Alpe d'Huez, France
If you're a skier, which I'm not, the ski resort of Alpe d'Huez
in the French Alps might ring a bell. Why? It boasts the world's
longest ski run (almost 10 miles long). If you're a bicyclist
then Alpe d'Huez might be familiar because the ascent up the
mountain to the resort has been the finish to more than 20 stages
of the Tour de France. Cycling is a BIG, BIG deal here in the
summer. Let me explain. The Tour de France generally lasts about
three weeks and usually involves 20 races (or stages). Many of
the stages are longer than 100 miles. From the valley floor village
of Bourg d'Oisans it's nine very
steep miles to Alpe d'Huez. The fastest time up the mountain
was 37 minutes, 35 seconds by Italian Marco Pantani in the 1997
Tour de France. What you also need to remember is that the stage
race that day was 120 miles so; Pantani had already ridden 111
miles when he arrived at the bottom of the mountain to start
the nine mile ascent. Somewhere between 300,000 and 500,000 spectators
usually line the mountain road to watch the riders.
In the summer months
about a THOUSAND cyclists per day (recreational and expert) pedal
up the mountain to Alpe d'Huez. Cyclists come from all over the
world to do the climb-it's sort of a rite of passage or like
visiting Mecca. The route zig-zags with 21 switchbacks/bends/hairpins.
How do I know the number? There's a sign
at each switchback listing the elevation, the number of the switchback
your passing and a name of former winner of the stage. Enterprising
photographers are raking in money from the onslaught of cyclists.
On the way up I passed four photographers stationed at different
switchbacks who stand in the middle of the road snapping shots
of passing cyclists. They then shove a business card at you.
Later, you go to their websites and can purchase photos.
The Dutch take over Alpe d'Huez in the summer. Bus tours from
the Netherlands bring Dutch cyclists here by the hundreds for
a week or two of cycling in these magnificent mountains. Why
do the Dutch love this place so much? Hey, if you have ever been
to flat-as-a-pancake Holland you'd understand.
So, what was my time getting up the mountain? Did I beat
the 37 minute record set by Pantani in 1997? Not quite. Did I
mention doing it with fully loaded front and rear panniers (saddlebags)?
Did I mention being passed by over 200 cyclists including around
50 women? My time: One hour and 50 minutes. Were there downsides
to doing it with fully loaded front and rear panniers? Well,
besides the obvious weight factor there was another big problem:
flies. I was swarmed non-stop! I'm convinced the flies communicated
to others that I was on the way up! The message sent was probably
as follows: "Hey, easy pickings is heading your way, it's
a shirtless, slow moving dimwit who's sweating like a pig".
Hmm, why doesn't someone put together a race up the mountain
with fully loaded front and rear panniers?
Alpe d'Huez isn't
a high-end resort like Megeve,
France or Gstaad, Switzerland so you
won't find fancy clothes and watch boutiques. It doesn't
seem to be on the route for tour bus operators either judging
by the few shops hawking touristy wares. The long
tobaggan ride down the hill looks like fun and one can hop
on the adjacent chair lift to return to the beginning to do it
again. Ski lifts abound here with several whisking hikers and
mountain bikers up the mountain.
Is this place
hopping or is it dead in the summer?
swarming with road cyclists and mountain bikers.
Is there a lake
and/or golf course in town?
car the only option?
service but, buses make regular runs up the mountain from the
valley floor village of Bourg d'Oisans.
Does the place
like you're on top of the world.
Lots of choices
for acccomodations (hotels/ chalets) and do I have recommendations?
are 18 hotels of varying degrees and a slew of furnished holiday
Could I spend
a whole summer here or would I get bored?
would be my limit.