Ready for these famous Alp climbs of the TDF?
Col de Glandon
Col du Telegraphe
Col du Galibier
Entry capped at 7000. They say half do not finish. It was oddly the most silent ride I’ve ever been on. No one really spoke. They were deep within their own hurt-lockers contemplating their survival, I imagine. I was. The few times we were able to speak it was a blur of languages being spoken. Very cool. Conversations would start then drift into whichever language the group of the moment had in common; Dutch, Italian, Spanish, French, English. The universal language was understood by all: Suffering.
Being a newbie to La Marmotte, I had to start in the second wave of three thousand riders. In the first 30 miles, riding at 40 degrees in temp and tasting the first mountain’s pain, I had secured a complete sense of being drastically over-geared and in way over my head. Col du Glandon slapped me into the reality of the day. I was doubtful I would be able to complete the event at all – until the to the final 2 (of 21) switchbacks on Alpe d’Huez where I decided my chances of finishing were getting better, at maybe about 25% chance of success.
Climbing so long, in such a hard gear, so many times, meant as a high-cadence climber my muscles were being taxed heavily. Despite all my endurance training this year I was fending off cramps from muscles that never complained previously. Riders with more suitable gearing were cracking and on the roadside left and right. Broken chains, and passing riders with flats every couple minutes. With so many riders, I imagine it was really not that high of a percentage, but it was a constant reminder of the perils of getting a flat on the descents.
The day started very cold, 40 degrees maybe. So I brought tons of clothing, leg and arm warmers, thermal under-tee, wind jacket. Temperature swings of 30 degrees throughout the day as you stripped down and sweated up the climbs into the cold thin air with snow on the road next to you, then pulled on every bit of clothing you had for the descents. Then do it all again once you start the next transition uphill or at the next water stop.
The views were post card stuff, at every turn. The climbs were brutal. The descents were extraordinary and dangerous. A mistake equals huge pain. I saw plenty of them being made. The ambulances were busy. Jagged and toothy rock walls on one side and severe drop-offs leading to rock piles on the other. Criterium braking and cornering skills were a huge benefit and I was able to stay within my comfort zone and fly past many on the twisty fast descents. The Bontrager R4’s stuck like glue to the new asphalt. The 6.9 Madone is a FAST bike with the Aeolus 5.0 on the front. Almost too fast.
Col du Telegraph and the thinning air almost cracked me. I had to stop and sit on a log at the top for ten minutes, I think, until my dizziness passed. Coach Bob Hanisch caught me here and we exchanged dead-faced greetings for a moment, complained about muscles that had already abandoned the race, then carried on in our silent missions. The monster Galibier was next. The snaky climb up to 8,700 feet seemed endless. Burning off speed before the next switchbacks was crazy, flying down the freshly paved roads (prepped for TDF the week prior), huge braking efforts, then diving through the 180 degree turns, then again, and again, and again. For an hour from top of Galibier to the base of Alp d'Huez in Bourg d’Oisans.
Nutrition and Mechanical – self supported. Well, they had food and help out there, but I did not count on either. I had a small breakfast of bread and cheese, yogurt fruit and granola. One chocolate OS Pre-Load in the car drive to the race starting area. I consumed 3x OS Endurance (cherry) during the race, as well as 2 hammer gels, and one never-sampled larger packet of energy drink (sans caffeine) I bought in France that I sucked up at the base of Alpe d’Huez just for a little insurance I didn’t crack – didn’t care if it gave me gut rot – just needed the carbs. I think I nailed the nutrition intake perfectly. Became a little dehydrated at one point, but realized it and recovered quickly. That thin air takes more water out of you that you realize.
Used a 39 x 28 combo. Should have used a compact. Bob was standing on a 39x27 all day - Ow. Average cadence was almost always under 48 rpm on all the climbs (@ 170-210 watts), painfully slow for me. My body likes to run 95rpm now. Ow. Any attempt to spin faster put the watts well over 200, which was simply not sustainable for me for that length of time. At some of the higher grades like 9%, I was completely happy churning up at a breakneck speed: 4.7mph. GRIND. The grind sapped me for the flats and slopes. It was a balancing act all day not to go too hard but keep in some sort of comfortable cadence zone. GRIND. Geitner, once again, I regret not having the triple, or compact.
10:28 later, I was crossing the finish line in Alpe d’Huez. – good enough for a Silver Medal finishing time in my age group. Just missed Gold by ten minutes. (they awarded by time blocks per age group – Gold, Silver, Bronze, (and Congrats You Survived – no medal.)