By 6am we were lined up in our assigned stall alongside nearly 10,000 fellow cyclists ready to test ourselves on a Tour de France stage. Shivering as I watched a dark cloud obstruct the rising sun, I hoped the sunny and warm weather forecast held up.
The VIP’s and those deemed worthy to start in the first wave rolled out off just after 7am. Slowly the rest of us crept forward, walk-a-biking towards the start. Finally, around 8am we charged out the gate.
I followed a few old Frenchmen’s wheels as we dodged dangerously between slower cyclists and made our way to the base of the Col du Telegraph.
Crowds were gathered cheering us onto the climb. With over 5,000 people starting ahead of me, the course was packed with a consistent stream of bodies. I settled into my pace and took in the scene.
The clouds had in fact given way to sunshine and warm temperatures and it was impossible not to marvel at the beauty of the Alps. The forested slopes of the Telegraph shone a magnificent bright green. In stark contrast, the roads were filled with a wide variety of colorful cycling kits, bikes and languages.
The numbers we had pinned to our jerseys roughly indicated our starting order. I was in the 8th starting wave, proudly carrying number 5628. As I passed people I made wild guesses as to how far ahead of me they might have started based on their number.
The stream of bodies didn’t faulter a bit as I began the second climb of the day, the Col du Galibier. Looking up towards the pass there was a spectacular trail of color twisting through the switchbacks. It’s not the steepness of the Alps that make them so challenging, it’s their length. Setting a manageable tempo for yourself is extremely important.
The long descent to l’Alpe d’Huez was, luckily, mostly uneventful. The tunnels brought on a few white knuckles, but I made it to the bottom of the last climb safely.
For me, the best part about riding Alpe d’Huez is the history. It has been ridden nearly every year in the Tour de France since the 1970′s and won by names such as Fausto Coppi, Bernard Hinault, Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong. Each of the 21 switchbacks has a plaque bearing the names of past victors. These distractions and a number of entertaining fans along the route made the hour long climb seem much shorter.
I finished with a smile on my face in just under 5 hours (expect the top pros to complete this course in close to 3 hours).
Special thanks to Ashley Drum for the photos.