Conquering Alpe d'Huez

By Allison Atkinson – July 1, 2013

Last Saturday morning, we woke up to clear, gorgeous weather and were ready to tackle the mountains in Bourg-d’Osians.  While eating breakfast, Robert and I met a group of Englishmen, one of whom was buying the Hotel de Milan.  The group wore Hotel de Milan kits and were all associated with Simon, the buyer. The current owner’s Dutch son-in-law, “Rad,” was also part of the group. They invited us on what they claimed would be a casual ride through some of the area’s most scenic routes; boy, were we in for it.

After a brutal first climb, I felt good about the group. I tend to avoid group rides packed with men. Typically, weekend warrior types invade groups to gauge their strength, shattering the flow of the ride in order to prove themselves. These men had nothing to prove and had been out here for the past week climbing steadily every day. Rad, who used to live in the area, led us from town to town.

The scenery was dreamlike: Waterfalls cascaded down brown, stone mountains from the melting glaciers in the clouds. Meadows of fluorescent green speckled with pastels embodied impressionist paintings as we coasted past. All of the historical villages featured a church, graveyard, and welcoming fountains flowing with the freshest of mountain water. Mountains loomed over then devoured us as we climbed up and up and up.

After 4,000 of the total 9,000 feet of climbing, I unwillingly surrendered to the mountains. The lactic acid burning in my legs rendered me so numb that my cadence slowed to a death march. The long-winded, sustained ascents are the opposite of those we find in Austin; however, I felt completely at home and was glad to suffer.  Tasting just a sip of the writhing ache that the pros feel here made me understand why they break down in exhaustion at the finish.

Alpe-d’Huez was amazing to experience; to think that this was the same legendary alp that—for the past 100 years—all my heroes had scaled was implausible.  The whole day was amazing and the highlight of our trip thus far.  Three of the men and I team time-trialed our way back into town, where we punctuated all 70+ miles with a final sprint to the square (and where I believe they let me finish second behind Ruarri, the twenty-something mountain lion).

Once back to the hotel, we watched the final 10K of the tour where, to our surprise, Russian Oliver Rodriquez (KATUSHA) set a brutal pace leading Quintana (Movistar), Contador (SAXO), and Froome (SKY), which ultimately broke Contador.  Rodriguez just wanted to get onto the GC podium and, by pulling off a second place win, he did just that, bumping Contador (Saxo) down to a seventh place stage finish and Froome to third. It was amazing to see how one can lose that much time in the mountains. The real star of the day, however, was Rojas Quintana and his Movistar teammates.  He secured the win while his team set the pace for the péloton.

My next post will be from Paris, which is a six-hour drive, but well worth it for the hundredth Tour’s grand finale!

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