Have you ever watched the Tour de France and wondered what it must be like for those top cyclists to pedal up the French alps? they seem to have such amazing stamina being able to push themselves higher and higher to reach the top before dangerously descending downhill at impressive speed. The pain and effort given by these cyclists is intense and recently I believe I got a little taste of what they experience…
Just last week, in the French alps I was supporting my boyfriend as he competed in the L’ Etape tour which took him over the mountain pass of Galibier and then up the very steep road to Alpe d’Huez.
I was inspired by what I had seen in the L’Etape tour so a day later I prepared the attempt the cycle up Alpe d’Huez. Unfortunately the rain came down in buckets and did not let up most of the day! While waiting in the camper van for the weather to improve I found myself reading local tourist brochures. I noticed on a map a little winding road up to a small mountain village called Oulles. Oulles looked easy to reach by bicycle so we waited for the rain to stop. I decided that Alpe d’Huez would simply have to be conquered another day?
As this was going to be my first ever mountain climb on a bicycle I was slightly worried as I know I am not a very good up-hill cyclist. It is a huge effort for me to continually keep pushing myself upwards. I tend to run out of puff and find that my chest wants to explode screaming out for oxygen, but I like a challenge so my enthusiasm soon squashed my worries.
When the rain finally ceased we jumped onto our bicycles and headed off toward the looming height of the mountains. I felt like an ant the closer we got to them. They stood impressively in front of us that when we got to the base of our climb I had a sudden urge to turn around and cycle back to the campsite. The slant of the road as it rolled around the corner was threatening… my fellow riders headed up and I thought : Just give it a go! The skinny road wound up and up like a spiral staircase – it was never-ending…
So in my lowest gear I pedalled very slowly and with courage I would occasionally look over the sharp drops off the road to see the ground below me getting smaller and smaller as if sinking into a hole. I also found myself pausing to admire the beauty of the mountains surrounding me. Gripping my handlebars tightly I continued to rotate my tired legs around and around. I would occasionally curse as the gradient got steeper. As I gulped in oxygen I thought when will this ever end?
When the tiny village of Oulles appeared peeking through the trees, I knew I had to keep going. The endless effort needed to continue climbing left me hot, sweaty and in pain. The last 200 metres of cycling was exhausting, yet somehow I managed to cycle onwards with a steady rhythm.
Finally the village of Oulles greeted me and I was overjoyed! Nothing quite prepares you for the emotions you feel when you do something you thought was impossible. I had got to the top and
I thought I could fly – I was so happy! I jumped off my bike doing a wobbly legged celebratory jig. I had just cycled up 650 metres to a height of 1400 metres – A category 1 climb!
After a short rest of breathing in the fresh mountain air I got chatting in tongue twisting french to an elderly Oulles local which was rather amusing. I was looking forward to the downhill ride… and what a thrill it was! The speed of my wheels turning took my breath away and the backdrop of the majestic peaks of the Grandes Rousses mountains almost had me taking my eyes off the road. As the road hugged the rock face I grasped my handlebars for control like a racing car driver would his wheel to avoid flying off the edge of the road and over the cliff!
Back at the campsite still elated with my effort, I thought about the unbelievable fitness levels of professional cyclists and their ability to climb endless mountains… I would love to be able to do what they do and now that I have had a taste of a real up hill climb I consider the Tour de France cyclists to be simply amazing!