Tuesday, June 29, 2010

l'Alpe d'Huez Individual Time Trial - last chance for Glory!

Today was my last day of riding here in les Alpes surrounding Bourg d’Oisans. It’s been a great week so far and the weather has been unbelievable! Ironically, as I sit in the community area of the B&B, I’m watching it rain like hell outside.

In fact, the rain started earlier today – I had already done my ride and turned in my bike. I sat down at a restaurant in downtown Bourg for a great meal. I seldom take photos of food, but when this salad was delivered – I had to!

It’s called a ‘salade dauphinoise’. It seems it is a local specialty. I’m really glad I took the photo – not only because it was presented well, but also because my taste buds were truly on cloud 9! I mean I seriously was thinking about how happy my mouth was as I ate this thing. I could have stopped there, but it was followed up with a great fillet, some grilled veggies, some great squash and scalloped potatoes. After all that, I had to go with a Dame Blanche (vanilla ice cream with chocolate syrup). It was the best lunch I’ve had since I’ve been here. I’m glad it was on my last day in the Alpes!

So, back to the rain. As I was finishing up my dessert, I looked out the windows across the restaurant and saw water dripping from the awnings. I was really surprised because it had been so beautiful when I went into the restaurant. I double checked out the windows to my rear and sure enough, the road was wet. First rain I’d seen since my arrival a week ago. Awesome that it happened after the bike was already turned in.

I arrived back to the B&B to sunny skies and dry weather. It stayed nice, although it seems the clouds started building as I packed my bag for tomorrow’s departure. When I sat down outside to write my blog, I got a few sprinkles, then in about 15 minutes, the skies opened. Thankfully, I got myself and the laptop inside without any trouble.

So, where did I ride today? Of course, it started with the time trial up l’Alpe. I’ll get to my effort on l’Alpe, but first I’ll share some photos I took today.

To descend from l’Alpe, I selected a different route that took me through a small ville called Villard-Reculas. Thankfully, it was pretty much a descent along this route, as I wasn’t really interested in pushing it hard by that time. What made it best was the different perspective I got as I stopped for photos of the switchbacks leading up to Alpe d’Huez.

Here’s a view of a small ville called Le Rosay-Chatelard (it might be La foret de Maronne??):

Another view of that same ville, but now you can see the switchbacks and a little more of the terrain.

Here’s a view of Bourg d’Oisans in the valley, the mountains surrounding it. Look to the left side – you can see the first couple of switchbacks heading up to l’Alpe.

As I continued past Villard-Reculas, the road continued to descend towards the town of Allemont. We rode through this town on our way up to Croix de fer, and I took (I think) a photo or two of the lake in this next photo. The sky is really beautiful – I wish I had the skills and equipment to really do this view justice.

Not sure of which ville this is, but I really thought it was cool with the church standing out so prominently (it was actually more prominent in real life).

The ride was really easy back into Bourg d’Oisans and the guy at Au Cadre Rouge gave me a 10% discount on my week long bike rental (155 euros for the week).

So, what about the individual time trial? I had to see if I could better my previous time (set on the first day of riding) of 1:07:39. To put things in perspective, Marco Pantani holds the course record with a time of 36:45 and Lance Armstrong did it in 37:36 in 2001 (5th fastest).

Here’s a link to the top times up l’Alpe.

I knew beating my own time was my goal, so as I rode the 5k to the base of the climb I tried to get warmed up. Of course, it would have probably been better to do more warm up than just 5k, but hey, I am who I am, and I decided that 5k would be enough.

As I passed the start line, I reset my computer on my bike. This would make it much easier to get my final time at the top – usually, I just mark the time and do my best to remember it. This can be a little difficult if it is an odd number of seconds. Today, there would be no mistake.

The first part of the climb – maybe the first two switchbacks are pretty long and pretty steep. It pays (as with any time trial) not to go out too hard, so I tried to simply set a solid pace. I had immediately switched down to the small ring to prevent losing my chain (as I did on the first attempt). I also changed the view on my computer so I wouldn’t be watching the time – I ended up switching it over to the total mileage on the year. Thankfully, I didn’t take note of what the odometer said, so I didn’t distract me during the climb.

After the first two switchbacks, the grade eases a little, so I tried to kick it up a gear or two whenever I could. I also kept from tracking my progress by not really looking at the signs on every switchback.

