My sister wanted to celebrate a significant Birthday by riding in the Alps and we made arrangements to stay at a Eurocamp site near Alpe d’Huez, in Rochetaillée.
With four days of cycling ahead we had some grand plans – but my goodness those Alps are daunting! Our first ride was to simply take it easy and stretch our legs up Alpe d’Huez, we were not concerned about whether we stopped or not, what was more important was achieving the top and not being dead of exhaustion. This is our first experience in the Alps.
I rode with Suzanne along the climbs for each of the hairpin bends, it was deliberately gently a pace she’d set, because we had no idea what was ahead of us and wanted to make it to the top. We stopped regularly for water and to take photographs of the views. The start of the climb was the hardest section really, probably the first 1.5km are about 10%. Early nerves led Suzanne to wonder if she could make it the whole way, but it is worth knowing that the first part is the hardest and once you are past that the rest of the ride is easier.
As the gradient eased I took the camera from Suzanne and started snapping away. As the views unfolded to the side of us it was hard not to be impressed with how far we had climbed, but of course every section brought more height and even more vast views.
A note on the place name… Boor Dwah-zã. “ã” represents the nasalized “a”. In Southern France, “an” would be pronounced more like the English “ang”. The final “g” in Bourg is usually silent.
We were not racing, but plenty of people were. Our first ride on Alpe d’Huez coincided with the “Wednesday Timed Climb Club”, so we were being passed at great speed by skinny riders in club clothing. It was brilliant how fast some of these guys shot past us.
We stopped for another rest just before the final effort up to the resort, Suzanne was now confident she could complete the climb and we were looking forward to a celebratory drink in one of the resort bars.
So, one final effort and we rounded hairpin number 1 onto the last, and unfairly quite steep section into the resort to see the crowds of successful cyclists of all shapes and sizes cheering each other on, clapping, drinking or just collapsed across their bicycles. The resort is full of cycling shops, all very expensive decked throughout with replica team gear, Assos clothing and trophy tops. There are a couple of Huez cycling jerseys on sale, and had I brought any money I might have been tempted by this one…
After Suzanne and I celebrated with drinks – her a full sugar cola and I had a Leffe – we started our descent. I’m not a fan of using brakes much and I think the best way to descend is to allow the bicycle to take you down to a bend, brake in time and quite hard, ease off before the corner and roll round with the center of gravity as low as possible. The smooth road surface made this one of the safest descents I’ve ever done. Unlike British roads with potholes, uneven surface, gravel, blind bends and oncoming cars, the descent from Alpe d’Huez was like a fairground ride with a wonderful rhythm of accelerate, brake, corner, accelerate, brake, corner… We got to the bottom in no time at all, with whopping great grins.
Overall we hadn’t set out to do anything other than ride Alpe d’Huez and we’d done exactly that – we cycled home for a campsite cooked dinner of pasta and to share our perspective of the experience. I love this route and profile picture too – it really looks like a mountain!