Saturday, October 1, 2016

Alpe d'Huez (ADH)

What's not to like about Alpe d'Huez - well how about the ride up to the second corner which is close to a mile at a 10.5% grade. It is not a good idea to rush at this mountain - it will come to you soon enough. Fortunately for me when I get to corner number two there is a beautiful view, a nice wall to sit on and two ladies to chat with.

The ladies are a mother and her daughter who I had previously met as we are all staying at Cycling Ascents a bed breakfast in the town of Bourg d'Oisans at the base of the mountain. They lend credibility to my theory of the great cycling climbs - that everybody gets up them. They would be C+ or B- riders by my clubs standards and they will make their way around the 21 hairpin bends to the summit, one, two or three corners at a time. Remember, it is only a little more than 8 miles to the top and there is all day to do it. Speed is not of the essence, when you reach the summit no one will ask you how long it took, they will just smile and offer their congratulations. 

Cycling Ascents is a nice place to stay, the owner is a cyclist and he and his wife have built their house to accommodate a dozen cyclists with a well equipped garage for bikes and they are a wealth of information about the area. You also meet some nice people who you might like to ride with. While there I rented a carbon Wilier bike from Oliver at Cycle Huez who was also a great help.

Being there for a week my plan had been to get in a few warm up rides before ADH but the second day was so nice I just went went for it. ADH is 8 miles long with 3500 feet of climbing at an 8% average grade - not particularly high but one of the iconic Tour de France climbs with 21 hairpin corners. As you climb the first turn is number 21 where there is a plaque commemorating the Italian rider Fausto Coppi, one of my boyhood heroes. 1952 was the first year ADH was part of the Tour de France and Coppi won that 165 mile stage and went on to win the Tour.

I am lucky and find it special to be able to ride in the tracks of so many great riders. I am also lucky that my wife Jocelyne will tolerate my cycling for a week of our one month vacation in France.

Having somewhat recovered at the second turn, I leave my friends and the climb becomes marginally easier and a lot more attractive as it is now possible to see the mountain ahead and the spectacular views of the valley below. Half way up I stop at a water fountain in the old village of Huez and take a seat at a bus stop. Yes there are buses on this road which in the winter will transport skiers by the thousands to the resort at the top of the mountain. Alpe d'Huez, the resort, has a capacity for 30,000 skiers in the winter but the summer population is 300!.

Continuing, I count my way up through the turns to the summit. I can now look down on the village of Huez and ahead is Alpe d'Huez and the alpine skyline. As I arrive in the ski resort there is a white line across the road and a bar with an outside patio. Tempting though it is I do not stop as I have been forewarned by Oliver that the finish of the Tour de France stage is another mile or so further on. It is not obvious but I find the finish line in the road by a huge parking lot.

I head back down to the bar for a beer and a sandwich with a multitude of cyclists. Across the street there is an "I did it" podium for a photo op which I can't miss. On the descent I turn off at Huez onto the Route de la Confession which is a balcony road following the face of the mountain. Beside the road there are hikers sitting on benches just a few feet from the precipitous drop - they are admiring the view - makes me shiver to think about it. Down, down, down on a tar and gravel road to the town of Allemond and another beer. Then it is a few miles of flat back to Bourg d'Oisans.

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