This trip had been planned several months ago by Duncan and we had trained pretty hard from the winter on with this objective in mind. Our training was not terribly specific though because there is hardly a hill around Cambridge let alone a mountain ! However Duncan pushed me very hard around the undulating terrain towards Haverhill and Saffron Walden and as the time approached we had clocked up some trips close to the mileage of La marmotte (108miles ) if not meters of climbing (plus 5000m ).
Anyway a week before we were due to leave real bad luck struck as Duncan came off his bike and badly broke his collar bone. Stalwart and all round good chap he is as he insisted on coming out as support for me as I attempted the ride.Thankyou again Duncan as it was much appreciated !
We flew from Stansted to Lyon and hired a car then driving to Alpe D' Huez where we had booked an apartment for 3 nights.We arrived after an easy journey and booked in and collected the bike for the ride.
5.30 the following morning Duncan managed to persuade me to eat porridge and raisins before starting the 10 mile descent to the 7 a.m start at Bourg D'Oisans.Wow that was really cold ! You do need a wind cheater to do that and ideally full finger gloves.The light jacket worked well for me as I was able later to tuck it away in a pocket of my cycling shirt.
I was due to leave around 7 a.m with a number in the early thousands.Soon we were off and as I expected there were people flying past as if it was as a sprint.I refused to be drawn as I had no idea what to expect later in the day !! You cruise for a few miles on a lovely straight flat road and then turn right on the D526 heading up towards the Col du Glandon. This is a pretty , pretty route and early in the morning so no real heat. It is a long steady climb but one is still thinking this is fine, what is all the fuss about, as you look down on emerald coloured alpine lakes and cruise through little alpine villages with people already sitting out enjoying their coffee.
Anyway soon the Glandon arrives and at 1924 metres is the first of the four mountains under the belt.There is also a feed station here and it was really well stocked too.There are bananas cut in half, buckets full of juicy orange segments, cakes , sweets, water (of course), ham rolls !!From the top of the Glandon the route heads N N east on the D927. There were at least two ambulances stationed at the top of this descent but after the initial steep hairpins the descent is just fantastic.Fast and sweeping and very long.Magic in fact and before long you find yourself in St- etienne - de - Cuinnes.
From here the route heads south east along a reasonably busy main road ( D1006 ) and you start to realize what you are up against as it is getting hotter and this road is hard work to be honest.You also need to be sensible and when you find yourself with a group behind you and no one in front make changes pretty quick and get right behind someone else ! Anyway as you enter St Jeanne de Maurienne and head south west to start the 7-8 mile climb up to the top of the Col du Telegraphe (peak no. two ) you are really in a ride.That is if you are a normal person as I am ! I found the Telegraphe really hard work. This is a personal thing on my particular ride. You may find it fine as I did the Glandon. The sun was getting stronger and although not a really long climb it is really quite steep and I would say pretty relentless.
The top of the Telegraphe arrives at last and this is where I missed Duncan because he would not have let me stop and we would have rolled over the top and recovered on the descent to the beautiful village of Valloire. But riding on my own I had a fairly long rest here- I have to admit to feeling quite tired !!
Managed to push on again but don't think the descent is as giving and long as that from the Glandon.You will find some relief with a shortish descent but then a lovely easy ride through the fantastic summer and winter sports haven which is Valloire and then on to the very gentle start of the ride towards the Galibier. As you come out of Valloire you can replenish your supplies at feed station number two.
Do not be fooled by the early gentle ascent towards the Galibier but do admire the magnificent mountain scenery which opens out before you. The scale is truly vast and the opportunity for fantastic alpine walking here is mouth watering. ( I hope to be back for that ! ).The ascent of the Galibier is a long one (I think around 10-12 miles) and at Plan Lachat the incline really ramps up and stays ramped up until the summit. It is a tough ascent and this is where I first saw people walking with their bikes or taking well deserved rests !!Luckily I managed to make it without a rest but I was not quick.I had decided at this stage that completing the ride was the most important thing this year and I still had no idea what still lay ahead, but of course the thought of the Alpe D ' Huez is ever present !! Eventually the summit of the Col du Galibier is reached and what fantastic views.The Galibier truly deserves it's rating as" well worth the journey "(by whatever means ).All sorts are up there not only cyclists but my prize for the day must go to the petite French woman we had seen at the Telegraphe for the way she managed the Galibier hairpins on her bright red Ducati 749 !!
One of the best parts of the ride now comes as it is pretty much all down hill now for about 30 miles and the base of the Alpe D ' Huez. The hairpins on the way down are mouth watering I absolutely loved the ride. The climbs are worth it for the awesome fast descents !! On the way back to Bourg you travel through many tunnels but they are fine .I was apprehensive before hand thinking they may be like the one on the way down from Cape Formentor in Majorca,but they are no problem as well lit and wide. Do not forget to look up to your left as you get closer to the turn for Les Deux Alpes as there are some fantastic glaciers up there.
Soon you are approaching Bourg D'oisans and the final feed station before the last ascent.I thought I would have another rest here which made Duncan chuckle afterwards.I had an idea what lay ahead as we had driven up the 21 hairpins of the Alpe D' Huez the previous day and after about 15 mins I made myself mount the bike once again !! As you come out of Bourg you turn left and then you see it----- the road ramps up and then stays ramped up for the next 10 miles and 21 hairpins. This really is a hard ascent and I have no idea how these athletes manage it in under 40 mins. Quite sometime later I reached the top having staved off a tennis ball cramp in the left hamstring.
Job eventually done .However Duncan had been waiting at the finish line for me coming in at around 8hrs 30 mins onwards. Lets just say he was waiting a bit longer than that ( enough time to get sunburnt ) !Any way although not gold I did manage silver which I was very pleased with !
If Duncan decides to drag me out there next year I know it will be much more painful as I won't be allowed to stop !!
Words of advice if I may.
You can do this ride if you are reasonably fit.It is in no way beyond the abilities of most people who excercise.Admittedly to achieve a gold medal time or better is really hard work- no doubt-but as a fantastic ride at your own pace give it a go !! You will really enjoy it and have lasting memories of a brilliant day out.
On your first ride you can not know what to expect and nor can you truly comprehend the scale of the ride.Therefore I think that unless you are super strong and fit (and I know many of you are)aim to complete it the first year and go for a time the second year !!
But do it as you will never regret it.Good luck.
As for Duncan and myself the Dolomites are beckoning and so is 200 miles in the day and so is the highest Alpine road and so is the ------------- !!