In which an ageing climber comes to terms with life closer to the ground.


Alpe d’ Huez, Col de Sarenne and Col de St-Christophe

Filed under: — Mike Chapman @ 8:17 pm

Sea of cloud while descending from the Col de Sarenne

31st July

A rest day in the full sense of the term, my only activity was to drive up to the Col d’ Ornon and look at the wild flowers. I met a French woman up there who was doing the same thing, we tried chatting but my French could not cope with sepals and leaves and stalks but I had fun anyway. I found an interesting Hellebore.

Dark Red Helleborine

Friday 1st August

A recovery ride to test my knee after my excursions earlier in the week. The Col d’ Ornon leads to a beautiful valley and I cycled to the Col and on to village called Entraigues where I had a walk and enjoyed the quiet village life in contrast to the spectacular but touristy Le Bourg d’ Oisans.

Saturday 2nd August

There was a large thunderstorm yesterday evening which I rather enjoyed. So this morning it is muddy and there is mist in the valley. As my knee held up yesterday there is the little matter of the Alpe d’ Huez to complete.

I hour 38 mins to the top from the campsite which included the ring road and I made a similar mistake to Robert Miller many years ago and turned off before the top of the climb. For me it was less costly.

Top of the Alpe d’ Huez

Av heart rate 82%
Ave speed 10.5Km it must be really hilly
Distance 17.2Km
Max heart rate 90%

Going as fast as I could on the first of the 21 hairpins I was overtaken by a party of three that did not look fitter than me so I tried to stay with them but my heart rate went up to 86% which I cannot hold for an hour so I dropped back. The ascent is relentless but it was early morning and cool, each bend is numbered and I crawled up at a pace that was as fast as I could do comfortably. The road is covered with the names of the cyclists that took part in this year’s Tour de France Frank and Andy CSC (Schleck) are the most frequent. When I was about halfway up I noticed a group of three cyclists that I was catching on the hairpins above. This is where a heart rate monitor is useful. I did not intend to go any faster but when I looked down my monitor was telling me I had increased my pace. I went back to the old pace and slowly caught them – t hey were the group that had passed me at the start. When I was on the back wheel of the last cyclist I rested for awhile and then went past all three of them just like young men go past me and then settled down to my own pace. I found this very satisfying. On the other hand I have not mentioned the five young cyclists who went past me as if I was stationary in the last half an hour.

The advertisements for the Alp d’ Huez suggest that it is always sunny. After the thunderstorm last night the valleys were full of mist. I was surprised but delighted when I broke into blue sky and sunshine just before the top. The sea of cloud was most impressive.

I passed the little airport and watched planes take off dipping into the cloud before ascending into the blue sky. I descended for a short time on a road that was more suitable for a mountain bike so I went slowly getting ever closer to the cloud in the valleys. I was not going straight down to the valley and I soon started the small ascent to the Col du Sarrene. It was steep and hot, I stopped at the refuge at the top to take a photograph and rest.

I started the descent slowly dropping in and out of the cloud. I enjoyed the occasional picture frame views of mountains as they appeared through gaps in the clouds. I reached the main road at the Lac du Chambon. I thought it was unfortunate for my self esteem that when I pulled out on to the main road I was overtaken by a woman’s cycle racing team followed by a very large young and fit man who looked like a professional cyclist. The road was flat and they pulled away quickly. They then stopped for some coaching and I went past them, when they caught me up the descent started and we shot through tunnels at great speed I went past them I suspect it was because I had taken my sun glasses off and could see and they had not! Appearance is everything.

I wanted to do another Col so I turned off to go to St Christophe en Oisans. I felt very tired and stopped for some lunch. The ascent was 15 Kms of a fairly easy grade not counting the last couple of Kilometers and in particular the last few hairpins. I had a coffee at St Christophe before starting a very easy descent Max 64 Km per hour. I did not use the brakes, I used both sides of the road and my nose was touching the handlebars but could not go any faster. How do cyclists get up to 60 miles per hour?

Where is the dam?

A great day out.

Distance from Alpe d’Huez 64.7 Km
17.4 Av speed 16.4 Km
3 hours 42 min

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