Friday, May 01, 2009

Alpe d'Huez

Well the day finally arrived, I've been looking forward to today with a certain amount of trepidation because the aim was to ride the climb up to Alpe d'Huez which is quite a famous climb in the tour de france.

As it turns out I coped fine but I would definitely not like to try and do this climb after 200km of riding but just doing the climb on it's own, at one's own natural pace, is difficult but not exceptionally so. Just gotta ignore a little pain and then you're there.

I put the bike together and I was putting a bit of oil on the chain and there was definitely something wrong with the bottom bracket, it was really stiff. So much so that it wouldn't spin at all and I just had visions of having to fight this all the way to the top on top of the fact that I was using a mountain bike which is not ideal for hill climbing; not only is is really heavy (13+kg) but the knobblies make it's rolling resistance much higher. It is however the only one I have and just because it wasn't ideal did not mean I wasn't going to try it. Having resigned myself to fighting the friction in the bottom bracket I gave it a final spin before starting and it was fine; go figure!

As it turns out, the entrance to the campsite is about 20m away from the start of the climb so there wasn't even a warm up period, it was out the gate and straight into the climb. I hadn't gone more than 50m up the climb and I was already in my middle chain ring and largest ring at the back and I stayed in this gear the whole climb. The problem with the climb is that it just doesn't give up, there are some easier sections like where the road goes around a hairpin bend but it is basically 14km of climbing which took me about 1:45. I'm not sure of the exact time, I'll have to have a look at that from the GPS trace later on.

I started riding in the shade so I had my windbreaker on but by turn 13 I was boiling so I stopped to take it off and take a photo but most importantly to have a wee, as in little, break.

From then on it was a long pull up to Alpe d'Huez taking it from hairpin bend to hairpin bend as the numbers slowly decreased and my heart rate increased. On the lower slopes I was at 88-90%, the middle slopes 93-95% and on the final slopes I saw it hit 100% up one of the steeper sections. There were a couple of times which I stood up to relieve the strain on my legs but I think I will remember the burning sensation for quite a while! While one is climbing one can still see the graffiti on the road encouraging peoples' favourites on. I saw grafitti for frank and andy schleck, boogerd and of course, lance armstrong. Most grafiti is just spray painted on but lances was painted on that it will fade only when they next tar the climb.

On the way up I had two photographers take photographs of me like in normal races and give me their details as I rode past. I might have to buy them but I think it will be worth it. I also spotted mellman lurking by one of the signs near the end watching me pant my way past.

While I was going up I didn't overtake anyone and nobody overtook me but I did see a several cyclists descending.

Reaching Alpe d'Huez I climbed up into the village but I'm not sure where the finish line is normally put so I don't really know if I did the whole climb or not. I went about 500m past the information then back down and up another road to a large flat area but I couldn't find any more 'itineraire de tour de france' signs. Whether I did the whole climb or not I think I can definitely say that I have done the climb up to Alpe d'Huez.

Descending I had to consciously slow down because the speed made me so cold. I stopped at marker 3 and had the three sandwiches caron kindly made me, they went down a real treat after the coffee that I had at the top. There were loads of people grinding their way up the hill, I think I must have seen 30 to 40 people while I was on my way down. Dscending was great fun, if a little cold, and I was keeping up with the golf in front of me. At the start of the descent one had to really watch the speed due to how cold it got but by the bottom of the climb I could pretty much go as fast as I like without it being too cold.

So, that's it. I've climbed Alpe d'Huez so i am going to have to watch the tour de france this year and see if I can recognise any of the footage.

Back at the campsite we spent the afternoon reading and relaxing in the sunshine. It was so nice to not be on the go; I think this is the first day in a month that we haven't actually driven anywhere.

Later on we walked into town and had some coffee and 'pomme pain' which was delicious and then walked along the river through the village and just generally relaxed and chilled.

What a great day!

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