Wednesday 20 July – Modane to L’Alpe d’Huez
Tour says “high mountains”, we say Yes
Miles cycled: 71, Average speed (mph): 11.8, Max speed (mph): 38.6, Time pedalling: 5hr 58mins
Today’s stage was not going to be hard to complete at only 68 miles, but it was due to be an iconic one, going up the steep, wooded, hairpinned Col du Telegraphe, followed by the long open-meadow gradual ascent of Galibier, then glorious downhill before Alpe D’huez climb finale.
We set off towards the start town in the vans which took us over Galibier, allowing us to check out conditions but it was minus 2 degrees even below the summit, snowy, icy & too dangerous for cars or cyclists sadly,
and we later found that it was officially closed to traffic.
So after reluctantly accepting that our stage today wasn’t going to happen, we drove back down the mountain to re-assess options over a coffee in La Grave.
Despondent at first, we just had to do what the pros’ race would do: re-route.
Looking at the map we worked out a loop that was at lower altitude and looked ok, but it turned out to be an absolute classic.
Photo: our new route
We set off from Bourg, sped downhill towards Grenoble for about 15 miles, then began to climb what turned out to be the 15k, 7% gradient Col de la Morte. It was a stunning wooded, hairpinned ascent, rising 1000 metres into the cold cloud, Telegraphe-esque you might say…
We reached a plateau and found a cafe, which slowly filled up with another 30 or so cyclists, several of whom were also doing an alternative route after being turned back from Galibier, and they confirmed that the loop we had spotted on the map was a classic route out of Bourg.
It was cold and in our extra layers that we had stuffed into our back pockets we started descending, but amazingly the sun soon broke through and it turned into a lovely afternoon. We came down off the plateau with spectacular mountain views in all directions.
We had a quick ice-cream stop to gather our energy for the 18k open-meadow steady ascent of the Col d’Ormon, Galibier-esque you might say…
Photo: Col d’Ornan
We arrived just in time to see the finish of the Tour stage into Pinerolo in a cafe, and wanting to relive the Tour of old, we had a coffee and an armagnac to fortify ourselves for an all-out onslaught of Alpe D’huez.
Along with many other cyclists all having a go at the famous 21 hairpin climb, we threw ourselves at it, knowing what to expect having done it before, and timing ourselves according to the official markers that line the famous route. There was a fantastic atmosphere with thousands of people already lining the route in caravans and tents, partying, cheering and painting the road.
Max was pretty happy to come home in exactly 1 hour (rounding down a few seconds!) and Sarah flew up in 1 hour 8 mins, leaving quite a few baffled cyclists in her wake. It was a fitting end to a great cycle, that left us elated and exhausted.
Photo: end of the famous 21 bends