every thursday throughout the season they have a time trial up alpe d’huez. i was prompted into riding it by Lynne and Alan Coldray, keen cyclists and the owners of ‘Le Velo Jaune’, where I am staying. we were discussing the attraction of the alp over dinner yesterday; in many ways i prefer the other, more scenic and attractive climbs. the alp is brash, ungentlemanly, and savage. it’s the headliner at a heavy metal music festival, with full fireworks and light show, make-up and pointy guitars, probably some kind of cannon that fires bodily fluids at a shocked audience. its status in the tour is established, and the hairpins (les virages) are the unique selling point.
after monday’s unholy shitstorm of sweat and tunnel vision, cold flushes and fear, i did not relish the chance of riding up again, except this time in a race. nevertheless, the legs felt ok and it’s always good for fitness to put a number on. the start is somewhere between a road race and a time trial, it’s a massed start in bourg d’oisans, under the inflatable banner, riding behind the commisaire’s car which increased in pace for a kilometre, before we hit the first horrible incline and all hell broke loose. essentially, everyone went off really fast, men, women and children. i didn’t, I just let them go, and for a while was between groups, those who exploded out of the gate, and those that chose to sedately begin their sufferfest. i figured that they’d all pop, and sooner or later i’d catch them, with the exception of the pesky french professionals and semi-pros, who wouldn’t pop, and i wouldn’ t catch them.
over the first few miles i slowly reeled in quite a few people. i followed some sage advice, attack the hairpins and go steady on the climbs; this worked well. essentially, there were small groups of riders clinging together like the raft of the medusa, all the way up the mountain. i’d work hard for a bit, get on the back of a group, gather myself, then push on around a hairpin and leave them behind. i dragged three other riders at one point, one dutch guy, a frenchie and an english guy who was all over the bike like an octopus. he was very thin though. i left them for a bit, but two of them somehow managed to get back on. it was wierd riding with company, although they both looked pretty bonked out so i felt like the next time i went (if i could) they would be dropped.
once we were within sight of the top i got a second wind, of sorts, and was able to up the tempo again. most of the time i was in the 39:24 or 23, saving the 25 for particularly steep bits or times when i vainly tried to get my heartbeat slightly below 97% of max. (incidentally, i’d adjusted the max upwards, but still peaked at 102%, so may have to whack it up to about 198bpm, which is pretty high for an old codger like me). once i shifted up a gear, i dropped them for the last time. i then knew i could ride tempo to the top, so started to really push, chasing down a VC Raphael rider who i could see up ahead. it was a real boon to have a sighter at this point. i chased him down, catching him about 200 metres before the finish, he tried to sprint but was cooked and i skinned him. to be fair, he was young, and he rode a very impressive race.
oddly, placings matter in this kind of time trial because everyone started at the same time, so it’s more of a road race without the tactics. the alp takes care of the rest. in terms of time, there is a timing chip but mine didn’t work so i had to go to the tourist office where they keep the clocked figures. i was quite staggered – i’d managed 48.42, good enough for 5th place, with the winner doing a 44 or thereabouts. this is very quick for a club rider. it’s not quick for a tour rider.
there is some fantastic footage of the individual time trial in the tour from 2004. it’s worth considering that most of the riders have served subsequent doping bans, and epo was eaten with cereal in the mornings.
the wikipedia entry also looks at the variations in both time and distance for the alp.
As a footnote, Graham (of team douchebag fame) has completed Paris-Brest-Paris in 76 hours. this means he has ridden 1200km in 76 hours. it is an incredible feat and he has my utmost admiration. elsewhere, Mike and chums lopped oodles off their best time for their epic sportive at the Blenheim event, chapeau to the chaps.