The great thing about having cycling friends visit is that it gives you an excuse to go a little further afield. Our original plan was to tackle the Marmotte route, a grueling 150+ km ride that takes in the Cols Glandon, Telegraphe, and Galibier before finally ending at the summit of Alpe d’Huez. But plans change, and so this one still remains to be done. Instead, we decided to take a quick spin up Alpe d’Huez before heading to Vaujany to watch the climbers come in on Stage 5 of the 2016 Criterium du Dauphiné.
The Alpe d’Huez has a mythic quality. With 21 turns and 29 appearances in the Tour de France, for many of the people we saw on the hill that day it represents a singular challenge and monumental achievement once conquered. For anyone who has ever watched a Tour or found themselves on two wheels, this is the iconic climb. So we figured we would join the club of thousands and drove to Bourg d’Oisans to the start.
Let me get this out of the way at the beginning. As iconic and mythic this climb might be, the reality is a hectic mess of bikes of all types, photographers, tour vans, and regular traffic, culminating in a thoroughly anti-climatic summit finish.
In terms of the climb itself, the first two kilometres are tough. As soon as you hit the base of the hill, the 11 – 12% grade claims its first victims and it is not uncommon to see a few miserable souls walking their bikes. From here, it settles into a more steady 7 – 9% for the remaining 11 km. There is an unfortunate lack of bollards reminding you of the distance and gradient on the way up but the confusion really begins when you think you’ve reached the top. The tacky ski station at the top has no summit sign and only hoards of cyclists milling about in cafés. To reach the veritable summit, just keep cruising up the hill and following the Tour de France signs. Then the real fun begins as you battle the traffic all the way down to the bottom.
But be sure to stop at one of the classic bikes in the median strip on the way down and get your Alpe d’Huez pictures. It’s a classic climb and one that should be done if you’re ever in the area. But living in the Alps has spoiled me. On the plus side, the kind of climb – 13 km at an average > 8% would once have seemed intimidating. Now it’s just another col. Enjoy!
The Criterium du Dauphiné was the real highlight of the outing. I’d love to come back and climb up to Vaujany, a stunning ski station at the top of a steep valley, complete with waterfalls and alpine churches. The perfect place for watching a Froome – Porte summit finish.