Saturday, July 5, 2008
I can't believe it took me nearly a year (I arrived last year 07-07-07), but I finally made the trip down this Independence day towards Grenoble to free myself from having never climbed the mountain Lance built (owned): Alpe d'Huez, home to the famous Lance-Jan "look", and the 2004 Tour de France Individual Time Trial (amazingly, on the slopes of this 14km mountain, it was rumored that well over a million people watched Lance throw down on the 2004 ITT as he throttled past his rivals). Once I arrived, I revised my goal for the climb to 1 hour. I barely made it, the timing was not precise as there was construction, and conflicting signs -- some TdF signs, and others for La Marmotte, a one-day race that traces the incredibly tough 3 Col Tour route finishing on L'Alpe. I nearly signed up for La Marmotte, but now realize it would have been an ugly day on the bike. I had learned from others that it would be important not to attack the first 2 kms (which kick up to 10% immediately). It was hard to heed that advice as I found myself at 17kms/hr on the first pitch. Exciting as it was to be on the first slope of this worthy adversary, I knew I had to back off the tempo if I didn't want to blow up in the first few kms. Things worked out in my favor, since I simply couldn't hold that pace, I was forced to back off. I settled in to about a 12km/hr pace. I knew I had to pick it up at some of the flatter sections to make my revised time goal of 1hr (the hill is nearly 14kms, so the math was quite easy, I needed just about a 14km/hr pace). I felt pretty good on the first ascent, I was not getting passed, and I was passing others; I felt decent about my pace. There were riders everywhere. Lots were out loosening up the legs for tomorrow's Marmotte, still, many more were just out to ride the beast. About a 25% French, Italian, Dutch, and English population breakdown by my estimates judging by jerseys, dialect, and rental cars. Each of the 21 hairpins had a plaque with the name of a winner from past stages that finished atop L'Alpe which helped to make sure the history of the slopes was not lost on those climbing her, as well as names from riders of Tours past still plastered all the way up the climb. The ride was going pretty well, the hairpins were relatively flat (as opposed to cambered like much of the roads around here), so you can catch a bit of speed going around the corners before losing momentum on the next pitch. The markers for the 21 hairpins help you keep track of where you are on the mountain, even if you've never climbed it, so you never really feel like you're just hanging in no-man's land. Until the last 2 kms. About 5kms from he summit, you can see the village and the ski lifts, so you think: I must be near the top, I can kick it up a bit. It seemed a simple formula, but I'm glad I heeded my own unspoken and unverified advice to wait just a bit to get on it. I'm glad I did, the last 2 kms, you keep thinking, now I've passed all the turns, where is the finish? I still had some left in the tank at the top, so I continued on to try to find a lake around the corner I had heard had a spectacular view. After climbing on past the finish, I decided I would head back down for lunch and head for the lake on the next go round. I guess I figured it would be selling myself short to come all this way and just ride it once, so I did what any lunatic would do, turned around for another try. I found the second go 'round a bit tougher. For one it was hotter, and for two, I was just plain tired from getting up and driving down there. Still it was worth it again. (I did get passed by a few strong guys on the last 2kms this time though...you can easily tell how strong a guy is by the shape of the calves as they pass you. Not really, this is totally superficial, but makes you feel like you have an excuse for being passed by some guy who must be a continental pro out on a training ride). All-in-all, it was a great ride, if not a bit anticlimactic since I had basically been hyping it in my head it since I moved here last year. Now to make it to Alpe d'Huez's larger, more intimidating cousin, the Col du Galibier. For now though, this year's Tour is underway, and I'll soon be at the finish at the Champs-Élysées in Paris soon. Meanwhile, on Monday, I'll head out to the Motreux Jazz Festival which like Alpe d'Huez eluded me last year to see Vampire Weekend and The Raconteurs.