A bit of a belated post as I’m actually in Vancouver right now, but I was in France a week ago and was lucky enough to get to two stages of the Tour de France – Alpe d’Huez and the Champs Elysees.
I think there is something fascinating about watching the big mountain stages. It’s a real survival of the fittest and there’s no where to hide if you’re hurting. As the riders climb higher the elite group at the front becomes ever smaller.
Alpe d’Huez is the most famous mountain in Tour de France history, not because it’s the hardest to climb (13km at 8%) but because of the famous battles that have taken place on it’s slopes and the dramatic way the road winds up through 21 hairpins.
With the 2013 race marking the 100th Tour de France the organisers made this stage extra special by making the poor riders climb the mountain twice in the one day. Pain for the riders but fantastic for the thousands of spectators that crowded the roadside. I spoke to a number of roadside campers and one had been camped out for a week for premium turf!!!
I watched the stage from turn 10 (also known as the Irish corner) with a couple of Irish lads Dave and Dee that had climbed Mont Blanc with me the week before.
I borrowed Dee’s bike to give this mountain a crack but unfortunately time stood in my way. I made it up a third of the way before police told me to get off as the parade was coming through.
This parade surprised me as it’s something you don’t see on TV. About an hour and a half before the riders arrive there are literally a hundred or more wild sponsor cars that drive by honking their horns like crazy, dancing, and pumping music, all the while throwing out samples and gear into the crowds. It lasted a good half hour!
The first time the riders passed us I got myself a good vantage point up on the cliff. I got some great photos from here.
It was awesome to be there that day but it wasn’t my last day in the Alps.
Before I went to Paris I made a point of it to ride up another famous mountain – the Col du Galibier. From my understanding the most picturesque mountain in the Alps and that’s saying something!
This one was a leg burner for my completely “un-bike fit” body. 17km with the grade pretty consistent at 7 to 8%.
I started the climb from Valloire and as the wheels starting turning I was thankful for two things – the first five kilometres was a leg friendly 5% which provided a nice warm up and secondly when the slope did kick up I was sitting on a bike with super low 30×25 gearing.
Just how hard is it to cycle up a famous Tour de France climb though?
Well a picture tells a thousand words so you be the judge.
It’s amazing how the pro’s have the legs to “race” up these hills – it’s challenging just to ride up competing against the road itself.
Reaching the top was awesome and relieving. From here I could look down on the slopes from that famous day in 2011 when Cadel Evans pulled the peloton up the mountain in pursuit of Andy Schleck to save his Tour de France hopes.
Watching the final stage in Paris was a completely different experience and in my opinion had nothing on the mountain stage. It was so crowded that I stood roadside for an hour an a half to get in the second row. Nevertheless we got to see the riders go whizzing by ten times.
One of the highlights of the day was seeing the Arc du Triomphe lit up in a completely unexpected spectacular light show. It was amazing watching the lights jump around this famous landmark.
Being at the Tour was a dream and the Alps will certainly go down in the highlights reel of my trip. I’ll be back with my bike and a bike-fit body in the future.