands were on fire from clenching my breaks, but we finally made it down. Next up: how to find Jennifer and Joni. They took a different road for the descent in the hopes that it would be less crowded. No such luck. Their route was just as gridlocked as ours and they faced a very local flash thunderstorm that only hit that side of the mountain. They arrived completely soaked. Once together we all rode back to the van in time to drive home for a late dinner.

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Daily Ride data:

On Strava http://app.strava.com/activities/69110150

On Garmin Connect  http://connect.garmin.com/activity/346841161

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