Tuesday 18 July, 187km, Gap to l'Alpe d'Huez
Stage 15 profile
The 21 twists of the route to Alpe d'Huez are perhaps the most famous and magical of the Tour. It has created some of the more memorable days of the race, most recently when Lance Armstrong blitzed his way up the mountain in a time trial to effectively seal a record sixth Tour win.
Your Tour experiences:
Try Alpe d'Huez at the tail end of the Etape du tour!
How dare anyone imply that the climb up Alpe d'Huez, is not "the most difficult..." or rave about its "mythical qualities" and praise its "stunning panoramic views" at each of the 21 bends? For all of you hot shots, I challenge you to:
- Get a family
Get a full time career
Live 10 years in Lincoln (UK'S Flattest county) Juggle work, family and training for the Etape and not divorce.
- Choose fixing the wife's car over buying a Tripple for the front!
Turn 50 years old
Have a week's sleepness nights (as most virgin etappers must).
- Wait an extra 25 minutes in pen #7 before crossing the starting mat.
- Ride 110 miles in searing hot weather ascending a total height of three and a half Ben Nevises, before actually reaching the base of Alpe d'Huez.
- Ride for two hours with no food or water (due to the other riders having scoffed the lot before your arrival).
So don't tell me or anyone else that this mountain is anything easier than that, beacuase I'm quite sure it upsets the two thousand plus who the devil got to!
Start the ride up Alpe d'Huez dehydrated and famished, in 40 degree temperatures!!
- Let me tell all you hard guys the truth:
- This mountain is not mythical, rather it rises up staight out of the furnaces of Hell! As you start your ascent, Lucifer materialises from the burning hot tarmac and stabs his pitch fork into your calves. Demons further retard your progress blinding your vision with a persitent stream of stinging hot seat. All shadows which might have provided some respite, mysteriously vanish. The distance between the bends increase in length and additional obstacles are placed in your path, including wretching bodies doubled up in pain, and coaches full of victims of the race. As you grind your way past climb 21, a very angry Lucifer re visits, and extends the distance to to finish line by three kilometres. The shouts from the side lines no longer ring out "Courage, Courage" but "Carnage, Carnage".
- You have only 2 minutes left to ride the 5 minute distance to the timing mat at the finish! You try and rise to the ocassion, but the pitch fork is thrust once more into your calves. You finally roll over the finish line and collapse, 2' 19" over the official limit. You feel a ripping sensation as the timing strap is ripped from your right ankle. It's all been an incredible waste!!
- Then a hand much cooler then yours places a bronze medal and food ticket in your hand. Thank hevans... They've kept the race open!! Perhaps because of the food and water misjudgements, or the other grueling conditions. Who cares You've done it!
I cycled Alpe d'Huez in 1990 when I was 17. I also did the Col du Galibier the day before. I think Alpe d'Huez was the hardest thing I have ever done. It was amazingly hot - the sun was bouncing off the tarmac too and there was no break from it. It took be about 80 minutes with a 28T gear to finish it. I remember going through hell to cycle up without stopping but the feeling at the finish line was incredible. I came back down again in about 10 minutes after having scared myself silly at the speeds I could go. I got up to about 55 miles an hour before I decided I didn't like it. On the way up I wondered why people were wearing jackets when cycling back down as it was so hot - after experiencing the wind chill, I understood why.
The most amazing thing about it was the atmosphere. There were hundreds of cyclists and chatting to a few on the way up between gulps of air helped with the morale. It was a truly spiritual experience with breathtaking views if you could shut out the pain and enjoy them.
Paul Smith, London
I did this very ride, gap to the top of the Alpe, and it nearly killed me, it took me 1hr 29 to get to the top of d'Huez after a very long ride. I stayed overnight in Bourghe Desains, and did the alpe the next day as a time trial in 1hr 19, its a real sod of a climb, but not as hard as Ventoux!
Neil Jeffreys, South Wales
I am currently researching a book on Alpe d'Huez and want to include a chapter on fan experiences of the Alpe. Why is this Mecca of cycling such a magical place? I am looking for a wide range of stories and experiences, for example if you have climbed it yourself, watched a stage conclusion on the Alpe, what is the atmosphere like before the riders come through and as the riders come through? How far in advance did you have to camp on the Alpe to get a good place? How long did it take you to get back off the mountain after the stage finish? what are the fans from other nations like? Any anecdotes or experiences are welcome.
