Profile of today's TdF stage:
Rest day for them but not for us!.
Today's journal entry:
Today was our toughest day so far. We started at the bottom right of the map to the left, and then finished on the top of l'Alpe d'Huez, arguably the most famous climb in the Tour de France.
We left the hotel at 8:30 AM, after another petit dejeuner. I have to say that the French breakfasts are just not substantial enough for me! I miss having fruit, cheese, yogurt, etc. for breakfast like we did in Italy.
Today, the weather was beautiful. It was warm with a slight breeze -- the perfect riding weather!
Kim, Phil, Payton and I left together, and shortly met up with John. Several people, including Payton's wife Kathy, were bussed with their bikes to a point beyond where we had to go through a tunnel. But we all wanted to ride the whole thing, even if it meant going back through the tunnel again, so we all set off together.
We were riding back the way we came the day before yesterday. Only now, instead of riding on a gentle downhill, we rode on a slight uphill. We traded off pulls until we finally reached the tunnel.
The tunnel was a traffic diversion due to a mudslide that affected the main road. The tunnel was about .5 km long, and curved, and was pitch black. Very scary. This time, we prepared a little better. Both Kim and Phil had rear taillights, and I borrowed a light from Payton so that I would light the way.
When we reached the entrance to the tunnel, there was another cyclist, French, who told us to go around rather than going through. This is what he was going to do. We tried to tell him about the mud that we'd encountered the day before yesterday, but our French was too limited, and he set out along that path.
We waited until we didn't hear any cars coming from the other end, and entered the tunnel in a line. The light I had was just not bright enough, however, and in the middle of the tunnel it was pitch black. We stopped briefly and waited for a car to come to light our way. The first car that came passed us quickly. When the second car came, we took the lane and wouldn't let it pass until we got out of the tunnel. It was really scary!
As we emerged from the tunnel, we were surprised to see the French cyclist riding up from having gone around the tunnel. Apparently, in the last day, maintenance workers had smoothed over the dirt and mud on the side of the road. Doh! We shoulda tried that first.
We continued to climb up the road until we reached the top of the Col du Lautaret. At this point, turning right would take us up the Galibier, which we had descended the day before yesterday. Going left would take us towards Grenoble and l'Alpe d'Huez.
We turned left, and began an incredible descent that lasted for around 30 km. The descent took us through 10 well-lit tunnels, and through many small towns. Phil and I had taken off ahead of Kim, Payton and John, so we waited for them at a couple of places before continuing.
The scenery was spectacular. We were still high above a valley and the drop-offs were breathtaking. We passed through some small towns, and went past a beautiful reservoir. Finally, we arrived at l'Bourg-d'Oisans, a small town at the base of l'Alpe d'Huez.
The first order of business was to find the local bike shop, which we did. They had some cool l'Alpe d'Huez-specific items. Everyone bought something. We were looking forward to putting all the stuff in the van before climbing the hill. The van had been scheduled to wait at the bottom of the hill for those who didn't want to climb up.
We stopped at a nice restaurant for lunch. We all had pasta which was homemade and delicious. Several of us had crepes or coffee for dessert.
Now it was time to attempt the climb. We filled up our water bottles, and went to look for the van so we could dump our stuff. Unfortunately, the van wasn't there. We reluctantly shoved our purchases in our pockets and fanny packs. Just as we were about to start up the climb, the van showed up! We thankfully unloaded everything we could think of into the van.
At the bottom of the climb, there is a machine where you can stamp a piece of paper to signify your starting time. And then at the top, there is a similar machine next to the tourist office where you can mark your ending time. Not having a piece of paper, we just started our timers and went.
Everyone went at their own pace, but everyone was riding for time, including me. The l'Alpe d'Huez is a 14 km climb, that rises from 719m to 1780m, making it 1061m of climbing. Parts of the climb are 10 and 11% grades. The climb is marked by 21 turns, which helps keep you sane during the climb.
I rode as fast as I could. My back felt pretty good, and my legs felt good, even though we'd already rode 70km. My feet, on the other hand, hurt quite a bit because it was hot and they were swollen. But I pushed on. No pictures on this climb; I didn't want to spend any extra time.
The views from l'Alpe d'Huez are just fantastic though. You can see Bourg d'Oisans fading into the distance as you climb up the mountain. You can see the valley below and the Alps in the background.
Ahead, you can see trees, and sometimes the road. But there was no issue with getting demoralized by false summits, as there was on the Galibier. Plus, since every turn is numbered, you know exactly how many turns you have to go.
The climb was steep and long. I kept my heart rate between 163 and 167 for most of the climb, a good hard pace for me. At turn 3, a photographer waited to snap pictures of me (and of every rider that rides the climb). The pictures would be waiting later at one of the stores in town if I wanted to buy them.
After the last turn, Payton rode down and paced me to the top. It was a very difficult finish. My time was 1:30... pretty pathetic for most people, but good for me!
Phil had finished 15 minutes before me and was already poking around the shops for souvenirs. I had to ride around for a little while to cool down. And then I went into the tourist office, where I got my official certificate of completion for having done the climb. That one is going on the wall!
After collecting the certificate, I rode up to the top of the l'Alpe d'Huez town (past the finish line of the climb) and found our hotel. I met Payton, Kathy and Kim there, and we took some photos nearby. Then I went and cleaned up while Phil went out shopping.
After cleaning up, I walked around the town. L'Alpe d'Huez is a ski resort, with lots of sporting goods stores, restaurants, and sporting activities. There's an outdoor skating rink, a sports complex, a huge pool, and lots of mountain biking trails (accessible by chair lift or gondola) and hiking trails.
I went to the photo store and got my photo, along with a very cool photos of Lance and Jaja (Laurent Jalabert) finishing the l'Alpe d'Huez stage in this year's tour.
After returning to the hotel, it was time for another four-course French dinner and then to bed.
Tomorrow, we will climb l'Alpe d'Huez again for time. Our times will be handicapped (Lance's time of 38 minutes + our age), so I have to do better tomorrow!