I chose my swear bubble Tshirt for today's travel to the south of France, and my first ascent up Alpe D'Huez. I really didn't know how I would cope! I opted for the shorter ride with Suze, up Alpe d'Huez from Bourg d'Oisans. Most of the other riders (including KKB) started 30ks earlier at Vizelle.
There was just so much pleasure in this ride. It isn't just about being able to say you've done it!
Andy described Alpe d'Huez as a feat in engineering - building a road up not a hill, but a sheer cliff face. It climbs over 1000m in less than 15ks so it isn't for the fainthearted! Our group proved that, with several hopping into the bus at different points up the climb.
The scenery is spectacular and if you have the time you can marvel at the feats of the riders who have won stages of the Tour here, as each switchback is numbered and the signage honours one or two the riders who have done so. As I passed these signs I wondered whether after Wednesday, Cadel Evans would be honoured here alongside some of the tour greats - Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani to name just a couple. Ironically, one of Cadel's biggest rivals in this year's race, Frank Schleck, has his name immortalised here after his win in 2006.
Alpe d'Huez is a tough climb but even as I climb it two days before the tour comes through the route is alive with spectators of all nationalities. Dutch corner is a highlight - set alongside the church in the village of Huez, there is even a monk who blesses all the cyclists who pass with water fresh from the glacier above. Not to mention the cyclists. They estimate that 1,000 cyclists a day climb the Alpe in summer. I've never seen so many cyclists in one day! It's like heaven!
Closer to the top of the climb got harder again, as the wind kicked in, the spectators thinned out and the altitude made it cooler. The photographers took a snapshot after frightening me - I wasn't expecting to see men in fluoro safety vests in the middle of the road. When they started calling to me, "madamoiselle, madamoiselle..." I wondered what kind of emergency lay ahead of me. They followed with "You have a beautiful smile" and pointed a camera at me, I soon realised what was going on!
I reached the summit, I think in around 1:40 or so and befriended the Robbie McEwan fan I'd met a few hours before on the tour bus, after commenting on his Silence kit and Ridley bike. Richard was consulting a map to find our hotel - very handy!
The summit of Alpe d'Huez is notthe same as the TDF stage end, so Richard and I continued through the township as I recalled Phil Liggett's commentary... "This might be the recognised end of the climb to Alpe d'Huez but the riders still have almost 2kms to ride to the end of today's race, and it's all uphill!"
As we rode through the town we came across one of the other tour groups, and Dave McKenzie (ex Aussie pro rider and SBS commentator). He took the time to chat about the tour, SBS coverage, and what the next few days might hold for the riders, which was a bit of a buzz. Richard and I continued on to our hotel, where KKB had already checked in.