I rode the Col du Galibier, Crois-de-Fer, Alpe D'huez, Telegraph and Glandon when I was 16 years old over a 3 day period, it was the toughest mental and physical challenge I have ever undertaken. Now at 22 im aching to do it again. The guys who race these stages are truest sportsmen in the world, they have a level of fitness and commitment that other so-called sports people can't even imagine. Good look to all taking part in this, the greatest of all sporting events.
I have riden Alpe D'Huez twice, both times aged 40+, along with most of the other climbs in that area (Izoard, Galibier etc). First time I had a triple and used it, second time I wished I had! I could just about turn the 27 sprocket to keep going and had to stop to admire the fantastic view at bend six for more reasons than one. I trained really hard before both trips and could only just make it each time, drained by the heat as much as the gradient. There is nothing like it in the UK and I would recommend the experience to anyone, just do it! I also find it makes watching the stage today come alive as you know exactly where they are and how you felt at the time.
I've been to Alpe d'Huez four times on ski trips, and watched numerous Tours du France, and still wonder how anyone actually gets up these roads without dropping dead. I have huge respect for anyone who climbs these stages, pros or not.
Went up L'Alpe d'Huez about 12 years ago after a winter and spring of training on the bike with a friend who is a cyclist. Started at the bottom, so no extra mileage. When I got to the top everything that didn't hurt was numb - I couldn't walk properly, but I was really happy. I have nothing but absolute respect for the riders who do it in about 40 mins - 1 took 1hr 20mins and I ONLY did the climb. The ride back down is also fantastic - what views. I'd love to do it again.
I rode Alpe D'Huez when I was 16. I was staying at a campsite on the left just as you begin to climb... I had followed the tour for years through the glory years of Kelly and Roche... I rode alone I find it difficult to explain how I felt powering my way up that mountain the valley below disappearing into the alpine haze!! It may not be the longest or highest climb in the Alps but it's where most contenders have fallen and in full view of the cycling world at the end of another epic day in the mountains ....with the barriers up and fresh paint on the road, messages to heroes past and present, I attacked on the last bend and sprinted that long straight to the finish my legs burning every inch of the way ....without a doubt one of my fondest memories
I've come back from a 12 day cycling holiday in the region. It was a wonderful experience..... hot sunny days, I had got a nice tan and sent a few postcards to my nan. The views are spectacular and the relatives are really going to love my holiday snaps slide show this year. Judith Charmers would be so pleased, although somehow I don't think that she could clib Alpe d'Huez.
So there I was ready in the morning, on my expensive carbon fibre bike, tanned and shaved legs, looking cocky as a 30 year old (whose been training for 8 months to get up this climb non-stop and the steep and unforgiving hills of Great Yarmouth) as the unfit OAPs went slowly up the climb. And off I went, speeding past the OAPs on turn 3 and it was satisfying.....
Did I get make it to the top? No!!! The OAPs overtook me on turn 5 as I was walking. Ah well, I'll conquer it in the next 30 years. That'll teach me.
I've ridden up Alpe d'Huez twice - in 1992 (when Andy Hampsten won) and in 2001 (the year that Armstrong gave Ullrich "The Look" before attacking).
The latter time we were staying in Alpe d'Huez itself, and rather than descend through all the climbing traffic, on a map we found a back road out of town that would lead to the road connecting the Lauteret to Bourg d'Oisans. However, the map didn't show that this was a dirt road - correction, a COMPLETELY GRAVELLED SURFACE! It was like riding a road bike downhill on a pebbled beach! We also hadn't spotted that the road didn't just go down: it went down and then climbed up to the Col de Sarenne (at 2,000m, higher than Alpe d'Huez!). It took us over 2 hours to get to Bourg d'Oisans to start the climb!
Have just returned from a magical 10 days in the Alps, staying at Oz-en Oisans. Did not enter, but followed the competitors and clubmates in the "Marmotte" and the "etape du tour". Both were gruelling events and both ended at the summit of Alpe D'huez after a long hot day in the saddle. Our times for the climb varied between about 57 minutes and 2 hours, who says it is an "easy" climb?. How on earth do the "pros" race up there in half that time? - major respect.