These signs are pretty cool actually. I took a couple of photos of the signs as I walked down from the top yesterday. Here’s one of them:

This was one of the few that actually has a US rider on it. Many of them actually had names of guys from the Netherlands.

I did my best to maintain a strong effort. If I felt my respiration / heart rate was dropping, I kicked it up another notch. As my friends know, I don’t use a heartrate monitor, so it is really all about my perceived effort. Somewhere there is a balance between going as hard as possible and having enough left to finish the climb. I tried to find that balance.

Somewhere maybe around switchback 9 or so, I started feeling it in my legs. This was good and it was bad. It was good because it took this long before I started feeling it. That means all that walking I did yesterday (maybe 12 miles I walked yesterday) didn’t have a super negative effect on my ride thus far. It was bad because of course I still had 9ish more switchbacks to go!

I did feel things were going well – at times I had kicked a gear or two (and sometimes 3) and stood up to gain more speed where I could. Of course, that was generally on the easier grades (generally, ‘easy’ on l’Alpe is about 7%)

I knew I was getting closer when I saw the first photographer on the course. I think he sits around switchback #4. From there, I did start watching the signs because I wanted to be ready for that last switchback and the final stretch home.

The second photographer was at switchback #2, and she got a couple of good photos of me.

See if this link works for the photos (look for photos 7606 – 7611).

I was feeling pretty good at this point, and I knew I didn’t have a long way left. The photographer wished me Bon Courage! as I passed. I had one switchback to go, so I kicked it up a couple of gears and stood up. Of course, I couldn’t go the entire remaining distance in that gear and standing up, so I sat back down, selected a gear to give me a high cadence and kept pushing.

As I rounded the last switchback (or the first – depends on who’s counting), the road gets really steep. Here’s another photo I took yesterday on my walking descent:

Not sure the photo does it real justice, but you’re really feeling it at this point. I stood up again and pushed. I passed a number of people as I came up this section. I was still feeling good. The section is long, but it crests about 100 ft before the finish. I pushed to the finish and as I crossed the final few feet, I switched my computer over so I could see the ride time.

It was pretty good – I did manage to beat my previous time. You always hope you’ll do better, but when I do the calculation, I trimmed nearly 6% from my previous time. Interestingly, the seconds rolled up to 0 just as I crossed the line. Of course, that meant the minutes increased by one. The final time: 1:04:00. It will have to do for this trip. The distance for the climb is 7.5 miles (12.1km).

What’s left to say as I prepare for my last night here in les Alpes? It really has been fun. I’ve enjoyed the people I’ve met, I’ve had incredible weather and the scenery is amazing. I’ll miss it, but perhaps I’ll have another chance to make a visit sooner than later.

Next up – a couple of days in Paris before my return home.


  1. I finally have time to blog and blog-read again! what a fantastic trip John!!! loved the photos - especially yours but the photos that photog lady got of you are great also - fonce fonce!!!!! so so so fun seeing you in Paris - best beer ever! I have a million photos I never got round to posting but I have a bunch of café shots I want to do as a post one day soon so I'll let you know. welcome home! hope your trip rocked every bit as much as it sounds like it did!! and that salad looks délicieuse!!!!! :) bisous!

  2. As a forty-something Brit who loves watching cycling but rarely does it, and one who is seriously considering a week-long trip centred around BdO next year, I want to thank you for your daily blogs concerning your similar trip. Like you, I want to try Alpe d'Huez and the climb to La Berarde, but I've also heard great things about the Col de Sarenne and the climb to Villard Notre Dame - if the body can hold itself together.
    Excellent blog, great photos, and just the inspiration I need to get my own plans finalised.
    Take care

  3. Hey Rob,
    Thanks for the kind words. You'll have a great time out there - such a beautiful place. One thing to think about, I didn't really think about it until I got there. Find a place to stay that is in the valley.

    Why? Certainly you'll have to climb out of the valley for the start of the ride, but that is ok because you'll be fresh. The best part - the descent on the way back.

    I considered staying up in l'alpe d'huez. That would have meant I'd have to ride back up l'alpe every day - at the end of the ride!!!

    Happy vacation planning!

  4. I just recently re-read this blog as I reflected on my own 2010 cycling season, which included a ride up Alpe D'Huez. In the days and weeks leading up to my trip, I did a lot of research, including reading your blog. Your blog brought back memories of my own ride...Thanks.


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