Posts Tagged ‘training for Alpe d’Huez’

Climbing the Tour Legend Alpe d’Huez

| February 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

I have been fortunate to climb Alpe d’Huez many times while guiding bike tour groups at the Tour de France. This July I am excited to test my NeilPryde Alize on Alpe d’Huez and on some of the alpine descents. NeilPryde Bikes have partnered with Gourmet Cycling Travel for their Tour de France final week bike tour and will be supplying their Alize and Diablo model bikes to all participants during the tour. Guest will be able to test their ability using a Diablo or Alize model bike up Mont Ventoux, Col du Galibier and of course Alpe d’Huez. 

 
Alpe d’Huez has been the stage for incredible race action and intense emotion over many years of Tour de France history. Tour fans will remember fondly epic battles between Lemond and Hinault in the 80s, Bugno and Indurain in the 90s, and dominating performances by Pantani and Armstrong more recently.
 
 
 
This year’s Tour edition includes a finish at Alpe d’Huez in the final week of the race. There is nothing quite like experiencing the mountain on race day with thousands of tour fans from across the world turning the roadside into a carnival like atmosphere.
 
Riding up the mountain before the pros arrive is a thrilling experience for an everyday cyclist. Tour fans cheer you on as if you were in the race. This year on the Gourmet Cycling Travel final week tour, we’ll be camped out at 4 kilometers to go in a prime location overlooking the course.
 
The climb of Alpe d’Huez has a total elevation gain of 1071 meters or 3513 feet. This is less than some of the longer climbs like Mont Ventoux or the Col du Tourmalet, yet it is the most famous and attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators who camp on the roadside for weeks ahead of the race.
 
 
 
The total length of the climb is 13.2 kilometers or 8.25 miles with an average gradient of 8.1% and a max of 10.6%; a challenge for any level of cyclist. Last year I saw gradients maxing at 14% displayed on my Garmin computer.
 
The climb’s initial impression is one of a very steep grade on a wide, straight road. Cyclists attempting the climb for the first time will do well to remind themselves that the later slopes are far less steep.
 
Tour de France racers, both super stars and lesser known names, have their names painted on the road. Some names are still quite clear while other names have faded over the years.
 
There are 21 switchbacks in total on the mountain. Each switchback has a sign counting down from 21 on the first switchback, to 1 on the last turn before the summit. Past stage winners like Hampsten, Bugno, and Pantani have their names displayed with each switchback number, sparking memories of past tour battles and race emotion.
 

 
 
It’s a good idea not to pay too close attention to the countdown as this can crack one mentally. I prefer to get in the “zone” by staying focused on the effort and looking only every couple of switchbacks at my current progress.
 
The climb initially zigzags at mostly 10% gradient in a serpentine fashion lined with trees, rocks and a protective wall. A welcome break from the steep gradient comes only briefly on the almost flat switchback turns before the road pitches back up to 10%.
 
Cyclists with a good base of fitness will be able to climb Alpe d’Huez using a compact crank and a 25-27 easiest tooth rear cog at the back. The first year I rode the Alpe back in 1992 I used a 39X23. More recently I have had the luxury of a triple chainring to keep a relatively high cadence up the climb.
 
In my role as a cycling coach, I recommend to cyclists who are going to ride Alpe d’Huez to perform specific training ahead of time to simulate the effort of the climb in the form of 60-90 minute big gear intervals at a cadence of 60-65rpms.
 
 
 
 
The surrounding scenery while climbing Alpe d’Huez changes from one of menacing, rock faced switchbacks in the first part of the climb, to one of green meadows and winding roads of milder gradient in the last few kilometers to the summit. In these final few kilometers one can see in the distance the finish goal up ahead, the ski station of Alpe d’Huez.
 
There is an incredible view on the final few turns of the climb just accomplished of the neighboring mountain ranges. A feeling of fatigue mixed with satisfaction and elation comes over one as the summit nears.
 
As one reaches the ski town lined with street cafes and souvenir shops, the amateur finish line together with a pretend podium is reached. If you are climbing with your buddy, this will be a natural sprint to claim bragging rights as the first one up. The pros continue on for another 1 kilometer through the town for the Tour stage finish line.
 
 
 
 
Many cyclists each year come and time themselves with the official timing system offered. At the Tour de France the climb has been timed since 1994. Pantani holds the current record in a time of 37 minutes and 35 seconds achieved back in 1997. Armstrong comes in a close second with 37 minutes and 36 seconds achieved during his time trial win back in 2004. On a good day I am happy to come within 20 minutes of the records to break the hour. This puts into perspective how good the top pros really are.
 
The Alpe d’Huez is a mythic climb to experience by bike and gives one a new found respect for what a Tour de France rider has to endure to make it to Paris!
 
For the Garmin file of Alpe d'Huez, click here