Also rode to the Galibier from Bourg D'oisans, via the Col du Lauteret, the final 8km taking 1h 20min
Col du Glandon is another tough climb, but can recommend the restaurant at the top!!
Croydon (Addiscombe CC)
I climbed l'Alpe d'Huez while doing a triathlon year ago, and boy I couldn't believe how tough it was. The worst bit was I still had 10k to run when I put the bike down!!!
Cycling up Alp'Duez with the lads when very new to cycling... they persuaded me to wear a yellow jersey, the significance of which I was blissfully unaware of, until struggling up the mountain with six baguettes strapped on the back and two hundred thousand french shouting "Allez.. le maillot jeunne!.... avec du pain!" and with the knowledge that my mates were laughing.
When the tour was in L'Alpe d'Huez 5 years back, one morning I rented a bike at the top of the hill. Coasting down to the bottom took 20 minutes and I had to peel the ice off my legs (I had gone through the cloud layer at speed). Then I turned around and cycled back up, 90 minutes it took me, the tour cyclists will take half that time after doing multiple other hills. The pain I remember wasn't in my legs as I kept an easy pace, but my back which was hating a drop bar bike after years of riding mountain bikes.
Still a good memory.
I rode up the Alpe three years ago with my son David, who had just turned 14. It's a great ride, with the legendary "21 virages" providing not just temporary respite from the grind of the 1120m climb with an average gradient of about 7.7% (the road flattens a little on the hairpins themselves) but also great inspiration, as each hairpin carries a sign with the name of one or more riders who triumphed there on the Tour in the past - for example, hairpin 21 is dedicated to both Fausto Coppi (1952) and Lance Armstrong (2001). We cycled up with David Smith, a rising star in British cycling (he rode for Scotland in last year's Tour of Britain) but was then a very focussed lad spending his summer cutting his racing teeth riding with a good French amauter team and who was staying at the same base as us in the Vercors.
Alpe d'Huez is not as tough as for example the much longer ride up Mont Ventoux, which we tackled a couple of days later in brutal heat. However it's a great ride and certainly the last hundred metres up the main drag in the ski resort to the stage finish is truly exhilarating.
On Tuesday afternoon there could be up to a million spectators on the mountain, screaming encouragement, waving flags and jumping out of the way at the very last instant as they play their familiar game of chicken with the riders. Let's hope for a safe conclusion to what should be a great stage.
On Eurosport there has been a discussion on how the riders identify details of the descent,Sean Kelly did not know and said he tended to follow the motorcyclists. About 6 years ago I and friends were in the area on the Col de Izoard the day after the Giro descended it to Brianco and I made the following observations. At the top of the climb above the snow line the route is twisty and steep but vision of the descent is straitforward but as you get to below the snow line, about 3kms down the wooded areas start and you are riding blind. Riding through this part on the road, a team or individual had chalked on the road an indication of the road ahead, a 'u' for a hairpin. Fast curve to the left was curve to the left with arrow head leaders and so on for the right. I used these to my advantage touching 48 mph between bends.
Most exciting for a then 62 year old
Stratford upon Avon. U.K
I have just ridden all 3 of these beautiful Cols on the 8-day, 1000km charity Fireflies Ride for Leuka, an extreme personal challenge which I enjoyed massively. You may see the fruits of our labour on the road in the coverage, look out for the Fireflies!!!
Just arrived back from completing the 2006 Etape du Tour which is an annual, open race following one of the tour stages. This year the organisers chose the famous Alpe d'Huez stage for the race. Arguably not as tough as La Marmotte, I can still say that it was the hardest thing i have ever done.
The Col d'Izoard climb was really stunning as was the descent down the other side to Briancon. The climb to Lautaret was gruelling - although not as steep, the wind and the sheer length of the climb made it really hard. It felt good at the summit and the descent down to Bourg d'Osians was fantastic.
However, nothing was to prepare for the climb to the finish at the ski station in Alpes d'Huez. It was 40 degrees at the bottom and the tarmac was melting. The climb is famous for the 21 hairpins bends and each one provided some brief respite from the 10% gradient but the distance between each one seemed to just get longer and longer. I've not seem so many 'walkers' in an Etape race before and the broom wagon sweeping up the back markers had FIVE coach-loads of retirees!
Reaching the summit was magical though and great to be able to tick it off the list of 'must do' climbs in the Alpes.
