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.