After my VO2 session on the bike this morning it was time to finish off what I'd started on Friday with a climb up the Alpe.
The last time I'd ridden Alpe d'Huez I'd only done half the job in my failed attempt at the Alpe d'Huez triathlon. Last time, it was blisteringly hot. The heat radiated off the rock walls at the bottom of the climb. This time, the cooler mid-morning held the promise of a much more pleasant experience.
The first few of the 21 switchbacks are among the steepest and the longest of Alpe d'Huez. This morning's training session had deadened my legs just a little, so they felt it. Still, it seemed manageable and I knew the slope would flatten a little in a couple of Ks.
I settled into a rhythm, enjoying the cool mountain air. I was determined to make this climb feeling strong. Last time I was here, after being pulled from the bike course of the Alpe d'Huez triathlon, I was anything but strong. I was broken, physically and mentally.
Alpe d'Huez is a 'mythical mountain', to locals and to cyclists the world over. When we registered for the triathlon two years ago, I'd asked what the slogan of the event, "entrez le legende" meant. Although a literal translation was difficult for the volunteer, she indicated it was along the lines of being at one with the mountain.
On race day I was pulled from the bike course of the triathlon and sat in the sweep vehicle as they painstakingly collected each and every one of the course signs. I'd been allowed to continue riding from the top of Col d'Ornon, and as I approached Alpe d'Huez, I tried to muster everything I had.
I wanted to continue. I wanted to overcome my failure. I wanted to feel at one with the mountain.
The sun beat down upon me. I'd pushed my bike up the second half of each of the first few switchbacks before another of the event vehicles offered me a lift. I declined. Although my race was over, I wanted to prove to the mountain I was worthy. I rode for as long as I could, then stopped, walked, rested, and rode again.
I continued with this lunacy halfway up the climb. Finally, at the village of Huez, I relented. I admitted defeat and accepted a lift to top of the mountain.
So today, I had unfinished business. I owed the mountain. I'd failed to respect it in the past. Today I owed it to myself and to the mountain, to ride with honour.
The first few tougher switchbacks came and went more quickly than I expected. Before long, the climb evened out and I could enjoy it. (If you are supposed to enjoy climbing over 1,100m in just over 11Ks, that is.) I kept turning my legs over consistently and breathing evenly. As my heart rate climbed, I felt alive.
As I passed through the village of Huez I felt stronger than ever. Only a handful of switchbacks to go.
I entered the town and passed under the Arivee banner in 1:31, a faster time than I'd imagined and feeling better than I'd hoped.
Most importantly, I felt I'd redeemed myself.