I've just got back from doing "La Marmotte" last Saturday:
Bourg d'Oisans > Col de Glandon > Col de Telegraphe > Col de Galibier > Alpe D'Huez: 174km and god knows how much climbing.
Without a doubt the most incredible experience of my 39 years. Well...perhaps my daughter's birth :-)
Jon Mitchell, Brighton
Last year I went to the alps to watch three mountain stages. the atmosphere is unbeliveable. Going back again Sunday taking the bike this time.
I successfully completed L'Etape du Tour on Monday in a total elapsed time of 10 hours 38 minutes 32 seconds. However, because it took a little while to cross the start line because of the sheer numbers of those taking part, I crossed the line with just 6 minutes to spare after just under 11 hours in the saddle (ouch..), burning many more calories than one would might use in 3 back to back marathons..!
It was absolutely the hardest thing I've ever done particularly the 1000m+ final climb up to Alpe D'Huez after over 100 miles of riding that included the similarly debilitating but just not quite as brutal climbs of Izouard and Lauteret - in temperatures of up to 38 degrees. I understand that in the region of 3000 riders didn't make the finish and that it was regarded as one of the toughest Etapes to date. It's obvious that in spite of training extremely hard over the last eight months, it still takes longer than this to get the base fitness levels in place to be able build the speed necessary to set a good time.. I was absolutely staggered that my own fitness levels which I feel are getting pretty good, were really only just enough. A quarter of the way up Alpe D'Huez, I felt so sick that I was sure I wouldn't make it.. I wasn't the only one either as there were fit young guys, with carbon bikes and shaved legs throwing up everywhere...
It puts the fitness levels of the Tour riders into perspective too, in that they will complete this stage in a little over 5 hours - and do an almost equally tough stage the very next day - and the day after that etc..! I was also impressed that my old hero, the bent-nosed 4 times F1 World Champion Alain Prost, now 51 years old, remains in good enough shape to have completed Monday¿s Etape in less than 7 hours.
The Etape du Tour is a serious day out!
My wife and I went to Alpe d'Huez in 2004 and was amazed with the view, after a morning of off roading on the hills around we ended up at the bottom, we had lunch which later regretted and then started the long climb up in the midday sun on a full suspension unprepared mountain bike!!! My wife made it up the first 3 bends and had enough so turned round and went back down to catch a bus while I plodded on. When I was about half way up my wife passed me in a taxi waving although she did stop a couple of bends later to do a few more bends to the ski lift!!!! When i did finish told people I had done it they asked if I got the card at the bottom which i knew nothing about!! Although completely shattered I would certainly recommend it to anyone but be prepared because it hurts. I have a lot of respect for the tour de france guys who have been riding for miles before even getting to the bends. HAPPY Cycling
Neil , Hampshire
I watched the time trial on Alpe d'Huez two years ago, it was a magical experience. I have the utmost respect for this awesome mountain. 100's of thousands of people cycle up it the week prior to the tour arriving. I ran both ways, not sure how many can say they did that :)
Dave Thomas, Cape Town, South Africa
Myself and a friend are flying into Grenoble on 17th june. Can somone tell us how we can get from Grenoble to Alpe d'huez on the morning of the 18th
Tony finch, northampton
In response to tony's question, according to the 'horaires' on the bus operator website vfd.fr, there is a bus departing from the bus station at 6.50, then a connection at Bourg d'Oisans at 8.30 (a 25 minute wait), arriving in at 9.15.
Alpe d'huez is vastly over rated, there are much tougher climbs. The hardest part for tour followers is the shear number of people cylling up it, you can't maintain a rhythm
adrian burns, san francisco
Whats faster? A ski bus down the hill or Lance Armstrong up the hill? Well the answer is not the bus. The people who claim that this is an easy hill should maybe start racing buses.
I returned last night from 9 days cycling in the French Alps our chalet was at the top of Alpe d'Huez I hear people say this is and "easy climb" may be, from an arm chair in the UK. The day we went for it the average temp on the hill was 36C (last Monday-05.07.06)my average heart beat all the way up was 96% of its Max, I can say there are steeper climbs in the UK but non as long and relentless as this, believe me it not an easy hill.
I have just returned from ten days cycling in the Alps. Alpe d'Huez is not the hardest climb in the Alps but is still a huge challenge for the amateur.
