Thursday, 20 June 2013

Alpe d'Huez twice!

Alpe d'Huez
Another steaming hot day as I set off up the Alpe d'Huez, with its 21 hairpins!  I've been "looking forward" to this all winter.  Lost half a stone in weight, and now on my new, though slightly heavier bike, long story, I was looking forward to posting a better time than last year.  Whether it was the heat, or having done such a lot of climbing and just being tired, I ended up taking four minutes more, so was pretty fed up.  1hr 36 mins.  Ah well, good days and not so good days!  It's fantastic having such a rubbish memory, and only remembering the feeling of euphoria at the top.  I'd forgotten how tough it is, and to finish at the top of Alpe d'Huez as they do in the Marmotte and the Tour de France, after a number of big climbs over the Galibier, Telegraphe, Croix de Fer etc is just mind-blowing!  You can't take it steadily, because you have no option but to keep pedalling, with gradients of 10% and 9% at times, but always over 8% for 14kms!  It's nasty!
A nicer way off rather than gripping your brakes all the way back the same way, is to climb a little up to Villard Reculas, along a lovely balcony route, high above the valley floor with beautiful views, and then five mile descent to the Allemont road again, and then the same flat run into Bourg as yesterday.  26 miles a shorter but steep climbing day today, but back early enough to be able to have lunch together and rest in the afternoon.  Ian had been on a different route climbing above Alpe d'Huez to the Col de Sarenne from Mizoens.  Came back saying it was hard but enjoyable.  Spent the afternoon tinkering with his brakes and fitting new brake blocks!
Determined to achieve my winter-made target of getting up Alpe d'Huez inside 1hr 30, I decided to do the climb again the day after tomorrow.  Ian was going up to La Berarde, quite a lot of climbing and further than what I wanted to do.  So I opted for Col d'Ornon just down the valley towards Allemont.  Another very hot day ahead, so set off before 9am.  The climb up the Ornon valley is one of the kindest so far, averaging about 6.5%.  What a delight!  No traffic, no motor cyclists, just peace and quiet!  Climbing up comfortably at a good pace, in the cool of the steep-sided valley, passing the little hamlets of Villard-Raymond, Oulles, and cycling through Ornon, I reached the top in good time and with energy to spare. Kept with some guys over the last kilometre to the top, who were from Sheffield and were doing the route we've done from here, all the way around to the Grand Serre and back up the long, busy main road through Sechiliennes to Bourg.  After a chat, I descended back down, passing dozens of cyclists coming up.  Back at the van after only about two hours cycling, to have plenty of rest before tomorrow.  Ian had had a good ride up to La Berarde, but had forgotten how much climbing there is in that circuit, but great views of the mountains all around.  Very hot afternoon, 34deg
The following day was forecast to be hot, but cloudy with rain forecast for lunchtime onwards.  Decided to move on to the Drome area, a few hours drive south, after we'd climbed Alpe d'Huez!  Couldn't sleep, and rather than waste the best, coolest part of the day for doing a tough climb, I got up at 6.30am and after a bowl of muesli was off up the climb by 7.15am!  Breathing heavily over the first few steepest sections, I was worried that this was going to be a waste of time.  If I didn't start to come better, I may as well turn around.  Unless I could improve on 4.5mph, which was my average when I did this two days ago for 1.36, then there was no chance of getting inside 1.30.  Starting to feel a bit less stressed, as the gradient steadies to a consistent 9%, and by using the hairpins, not as a place for a rest, but as a place to speed up a bit and push into the next rise in the road, I could see my speed averaging at 5.2 mph.  In with a chance!  With four hairpins to go, I changed my speedometer to register overall time, rather than average speed and was encouraged to see it reading 1:12.  Saw Ian on his way back down and he was surprised to see me so near to the top, so that spurred me on.  Had to really keep focused for the last few hairpins, but put a spurt on at the top.  1:29:36!  At last, inside 1:30.  The cooler morning conditions had helped to reduce my time by 7minutes, and I was pleased to achieve something I'd been aiming for all winter.  Maybe I'd got my new legs, after all the Cols we'd done.  The rest of my body must still be in the post, as I'm feeling like a discharging battery, a weird mixture of stronger but more tired!  I guess that's the problem.  At our age, we don't recover as quickly as you do when you're younger.
My second aim of a good time up Galibier would have to wait.  It's still closed, though might be open later this week!
Back down the hill, past thirty to forty riders toiling up it.  Going so early had been so quiet,  with only seeing two other cyclists.
Off to the supermarket to provision up and then on the road towards Valence, and the area known as the Drome Provencale, about 50 miles south.  Not been here before so looking forward to pastures new.

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