Alpe d’Huez: une heure
The final mountain climb in my quick series of Alpine ascents was the famous 21 hairpin bends of Alpe d’Huez. This would cap off approximately 10,000 metres of climbing in 5 days. I had set myself the challenge of getting to the top in under an hour, this apparently being some kind of benchmark for a decent rider. With a previous best of 1 hr 20 mins from a couple of years ago, I felt the one hour mark was within reach. It is a 7.5 mile climb at an average gradient of 8.7%, however the toughest part is contained within the first 4 bends where the average gradient is 10% and ramps up to 13% for a stretch.
I don’t tend to use a heart-rate monitor when I ride so just tried to keep within my limits and not push myself into the red zone for too long. This sounds a straightforward tactic, but on a climb like Alpe d’Huez this was quite difficult to judge. So if I found myself groaning loudly or dribbling all over my top tube then I took it easier for a bit. Likewise, when the road became less steep and I felt ok, then I changed down a gear and raised the pace … until the groaning and dribbling recommenced.
Despite the Tour spectators, camper vans, cars and coaches I managed to get within a mile from the top at the desired average speed of 7.5mph. And with the end in sight I gave it a good push through the final three switchbacks arriving into Alpe d’Huez village in a time of 59 mins 50 seconds.
After descending for a quick beer in the madness of ‘Dutch Corner’ I headed back to the campsite to shower and change, bid farewell to my friends and then headed South in the car to meet my wife in Nice for a more relaxing and restful second half to my summer holiday.