Le Tour 2015 Part 1: Back to the Alps

It's been two years since I first visited the French alps with my bike, this time it was with my partner and with my bike Phil instead of Mr Ramen.  This time we were based up the top of Alpe d'Huez instead of at La Garde which meant we started right at the top, meaning at the end of every ride we would have to generally climb a lot more! I had some bad luck before I even left, as I was packing my bike and deflated my rear tyre, it delaminated and I had to swap it for a spare...  

Day 1

I'd prepared my partner for alpine climbs for quite a while now, both mentally and physically.  Small climbs around the UK, even Wrynose Pass whilst formidable, are quite simple affairs compared a proper alpine mountain pass; they pale in comparison.  Although they might have more regular gradients, alpine passes are simply tests of endurance.  Climbing Alpe d'Huez takes most amateurs anywhere between 1-2 hours, Wrynose pass is over in about the amount of time it takes to make a cup of tea (ok maybe a few).

To start off with we descended down Col du Sarenne which wraps around the back of the resort and winds into the gorge along a gravel path.  This was one of my favourite routes from the last time I was here, the gravel path mixed it up a bit and made it a little more interesting.

Two years ago I remember descending some of these gravel tracks on my high pressure 28mm tyres and caliper brakes, it was a little hair raising to say the least.  This year however, with 32mm tyres and disc brakes it was suddenly a lot more controlled.  I was able to maintain a consistently high speed down the bumpy gravel and still feel in control.  For those who doubt the usefulness of discs this is where they really shine.  I'll write a further article on using my TRP Spyre discs in the alps at some point.

After a little while the gravel track ends and you end up on the side of a cliff!  The clouds don't seem too far from this high...

After this descent, we had to climb Alpe d'Huez from La Garde, this is about 2/3rds of the total climb and it was my partner's first proper alpine climb.  She made it to the top in one piece, no doubt the low gearing of the Genesis Col du Glandon helped tremendously.  Now for a rest to prepare for the next day...

Day 2

The next day we decided to do another route west of Alpe d'Huez, this would include a descent down to the reservoir and then the climb to the ski resort of Vaujany, then a ski cabin back up to Alpe d'Huez.  I'd never ridden this road and the road towards Villard Reculas was a beautifully windy affair, this dropped right down to the reservoir in a very quick descent.

Funnily enough this was also the way to the col du Glandon and the col de la Croix de Fer which are two mountain passes our bikes are named after.

The climb up to Vaujany was tough, it was reading about 40ºC on my bike computer and unbearably hot sun, I was sweating like a pig.  Finally we reached it and stopped for lunch overlooking a waterfall spilling over the edge of an alpine lake.

Hey presto! no climbing back up to the resort...  The ski cabin was relatively empty during the summer months and only really accommodated cyclists and hikers.

Now we were back at Alpe d'Huez the way home should be reasonably straightforward...

Or so we thought.  The original plan was to cycle along the pistes back to the flat, however we managed to get onto a black rated ski slope which was something like a 30% gradient downhill on loose gravel.  This was difficult to descend for me, let alone nearly impossible for my partner who is a less experienced bike handler.  Once we got down to the bottom we had to ascend the same amount, this mostly involved the time tested technique of getting off and walking.  The gradient was simply too steep and the ground too loose to actually ride.  By the time we got up to the top we decided to catch a ski lift and take an easy route back to the flat, we were both exhausted and tired from our (mis)adventure.  Lesson learnt, pay more attention to gradients and maps!

All in all we still had an enjoyable ride and lookd forward, for tomorrow the Tour de France would be passing us up Alpe d'Huez in the final mountain stage of the 2015 Tour de France.


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