2011 ETAPE du TOUR Act 1

 

 

 

As we waited in our starting pens at 7 am with thousands of riders from many nations, we pondered what lay ahead – two major alpine climbs, altitudes of over 2600 metres – then the climb to Alpe d’Huez! What about the weather? The sky was blue with a few small clouds. Three rain drops fell on me from a passing black cloud. Would it be torrential rain, or soaring temperatures? Little did we know!

At the moment the temperature was 14 degrees….

 

 

 

At last, our count down reached zero! We were off through the starting arch! Rolling slowly at first then gathering speed at last, for the first long descent!

 

 

 

The hill from Modane started to increase in steepness - initial thoughts of “why am I only doing 25 mph” soon disappeared as the speeds reached then exceeded 30 mph – finally reaching over 40mph with very little effort!

 

 

– then we reached the foot of Telegraph - Fort Telegraph was some 800 metres above us – now the effort started! What a climb!

 

 

 

The gradients were initially steep, exceeding 10% in places, then 9%. Legs were feeling the effort for the first time!

 

 

Nearer the top the gradients eased a little – Col du Telegraph was in our sights!!!

 

 

 

At last, after 850 metres of climbing we were relieved and pleased to reach Col du Telegraph! A delight was in store!

 

 

 

After a climb of over 10 km. we were treated to a fast descent for the next exciting 5 km into Valloire ski resort, followed by the abrupt upward slope to the village of Les Verneys where we found the first food and drink station

 

 

Riders stopped to refuel and rest briefly after their efforts so far

 

 

Galibier was first ridden 100 years ago in the Tour de France! As we climbed, initially the scenery was fairly open, and the famous grandeur of Galibier was still ahead, though steep rock faces began to rise around us and in front of us! The temperature had warmed to a more pleasant 22 degrees.

 

 

As we ascended, the scenery began to change to a bare rocky mountainous terrain.

 

 

The road turned a corner, and everything changed! We were now climbing a road cut into the side of the mountain, on the sheer rock face of the colossus of the Grand Alps! The temperature was rising above 30 degrees, with a less than gentle gradient of 9%!

 

 

A stream of riders zigzagged their way up the windy road into the distance in a multi coloured stream!

 

 

A profusion of alpine flowers grew in the more sheltered spots

 

 

As we approached the top of Galibier the jagged mountain peaks were revealed before us.

 

 

The gradients became tougher as we wound our way towards the summit

 

 

Sheer rock faces, enormous scree slopes and patches of snow became visible.

 

 

Finally reached Col de Galibier! – At 2642 metres, we had climbed 1241 metres since Col de telegraph – over 2000 metres of climbing all together so far – and still Alpe d’Huez lay ahead of us!

 

 

Riders relaxed and took stock before the dangerous descent to Col de Lautaret

 

 

Frequent signs warned us to use out brakes. Hands began to hurt from constant braking as we negotiated the long series of bends!

 

 

Descending the serpentine road towards Lautaret with its backdrop of glaciated mountains.

 

 

After surviving tricky part of the descent, we relaxed for a few moments on the Col de Lautaret, before the rest of the 29 miles of descent!

 

It was not difficult to descend at 30 mph on the next section of long straight sections which followed, down the long spectacular valley leading to Bourg d’Oisans

 

 

Suddenly everything ground to an abrupt halt! Thousands of riders stopped for no apparent reason!

 

 

After a few minutes, a helicopter took off from the front of the queue of riders, presumably rescuing an accident victim, after which the huge stationary peloton started to move forward again..

 

We made steady progress until the next tunnel –

 

 

 

At the mouth of the Tunnel du Chambon everyone again ground to a halt, and as we entered the darkness of the tunnel we were soon all on foot, walking most of the length of its 760 metres, straining to avoid bumping into other competitors. When at last the daylight at the end of the tunnel was reached we all climbed on our bikes in a gentle rolling start.

 

 

 

Finally we reached the generous and well equipped feed station at Bourg d’Oisans, and refuelled for the gruelling climb of Alpe d’Huez!

 

 

As we reached the initial slopes of Alpe d’Huez, the temperature had risen to 38 degrees, and the gradient reached 12%!

Only 1 degree above body temperature I thought ….

 

 

As we climbed the mountain, rounding each of the famous 21 bends in turn, temperatures reached 41 degrees. Some riders paused for a rest!

 

 

The last few kilometres seemed to go on for ever! At last the chalets at the top of Alpe d’Huez came into sight over and we gratefully rode the last few kilometres

 

 

After a surprise short down hill section, the finishing arch came into view at last!!

 

 

 

The finish!

 

So what did riders make of it? Here are quotes from some of the riders:

 

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done.”

 

“I rode up Alpe d’Huez in third gear then sprinted to the finish”

 

“I kept a steady speed all the way up Telegraph and Galibier which left plenty of energy for Alpe d’Huez despite the high temperatures”

 

“I ate too many gels which did not agree with me and threw up on Alpe d’Huez”

 

“I was very pleased to have completed the course”

 

“I though climbing Alpe d’Huez in those temperatures would not be possible – but it was!”

 

I particularly liked John’s account of his ride. Here are some excerpts.

 

“It was a fast stage on downhill and flat sections, and I managed to keep a reasonable pace on the Hills. The top third of the Galibier was hard, but nothing to the relentless grind of the Alpe D'Huez.  The heat of the sun didn't help.

 

For the whole distance it was necessary to dodge and weave.  It was well organised though, with none of the hold ups at the feed stations.”

 

Overall, 6443 competitors finished the course. Because of the delays due to hold ups, the organisers allowed an additional 20 minutes. The winner was ex-professional rider John-Christophe Currit, who finished in an astounding 3 hours, 39 minutes and 10 seconds!