Etape du Tour on Alpe d’Huez

Day three was a big day for all of us; Brendan and Christian were racing in l’Étape du Tour and I had my own personal challenge to overcome: driving by myself in the French mountains! At 4:30am we woke up, showered, prepared all of the necessary gear and packed the car, then drove from our hotel in Valmeinier to Modane, where there were already cyclists everywhere we looked! The boys got ready, very nervously, and as they rolled towards the starting line I had to get on with conquering the French motorway. It took me a while to get used to the car and driving on the opposite side of the road than what I am used to, but being on the highway was fairly straightforward. It was when I reached the narrow, winding mountain roads that the adrenaline kicked in; there was barely enough room for two cars on these roads, and most of the corners were blind and steep. I did my best to keep calm and enjoy the scenery, and after two hours I arrived at the top of Alpe d’Huez, relieved and happy to have overcome my fear.

I spent a while looking around the small skiing village of Huez, drinking coffee and using the cafe’s free wifi to catch up on tweets, then checking out the finish line which will also be the end of stage 19 of the Tour de France:

l'Étape and Tour de France finish line

I really wanted to watch the competitors as they made their way up Alpe d’Huez’s infamous switchbacks, so I walked down the mountain as far as I could in my totally inappropriate wedge sandals and settled on a grassy knoll, trying to avoid ant’s nests and wasps, and waited for the riders to start appearing.

my view...

the switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez

As it turns out I was a little too eager to find a good position, and got there way too early. Consequently, I was sitting in direct sunlight with no food or drink for about 5 hours. Thank goodness I had sunscreen in my handbag, but I clearly need to work on my application technique as I ended up with some nasty and quite random burns. Ouch! Anyway, the second I spotted Brendan and Christian ascending the mountain, I forgot about my uncomfortable wait and was just so happy to see them safe and pushing through:

with that smile, you'd never guess he'd just climbed three mountains!

enjoying the ride

l'Étape du Tour finishers!

I was so proud to learn that neither Brendan or Christian walked any of the way; they stayed on their bikes for every inch of the gruelling climbs. I had no idea of the scale of their journey until we drove back the way they had just come; the scenery was breathtaking but the roads were terrifying! I couldn’t believe they had actually cycled the whole 109km!

the view from Col du Galibier, the highest point of the ride

Yep. They climbed this!

the markers that showed the riders how far till the top, the pitch of the climb and their current altitude

It was an awesome day; Brendan and Christian achieved something pretty impressive – they finished in the top 50% of the race -and I was so happy for them, as they’d both been looking forward to and working hard towards this race for so long. We were all extremely tired by the time we got home, so we did what any self-respecting English tourist does when in France: ordered pizza! Oh well, there’s still plenty of time for some awesome French food. And, of course, much more cycling hype!

some 'Tour graffiti' on the climb to Col du Galibier

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