Classic Climbs of France, Day 8, the One, the Only, Alpe d’Huez

Alan Gilbert
4 min readJun 28

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This is part of a series of posts from my cycling trip to France to experience the “classic climbs” of the French Pyrénées, Alps, and Mont Ventoux.

Today’s Ride

Our routes so far in the Alps region. Today’s ride in red. It doesn’t look like much but the last third was the massive climb up Alpe D’Huez.
Closeup of the Alpe D’Huez climb

Highlights

Today was the big one… Alpe d’Huez. And what perfect weather! Bluebird skies, no wind, and 65–70 degrees. OK, I’ll admit that, before this trip, I had never heard of Alpe d’Huez. While I love to cycle, I have never really followed the pro circuit nor the Tour de France. But now having ridden some of the most storied and infamous Tour de France climbs, I have a personal connection and am very interested. And Alpe d’Huez is legendary, having been featured in 30 Tours.

The night before, we actually stayed in a ski lodge right in the village of Alpe d’Huez. It was by far the nicest, swankiest accommodations of the trip. Of course, since we were staying at the top and climbing to the top we started off with a monster descent down one of the alternate routes. There are actually three routes to the top and our mission was to climb the main one used in the Tour. In fact, it was being used part of that day for a massive race called the La Marmotte Granfondo Alpes, covering 116 miles and climbing over 18,000 ft., in one day, finishing on Alpe d’Huez. We did see a few racers as we were climbing but only those at the very front of the pack, and as I understood it, did a multi-day version of the ride. Most finished well after we were done for the day, as we were “only” riding 31 miles (with 5,600 ft. of climbing).

The Alpe d’Huez climb itself is about 3,800 ft. over 11 miles, using 21 switchbacks to scale the mountain. The grade was pretty constantly 8–9% nearly all the way up. The day broke down into four sections: six pleasant, relatively flat miles around the top of the mountain, followed by a 4,000 ft. descent over 14 miles, followed by three flat miles, followed by… the climb. The climb itself always felt very achievable for multiple reasons. Breaking it down to 21 pieces made it more mentally manageable. All of painted messages on the road encouraging past racers was inspiring and just damn cool. And the fact that it was our last ride added a bit of extra energy. In fact, I sprinted the last two miles, at about a 6% grade, to the finish line. Then I fell over.

All in all, this was a wonderful, amazing trip of a lifetime. It was everything I could have imagined and more. The rides were beautiful and lived up to the pictures and legends. They were all obviously very challenging but I felt I was ready. I trained as best as I could in Columbus, Ohio. The guides were great, the accommodations were first class, the food was plentiful, and I enjoyed being with everyone on the crew. Kudos to Trek Travel.

In my series of posts, I mentioned that I had a goal of turning myself into an “accomplished climber.” I would not yet describe myself at that level, but hey, I did accomplish every climb… so just maybe I am. At least in Columbus.

Rolling out for our last day
Following the lead of guides Natalie and Claire in the first few up and down miles
Not the smoothest road but a nice gentle descent
Starting the moster descent from the peak
Here we go!
We rode through many villages like these embedded in the mountainside
I love how these signs mark the progress of every climb. France ❤️’s cycling.
One of my favorite of the many pieces of encouragement graffiti. Allez! Allez!
Looking back at the climb from about half-way up
Looking back down at Le Bourg-d’Oisans
Symbolic of the polka dot jersey, awarded to the Tour de France’s best climber
Finis!
The reward — bacon, egg, and cheese crepe
Such history

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