Kurt's Bike Trip in France - Part IV (Alpe d'Huez)

End of August 4, 2011
I met up with the tour group and guides in the early afternoon, and made the approximate hour-long drive to Alpe d’Huez, where our hotel is for the next couple of nights. Of course, to get to it meant making our way up the famous climb with the similar name, which acted as a nice scouting mission for what lies ahead tomorrow when I get to climb it on two wheels, and not an internal-combustion-aided four. A little write-up on the mountain, it’s climb and other miscellany can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alpe_d'Huez

An hour or so after arriving at the hotel and getting checked and settled in, we rendezvoused in the lobby in order to do a short ride to get the legs moving some and see how our REI-provided bikes were working for us. The route was to go down the mountain about 2K, across the hillside on a road to another village (Villard Reculas) and then back. All in all it took a little over an hour, after which I showered, met the group in the hotel lobby for a little orientation, and had dinner.

Thru mid-afternoon of August 5
I woke up at 6:45a after a so-so night’s sleep. I was tired last night at bedtime (10:30p), so fell asleep quickly. But for one reason or another, woke up at 12:30a and had difficulty falling back asleep. Whatever the case…

As mentioned above, the noted climb for today’s ride is Alpe d’Huez, a very storied one in the annals of Le Tour de France. But before we did that, there was some other riding to do, beginning with a descent down our later-in-the-day climb, and then following a river valley (uphill) for what I and others thought would be a gentle climb (say 3% average.) Well, it ended up being more than that… in 9.5 miles, we climbed 2530 feet, which comes in at 4.5%. But that figure masks a couple things… there were 2 short descents which keep the average grade number low, and there were some sections that were 12-15%. And this was just the warm-up climb. We stopped in the village of Saint Christoph en Oisan and had lunch. And once that was done, we all got to the business at hand, and headed back to the base of Alpe d’Huez for an hour-plus of climbing a hill that is 8.5 miles along with an average gradient about 8%.

I had two goals for the climb. The first was to *really* enjoy the moment, which I did… I mean really, this is a once-in-a-lifetime ride, and I’d be a fool to not appreciate my surroundings, the splendor of this climb, and the cycling legends who went up it. The second was to finish it in less than twice the time of the record time (which is 37 minutes, 35 seconds.) And I accomplished that, too, finishing it in 1h 9m 51s. But, as the adage goes, time flies when you’re having fun… hitting the start of the climb and then immediately dealing with 1.5 miles at 10-12%; rounding “Dutch corner” where tons of Dutch spectators gather during Le Tour and have orange painted all over the road; seeing the names of past Alpe d’Huez stage winners on signs at the 21 switchbacks; reading the hundreds (thousands?) of messages painted on the roads by spectators; reaching the village of Alpe d’Huez and hitting that “1K to go” sign and just going all out until the uphill finish. It may not have been a record, but that 1h 9m 51s flew by.

And now, it’s time to relax and enjoy the afternoon… I’m sitting on my hotel’s room balcony, typing this up, listening to a nearby waterfall, and watching rain showers pass through. And getting recovered for tomorrow… I’m going to climb Col du Lautaret and Col du Galibier. Pinch me…

- Follow this link to see a map of today's ride: http://www.openrunner.com/index.php?id=1146420. Things are in metric so convert at will. Also, if you want to see the elevation profile, go part way down the page, under the map, and click on the link called "Show" under Elevation Graph.
- I know I said I'd post my trip pictures later (and I will), but I just couldn't resist...

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