Alpe d'Huez is 1,100 vertical metres in 13.8 kilometres. Those statistics do not suggest anything other than hors catagory status to me!
I think the important thing about Alpe d'Huez is not how difficult it is an an individual climb, but the way in which it is placed into the race. Alpe d'Huez is always a shoot-out between the pure climbers and the overall contenders for the Tour. It acts as a form guide, as riders cannot hide during the first few (and steepest) kilometres.
There is a road that joins Alpe d'Huez climb through the village of Huez. It is the road from Villard Reculas, and is worth visiting for the stunning views of the Oisan valley. It also acts as an escape route after the stage for anyone looking to get away quickly.
For my money, the real decider stage will be on 19 July to Le Toussuire. The combination of enormous climbs like the Galibier and the Croix de Fer, together with the extremely technical decent of the Col du Mollard, should demonstrate who the best cyclist in the world is.
Paul K, Hampshire
I was there in 2004 for the time trial. Quite simply amazing. I camped in a layby just outside Bourg d'Oisans for four days. The atmosphere is electric and everybody is so friendly speaking the common language of cycling. I agree with Guy (see below) that the Col du Glandon is a hard climb but at least there is a nice cafe at the top.
I climbed Alpe d'Huez four years ago. The temperature was in the 90s and I can honestly say it was the most phyiscally gruelling thing I have ever done, but it was worth every drop of sweat. The view from the top is amazing, and the descent is amazing.
I was in Gap completing some flying lessons and flew up to Alpe d'Huez including a stop in Embrum. It looks severe in places and landing at the Altiport there is pretty challenging too so I have the utmost respect for anyone attempting it on a bike!
This is the "Etape Du Tour" stage on Monday 10 July. which myself and about 8,499 others will be riding. We are allowed 11 hours to complete it, which is about double the time the pros will do it in. I have no idea how I'm going to get up Alpe d'Huez after 110 miles but, if I don't get to Briancon by 1pm or Bourg D'Oisans by 4pm, I'm eliminated anyway.
Note to Guy, Belgium, there isn't an alternative road off Alpe D'Huez, (like Luz Ardiden) so they have to finish there. Another good example is the 10.5 mile Col D'Aubisque which is also 1st category but it's a long hard climb which gets worse at the top.
The categories bear no relationship to actual difficulty. I've heard it said that the category is based on which gear you have to drive in to get to the top, so if we reclassified them all today that way there'd be no HC climbs.
I am also doing the Etape Du Tour, as a complete novice. Living in Scotland doesn't prepare you for climbs like Alpe d'Huez or Col D'Izoard. I am very nervous. But hopefully gallons of sports drink combined with Black Isle potatoes the night before will see me through.
I was there at Alp d'Huez for the time trial in 2004. Arriving five days in advance we camped at the site right at the bottom of the mountain. The build-up was fantastic to watch. It was like watching a city of people form around you.
All 21 hairpins had mobile homes and tents perched on them. I recall the evening before watching the helicopters going backwards and forwards over the valley ferrying people and equipment from the previous stage finish to Alpe D'Huez. I got up at 0500 on the day and already there were people walking or cycling to reach a spot. Fantastic day.
The day after the time trial I cycled up to the top again for the third time that week. It was deserted bar the gangs clearing the litter.
Ruairi Spencer, Gloucester
Visiting Alpe d'Huez last month, unfortunately without my bike, wasn't going to stop me enjoying the 21 hairpins of this classic Tour ascent. So I ran up the mountain from campsite to cablecar instead. Even on a chilly Monday morning the climb had the feel of an empty stadium - amazing sporting endeavour happens here - it cries. A plaque on each hairpin counts them down and lists stage winners. The names on the road keep you going even though your's isn't painted there. The only problem with running the hill, is that you can't freewheel back down again. It's just as hard work to drop to the valley.
I went skiing in Alpe D'Huez earlier this year and simply driving up the mountain around the 21 bends sent shivers down my spine - it really is a magical place. How these guys get up it after 170k or so already I'll never know - whoever wins this stage deserves the maillot jaune in Paris.
Mark Shepstone, Norwich
The only reason Alpe d'Huez gets an hors category rating is because it is always the finish line. The climb at Alpe d'Huez isn't nearly as hard as some others around there (eg Col du Glandon), which are "only" first category speaking from personal experience.
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