One of the most iconic climbs of the Tour de France is Alpe d'Huez. Its one of those bucketlist climbs I grew up watching on tv. Those iconic battles of Lance Armstrong and Marco Pantani in the early 2000's. Alpe d'Huez has this aura about it thats almost tangible,you can't explain it. It's like a relative to the Tour de France visits every few years and they both bask in this glorious street party for days just to celebrate being reunited just for one day.
The first feature of Alpe d'Huez in the Tour de France was back in 1952 on stage 10.It is over a gruelling 266km from Laussane- Alpe d'Huez won by Fausto Coppi. It was only in 1986 that the French got their first win on Alpe d'Huez by 'The Badger' Bernard Hinault.
Its July, to say its hot is actually an understatement. Its touching over 40 degrees celsius and we've just climbed the Col d'Ornon and descended towards the village at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez climb.We regrouped in the village of Bourg d'Oisans and decided before we tackle the beast we would throw down some espresso's and some Crepes and Ice cream,and seek refuge in the shade whilst things cool off.Today was one of the hottest days of the year and it was pretty evident. Earlier that day on the Col d'Ornon we witnessed paramedics with dozens of cyclists passed out in the middle of the road. Many cyclists were on the verge of heat exhaustion. It was like witnessing a horror movie scene. We knew this was not to be taken lightly and re-evaluate how we were going to tackle the climb later that afternoon.
Bourg d'Oisans is a small town. As you enter the town, there is a Casino supermarket on the right. You can grab something from the supermarket, but as you continue a few hundred yards further, on the left is a fountain which opens up to cafes and bike shops. There is also a hotel for cyclists, a perfect place should you want to base yourself at the bottom of Alpe d'Huez.
We are in the Alps, its mid July and we cooling off in a cafe for a few hours. The atmosphere is somewhat celebratory as theres a carnival happening and everyone seems to be glued to the TV. In the Cafe there are sounds of cheering. How can one forget its the Tour De France.The afternoon is set drinking espresso's and Orangina whilst we wait for the sun to slowly set and the afternoon heat to slowly fade before we tackle Alpe d'Huez .
Its 6pm the Tour de France stage is over and we are all buzzing from the espresso's which has massaged our ego to conquer Alpe d'Huez.We imitate some of our heroes like Pantani.Did someone say 37mins to the top of the climb?
As you leave Bourg d'Oisans its a short flat ride to the bottom of the climb.Before you know it,you are greeted to the official start marked on the side of the road which says Chrono depart,13.2km and 21 hairpins awaits.
The first 2km is like entering a ramp of over 10.As you enter the first hairpin which is marked 21,with previous stage winners Fausto Coppi and Lance Armstrong names on the sign, you take the first hairpin quite wide as you build momentum to sling you out the first corner.Its still a ramp out the first corner but once you get over this initial section,you get into a rhythm as the gradients back off slightly.But you've got 20 more hairpins to distract you whilst you guess who's name is proudly displayed on the next hairpin.
As you go past hairpin 16,you enter La Garde -en-Oisans.In this beautiful village theres a fountain on your right where you can replenish on water or drown yourself in refreshing ice cold water.We try and keep these stops as brief as possible as theres plenty of picturesque stops further up.
The next few kilometres gradients are at 8%.When the Tour de France does pays its visits there's another tradition that happens every race on 2 corners,most notoriously known as the Irish corner at hairpin 10 and the Dutch corner at hairpin 7.So our next stop on our little pilgrimage is Irish corner situated at 1245m above sea level.This corner has remnants of previous celebrations as the road marks colours of the Irish flag and their celebrated riders names splattered across the road like Dan Martin and Nicolas Roche.
We get to hairpin,the most famous corner of Alpe d'Huez known as Dutch corner.The goosebumps are real as you cant even begin to imagine the outrageous parties the Dutch have for days leading up to the stage of Alpe d'Huez.The atmosphere on race day is electric,a sea of orange,the smell of bbq's waft the air. The only beverage available is beer as Frances biggest techno street party descends on this corner as the dutch await and cheer for their heroeos.Don't we all wish we were a Tour de France rider just for this one stage just to be encapsulated by the drama and the atmosphere thats played on this climb.
Guess what! 14 hairpins down 7 more to go, let's do this! As you leave the village of Huez,you are faced with a few stinging hairpins with 4km still to go before its mellows off slightly.We found the last 3km actually quite enjoyable as it opens up to a panoramic view of the Village at the top with the finishing in sight.The third last hairpin is a special dedication to the late Marco Pantani,the great Italian climber.As we enter the Village on top,you are greeted by cheers of tourists and fellow cyclists who have just completed the same pilgrimage as you have.As Ive learnt previously the actual top is a kilometre from the village.
Once you reach the top,you descend back on yourself a kilometre to the village.On the left,is the iconic podium where you can grab your selfies to show off to your mates on Instagram.Theres a few bars, cafes and cycling shops to grab Alpe d'Huez kit.The main bar has a terrace which serves lovely hearty soup and crusty bread if you are after something to refuel.If you are staying in the village,we recommend restaurant Elderweiss in just walking distance from the town,opposite the Spa supermarket.This family-run restaurant is where we had dinner for 2 nights.It is very accommodating as we where a big group of 10.They serve simple food using locally sourced ingredient.The melon and cured ham starter washed down with some local white wine goes down an absolute treat after the efforts of the day.Whats makes this even more special knowing Movistar's Nairo Quintana and others have tackled the same climb and have sat and eaten at the same restaurant.