If you plan to cycle up Galibier... don't go this way.
This was the last day cycling in the Alps that Suzanne and I had. Our four day excursion was nearly over but we had saved the biggest challenge until last. Galibier. 2645m.
However, of all the available routes, we chose the daft one. We set off along the D1091 from Bourg d'Oisans and immediately knew we'd chosen a main road. Although we were very early in the morning there was already a constant stream of cars, trucks, motorcycles and caravans heading in both directions. And tunnels.
Thankfully I knew about the tunnels from yesterday and we'd both armed ourselves with lights. Suzanne's light was, however, more a commuter light - one to be seen by rather than one to see by. My Dinotte was fantastic yet again, lighting up the entire tunnel from side to side and end to end. I must have dazzled oncoming cars! Inside the tunnels you have no idea what the road surface is like, black tarmac in a black tunnel and of course there is dripping water from the rocks overhead. I think this freaked Suzanne out a little. Well, a lot. I was having a great time, singing "The Frog Song" at the top of my lungs.
Beyond Lac du Chambon the road narrows significantly, but the traffic doesn't ease. And the cliff side barriers are sometimes in tatters and waiting for repair. It was getting more and more hairy.
Unfortunately there was one other thing causing difficulty on this ride. Although Suzanne's legs were strong, her interface with the bike was becoming unbearably sore, the effects of three solid days in the mountains. And the combination of extreme discomfort and scary road just did for us.
We had made it about 30km along the route but made a decision - a safety decision. We didn't feel comfortable on the road with the increasingly busy traffic and we decided to head back. It wasn't an easy decision, we wanted to climb Galibier - but next time we'll choose a different route.
On the way back we got caught at some roadworks and mixed it with a gang of Harley riders...
Once back to Bourg d'Oisans we grabbed a coffee and worked out what to do instead. The choice seemed simple - one last blast at Alp d'Huez. This time Suzanne and I would ride as hard as we could and put our official times down for all to see.
There are some official time-points to measure yourself from. So we rolled to the very base of the first bend and climb and prepared for the onslaught. It was midday. It was hot.
Obviously there are no photos of this...
I rode within myself as much as possible but kept the speed a little higher than last time, reading 7.5mph to 9mph. There were very few others on the climb. A few tourists with luggage. A few MTB riders. No serious attempts were being made in the heat of the midday sun. I rolled over the Arrivée exactly 66mins and 59secs later. Dripping with sweat. Time for a beer and relax in the sunshine while I let Suzanne catch me - and she wasn't long. Hot dogs, beer, fizzy drinks... we celebrated doing our best efforts and feeling like we'd proved climbing Alp d'Huez was no fluke.
After this I wanted to show Suzanne the Col de la Sarenne, so we headed a bit higher through the ski village. Shortly we came to another hairpin sign, hairpin 0...? What? We were confused, we thought we had completed Alp d'Huez, but it seemed not. If you plan to go and ride Alp d'Huez it is worth knowing that the official Tour de France finish is actually out the other side of the bars and shops at a quiet little bus stop the other side of town. It is almost a non-event of a point, but so significant in TdF history. We stopped to take photos at the "proper" finish. It would have been a shame to ride the whole way up and not actually see this iconic finish.
What a wonderful feeling to know that we hadn't missed the highlight of the Alp d'Huez and it's Tour de France history.
As we set off downhill again, we missed the turning for the ski resort and ended up on a deserted and quiet back road. I was another amazing find, the back route from Alp d'Huez down to Huez village and with stunning views of the climb we'd done. We were really being treated to accidental and glorious views.
As we arrived at Huez village we'd been tipped off about another great route back to Allemont via Villard-Reculas, so we took the appropriate turning and once again we found more quiet and stunning cliffside roads. The views back to the main climb speak for themselves.
Several of the famous hairpins laid out below us.
One last look back to Bourg d'Oisans.
These cliff side roads had sharp drops - not for the faint hearted!
Then we had the wonderful hairpin descents down to the top of Allemont for another celebration of beer in a cafe, dressed in cycling lycra, sat in the sunshine, next to our bicycles which we'd just ridden through the mountains, and surrounded by fellow cyclists all sharing the same sense of achievement. Fantastic.
And that was it. Four days cycling in the Alps to celebrate Suzanne's significant birthday. This felt like the pinnacle of cycling, this felt like the reward for all the training you've ever done. This felt like the reason you go cycling - to enjoy stunning views, demanding climbs, sweeping and whooping descents, all in beautiful warm sunshine.
Thanks be to God.
Labels: Allemont, Alpe d'Huez, Bourg d'Oisans, touring