Alps Day 1 – Col du Glandon & Alpe d’Huez

I’m currently down in the French Alps having a few days solo cycling before my wife and daughter fly in for a family holiday in Provence. I’ve got 3 days to explore the Alps from my base in Bourg d’Oisans with a few new climbs on my wish-list.

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Unfortunately the weather forecast for the 3 days isn’t particularly conducive to cycling. The heavens opened at breakfast time, and despite heading out in full rain gear with a clip-on mudguard kindly lent by my hosts at Le Velo Jaune, I still got soaked. The ski season only ended last week so bad weather was always likely.

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First on the list was the Col du Glandon. The roads up from the valley all warned that the road was closed, but a little local knowledge from the guys at the B&B advised that at worst it would only be closed right at the top. And that all the road closed signs would provide me with a relatively car-free experience.

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This proved to be the case, and over the course of two hours I worked my way up the mountain, passing avalanche debris being cleared by snow plows and road sweepers. The road up from Bourg d’Oisans included several sections of descent which provided some welcome relief from the long periods of +10% incline.

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The sun broke out of the clouds at the top of the mountain, however the road also finally disappeared beneath the increasing snow. So I shouldered the bike and crunched my way across the last few metres of snow for a photo.

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The temperature had really dropped so I didn’t hang around for too long. I took a few photos and prepared for the descent. At one point I spotted a couple of marmottes running and screeching across the road.

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About halfway down I stopped in a small village for lunch. Inside the small restaurant were plenty of locals enjoying the day’s special so I ordered the same. Pork cheek with pasta, followed by lemon, coconut and pineapple tart. Perfect cycling fuel.

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Feeling suitably nourished I decided to tackle another col. This time Alpe d’Huez, which I’ve previously ridden a couple of times. However I attacked it from a different angle on this occasion  – via the Pas de la Confession. I was hoping for a slightly easier climb of the famous big mountain, with this smaller road feeding into the main Huez climb about 6 switchbacks from the top. Unfortunately it seemed equally as punishing as the main route but at least I didn’t have the monkey on my back of trying to beat my PB up the mountain set in my fitter days.

 

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It was tough-going to start with, but using my heart-rate monitor I found a manageable pace and got into a nice rhythm. Last time I came here I was riding a compact chainring, this time I was on a 52-39 with a fairly tight rear cassette so was a bit under-geared for the mountains. In addition I was over-dressed in wet and heavy rain clothing, so it was all a bit of a sweat-fest, churning struggle to the top.

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The weather was glorious at the top so I stopped for a drink in the sun. However it was simply one of those days with the heavens opening just as I got ready for the descent. I tentatively rode down the Alp in the pouring rain, with steam rising off the tarmac and feeling like Bambi on ice as I slowly twitched my way around each switchback.

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From the bottom I raced back through the valley to the B&B. In total I rode 63 miles with just over 9000ft of climbing. It was 5 hours riding time, which gives a fairly unremarkable average speed. However average speed is generally a pretty meaningless statistic in the mountains, even more so in the rain. Fingers crossed for sunshine (and good legs) tomorrow …

 

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