Not Tandem Friendly: Ventoux and Alpe d’ Huez

If you are a baseball fan,  imagine taking batting practice in Yankee Stadium,  then flying to Boston to do the same thing at Fenway Park on the same day. On May 22 I did the cycling equivalent.

Ventoux Summit at 8:30 AM: On to the Alpe

Two of the most famous climbs that are raced in the Tour de France are Mont Ventoux and Alpe d’ Huez. Ventoux is practically in the back yard of the house we rented in Malaucene for the month of May, but the Alpe is almost 3 hours away by car.

I wanted to do both of these iconic climbs on the same day.  44|5, my favorite touring company,  made it happen. And my legs managed it, though not without some difficulty.

I got up at 4 am for a 6 o’clock pick up. We transferred to Bedoin, since I wanted to do the most famous, and longest, route up Ventoux. John and Gerry were both along. They alternated driving the car and riding with me. And Diane came too. She wanted to see these famous climbs in person after watching them on TV for years.

From Bedoin the road climbs 5,075 feet in 13.2 miles. The first 3.5 miles are gentle (700 feet up). Then there are 6 miles through the forest that average 9.5%. After that comes the famous ‘moonscape’, which isn’t quite as steep until the last two km, which ramp up to 11%.

I felt pretty good all the way up. It was cool and calm at the bottom, but near end of the forest it started to get windy. The wind increased to a mini Mistral on the moonscape. Sometimes it was behind us, but mostly it was a disturbing crosswind that both impeded progress and made controlling the bike difficult.

When I came around the last switchback I got hit by a blast that almost stopped me and blew me over on a 12% slope. My heart rate hit 164 and my power reached 460 watts just to survive the last 50 meters.

Alpe d' Huez Summit: Time for a Beer!

I was planning to descend to Malaucene on the bike, but the wind made me change my mind. So we put the bikes on the roof rack and headed for Alpe d’ Huez.

After a 2 1/2 hour drive with a sandwich stop for lunch, we arrived at the start. Gerry and I got on the bikes and rode a little over 3 miles of flat road to loosen our legs after the drive, and then we started up: over 3,600 feet in a bit over 8 miles.

Alpe d’ Huez has 21 switchbacks: 180 degree turns where the road flattens a bit before hitting you with another 9 to 12% ramp. The switchbacks count down from 21 at the bottom to 1 just before the ski resort at the top.

The first 3 kilometres are really steep. My Garmin showed mostly 10 to 12% and hit 14% for a brief moment. And while wind wasn’t an issue,  heat was. Our Garmin devices were showing temperatures in the mid 90′s. Mine actually got to 100.

I stopped twice on the climb. I didn’t want to, but it was so hot that it seemed prudent to pour some water on my head and down my throat before continuing. I wasn’t feeling really horrible but I was struggling.  I think the second stop was with 6 switchbacks to go. I took off my undershirt  (should have done that earlier) and started up.

Then there was a miracle, a sudden massive drop in temperature. There was much cooler air up just past the village where we had stopped and the temperature dropped almost 20 degrees, just like that. I went from totally wiped out to feeling almost revived, and I was sure I was going to make it. Even the steep ramp after Switchback #1, which I struggled up back in 2007, wasn’t that hard.

A little easy pedaling through the village, a couple of gentle 7% slopes on the edge of town and we got to the very top, a parking lot at the ski lift.

We celebrated with a beer and a t shirt purchase, then it was time for the long drive back to Malaucene. Which was made longer by a 20 minute delay for road work on

Post Climb Celebration: T Shirt Purchase to Follow

the way down the Alpe.  Otherwise we would have arrived back exactly on the itinerary’s ETA of 7:30.  Stats: (including 3 flat miles to warm up for the Alpe): 26.5 miles, 8,700 feet climbed, 4:06 riding time.

It might be a little loco to drive 5 hours round trip just to have the satisfaction of riding to two of the most famous cycling summits in France on the same day. But it was a really exciting and memorable day for me, and for Diane too. In one of the switchbacks of Alpe d’ Huez, she ran beside me shouting ‘Allez, allez!’ She said afterwards she had always wanted to do that, so we both got a dose of ‘Cycling Fantasy Camp’. A dose I will never forget.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Blog Author

    Rich Freggiaro

    Richard Freggiaro is a Stockton area native who grew up on his family’s farm. After an nine year detour to Davis for College, Washington DC for work, and Iowa for graduate school, he returned to San Joaquin County and spent the next quarter century farming with his father. He has been married to Diane for 31 years. He is (mostly) retired which leaves him plenty of time to ride each of his 4 bikes, and he is an enthusiastic and passionate cyclist. Read Full
  • Categories

  • Archives