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Part 3: The End
The big descent from the top of the Galibier down to Bourg d’Oisans takes in a series of tunnels. There are at least six of these to be aware of, as you’ll need to ride steadily. It’s roughly 50 km down to the start of Alpe d’Huez so sitting in a group through the valley will help conserve energy, but caution is needed.
What’s the technique for transition from bright sunlight into dark tunnels? Decent sunglasses with transition or photochromic lenses. Or, albeit a slightly more deranged technique, closing one eye as you enter the tunnel and opening it as you exit the other end (not recommended). Some of the tunnels have LED lights and blinkers, others don’t. Caution. There is generally no danger apart from ensuring you hold a steady line with other riders around and as you exit. Remember, these will be closed roads so use the whole road to your advantage.
It’s a steady twisting descent through a valley of huge mountains, pencil-lead-shiny slopes, cliff faces decorated with evergreens and a turquoise river on your left. It’s avalanche territory, a stunning road to ride along. A bridge brings you high across a quarry and then it's 14km from here to the foot of Alpe. More beautiful scenery to descend through and at one point there is a slight climb, but not for long. Just after this you can look up and see the chalets of Alpe d'Huez.
The 21 hairpins or virages of Alpe d’Huez are legendary and nearly all are marked by the names of Tour riders and the year they rode to victory on the climb. It’s an ugly climb in truth but so important to the history of the Tour. Marco Pantani holds the record for the fastest time up here, about 37 mins! A respectable time would be around 1hr 15 mins.
The likelihood is it will be hot and the Alpe is pretty exposed. Be prepared to slog this one out, it’s now a game of attrition as the last elimination point is in Bourg d’Oisans. If you need to rest and get your heart rate down, you can. As with the Galibier, try and stay relaxed.
You can Countdown the 21 switchbacks but we suggest you remember the names and numbers on certain hairpins. You can even use these as climbing “mantras” if you wish.
21’s the steepest - it’ll get easier
It’ll shock you at first if you haven’t ridden it before but the first few ramps are the hardest sections.
17 means Tinho – you’ll be a hero
Joaquim Agostinho, who inspired the Etape Jersey Acte I, resides on no. 17 – He was no pure climber but won on this mountain due to strength and bravery.
12 for Herrera – the Colombian climber
If you’re at 12 you know you can make it… Find your rhythm like a Colombian climber.
3: It’s Marco Pantani – two more for victory
You can now pretend you’re Pantani even if you probably took a bit longer to reach this hairpin. Don a bandana and get in the drops.
After hairpin 1 you reach the "top", but the route continues over and left through a tunnel for 2km more before you cross the finish line.
Whatever your aspirations for this ride, whether you’re a novice just trying to finish, a tourist enjoying the journey or a hitter looking to get a good placing, everyone can finish atop this grand Alpine podium. Good luck.
We suggest using the idea of the podium as your guide to a strategy
– break the ride into 3 parts:
- CAUTION There’ll be Some danger at the start – a fast descent to SAINT-MARTIN-D'ARC before a sharp left to begin your day of climbing.
- BRAVERY The Galibier will require bravery, it’s steady for the first 9kms or so but after Plan Lachat, where the road switches back, the gradient and altitude takes hold and you need to show strong character.
- SUFFERING The Alpe always makes people suffer - 2000m of climbing already in the legs and it is very exposed – at the time of day you arrive on the Alpe, the sun will be at full gas. Slog it out for victory.
The Broom Wagon: There are three elimination points:
- VALLOIRES – 10h 06
Even if you roll over the start line at 8am, you have 2hrs to go 31km (at least an hour for the Telegraphe). You’ll be Fine.
- LA GRAVE – 12h 51
3 hours later with 18 km of climbing and 20km of descending. Again you should be Fine. You can even afford to stop and fall apart (a bit)
- BOURG D’OISANS – 13h 47mins – if you aren’t climbing the Alpe by 13.45 be worried, otherwise get on with it and finish!