Stage 17: Descending Lauteret and Climbing l’Alpe d’Huez!

We were up early this morning, picked up from the hotel at 7am to make the trip to the top of the Col de Lauteret.   Here is how the itinerary described the stage:

the best is saved for last…as L’Alpe d’Huez (cycling’s mecca) will play host to the final alpine stage and what a stage it is going to be.  It’s an absolute classic stage that takes in the monumental climbs of Col de Lauteret, the mighty Col du Galibier and the Col de la Croix de Fer before climaxing on the 21 hairpin switchbacks to the ski station of L’alpe d’Huez”

Luckily we were able to be a bit more picky, and our day of riding consisted of descending the 45 kilometers from the top of Lauteret, riding to the base of L’Alpe d’Huez, and then climbing L’Alpe.  The descent was truly magnificent…45 minutes of freefall with turns.  Lauteret descends through a series of tunnels as well…one long one with perfectly smooth asphalt and beads of light along its ceiling and each wall that had me feeling a bit like I was firing down an elevator shaft.

Climbing L’Alpe makes you feel pretty special.  The road was closed to vehicles and by race start their would be over 500,000 people lining the route.  Some had been there for a week or more camping with their families.  With a drop to the valley over your shoulder, accomodatingly cheering and smiling throngs lining the road and an expansive view of the Alps all around you its hard not to wear a smile while you climb despite the effort.

Riding into ski station at L'Alpe D'Huez
Riding into ski station at L'Alpe D'Huez

The finish line is in the middle of the ski station and is packed with people…turning my anticipated sprint to the finish over the last 200 metres more like trying to walk your bike up to the stage at a Stones concert. 

With the suffering over, I met Myrna at our hotel.  After 3 star accomodation in Serre Chevalier we were happy to find a beatiful chalet with balconies overlooking the race course at the Grand Rouses.  The Francais des Jeux team were staying there with us.

Myrna points to our room in the Grand Rouse, overlooking race
Myrna points to our room in the Grand Rouse, overlooking race We watched the race from the VIP area at the finish on a beautiful day...replete with TV's, free champagne, cocktails and canapes.
Andy Schleck takes 3rd in white jersey at Alpe d'Huez
Andy Schleck takes 3rd in white jersey at Alpe d'Huez


Just a quick note to explain the blog-silence over the past week.  It seems that internet connected computers play a much smaller part in French life than they do here…meaning that it was tough to get on-line (not that I was trying that hard, to be honest).  I’ll provide recaps over the next few days.

What a trip!

Climbing the Col de la Lombarde; Stage 16

The VIP part of our trip kicked in today.  We were picked up at 6:00am and shuttled into Italy to the bottom of the Col de la Lombarde (a flag at the shore of an alpine lake marked our crossing…no fingerprinting, no retinal scans…) A group of 9 of us climbed the Col.  21.5k of climbing with an average grade of 7%.  The ride was indescribably beautiful with families camped by the roadside to cheer us on. 

At the top you ascend through the tree-line at 2000m and the final 3k of the climb is like riding along the top of the world…with 360degree views of the alps.  From there the descent is another experience of a lifetime.  20k along winding roads with lots of room to ‘let it run’.

From the base of the Col we were shuttled over the Col de la Bonette Restefond (if you watch the tour stage today you will see the sweeping views) to the finish line.  We disembarked 2k before the finish and were able to ride through the finish to the cheers of the crowd…capped off by a photo on the official Tour podium. 

We watched the finish from the Press enclosure…look for Myrna and I on the rail about 50 yards before the Finish Line on the left side of your screen.  M is wearing a red long sleeved flowered shirt and her floppy red hat.

The climb was 1h54minutes long…the descent took considerably less time and was worth the effort.

Tomorrow we ride l’Alpe d’Huez!

Rest Day; Serre Chevalier

Before you wonder what I am doing writing when I should be enjoying France, I’ll tell you that I’m on the Hotel’s laptop, in front of a picture window looking out on the ski lift of Serre Chevalier.  M is relaxing with a book after a breakfast of baguette with ham and emmental, freshly baked croissant au chocolat, fresh fruit and cappucino. 

Properly caffeinated and well rested, I can go on a bit more about yesterday’s ride.  We started out at 8am, a group of mixed ability and a wide range of ages.  The Col D’izoard is medium in length by Alps standards, and we rose through 2% and 3% grades at its foot.  By the time it crept to 5% I was lamenting the 15 (20?) extra pounds I am carrying and the group broke into 2 distinct packs…with me on my own in the middle.

The weather was perfect…cool but sunny.  We continued to climb  through absolutely beautiful backdrops and the grade continued to kick up.  After 90 minutes of climbing, at the end of my endurance, I made the ill advised decision to take a mouthful of powergel…chocolate.  If I’d known I was only 10 minutes from the top I might have held off.  Instead I took the sickly sweet goop in my mouth, rolled to a stop, and smoothly vomited.  It was quite efficient and discrete…welcome even.

The final 10 minutes was a breeze and I arrived at the top to find that the early group had fled.  After taking some photos of the cairn marking the 2360m summit and uniting with the second group, our little group descended in pouring rain and frigid temperature down the 25k slope for a needed cappucino in Brunisard.

From there we travelled on to Guillestre, where Roland and I were run almost into a ditch by the well-meaning gendarmes responsible for running interference for the oncoming publicity caravan for the Tour stage.  We shivered by the side of the road for the next 45 minutes while the Tour’s version of a parade zoomed by launching keychains, laundry soap and pretzels at the crowd by the roadside.  With my lamentably rusty but adequate French I was able to con our way into a local families car to warm up.

Once the caravan passed we continued on to the city centre of Guillestre for another cappucino and lunch while we awaited the riders. Credit Agricoles Simon Gerrans (the stage winner) was just jumping the gap to the breakaway as they streamed past…it all happened in about 30s and was thrilling.

On the ride from Guillestre through Briancon and on to Serre Chevalier I learned that you don’t have to be climbing famous Cols to find challenging ascents in the Alps. 

It was by far the most epic, challenging day on the bike and thoroughly rewarding (the high-altitude upchuck a possible exception).