Performance Tour du Jour: Alpine Wonderland

After a slight delay due to jet lag and foreign internet access, David & Chris are back with more Tour du Jour updates from their foray into France.  Our fourth day in France began, yet again, with a chilly and drizzly morning (there was actually fresh snow on the mountainsides above and around us). Everyone kept telling us that this frigid summer weather was highly unusual, yet it remained cloudy and cool for the start of our ride.

But we were here to ride, so we layered our warmest base layers under our Scattante Team jersey and Forza shorts and headed out (or in this case, down the Alpe d’Huez). After a somewhat white-knuckled descent of Alpe d’Huez in the mist, we reached the valley floor at Bourg d’Oisans and immediately noticed an improvement in the weather. Clearing skies and warmer weather made our plan for the day much more appealing – this was going to be our biggest ride of the tour, a 70+ mile loop over some lesser-known climbs in the neighborhood, with an ascent of Alpe d’Huez as a bonus at the end (if we were up to it). Here’s part of our crew stopping for a quick break in a lovely Alpine valley.

The first climb of the day was the Col d’Ornon, a steady 8 mile ascent up a forested valley dotted with fresh waterfalls and quaint villages (this is France, after all). Our group spread out along the road, but reconvened at the summit of the Col d’Ornon, which was really more of high pass than a summit.  But the best part about reaching the top of the col was that that meant we were about to drop down a 12+ mile descent!

We chased each other down the fast and flowy country roads, with hardly any traffic or towns to slow us down. The Devinci Leo really shined on this curvy descent, as it’s stable ride made the long descent super-smooth and fun (plus it was more than ready to respond if you wanted to sprint). At the bottom of the valley, we rolled across the covered Pont des Fayettes, our picnic lunch spot for the day.

And what a lunch was waiting for us! Charly, one of the Europeds guides, really knows how to lay out a spread. Fine French cheeses, bread, salami and wine (this being France, after all) were all there for our hungry peloton to devour. We tried, in vain, to balance our desire to eat everything in sight with the fact that we still had over 40 miles to ride! Even some pro cyclists were jealous of our spread, as the pro continental Skil Shimano team rode by on a training ride as we were eating and seemed very disappointed that they couldn’t stop for a snack!

Soon enough we were off again, this time heading up more idyllic Alpine valleys.  Here’s Chris posing on his Scattante CFR Team road bike, enjoying the sunshine.

Once we started climbing again, though, the clouds and cold weather rolled back in.  When we reached the top of our second big climb of the day, the Col de la Morte, the name of the pass seemed ominously fitting (the temperature swings on this ride were impressive, from the mid 40s on top of the passes to mid 70s in the valleys)!

Of course since we had just reached the top of a pass, that only meant one thing – it was now time to head back down (in case you haven’t noticed, there wasn’t much flat road on this particular ride). And by down, we mean down. The valley floor you see in the distance is where we would be in about 10 miles and 3,300 feet of elevation!

This being France, that meant some expertly engineered and swooping switchbacks were in our future. Yeah…  it was a pretty fun descent.

After the long descent, we waited for a few other members of our group to catch up (and to get some feeling back in our hands) so that we could form a paceline for the ride along the valley floor back to Bourg d’Oisans and the base of Alpe d’Huez. We arrived just in time to catch the end of stage 17 on TV in a cafe (the stage was won by Edvald Boassen Hagen) . Inspired by Boassen Hagen’s solo victory, Chris, Dan and I (David) decided that we should finish our ride in style with a closing climb up Alpe d’Huez (after 70 miles of hard Alpine riding).

Let’s just say that climbing Alpe dHuez after that many miles in the saddle really gives you a new appreciation for what the pro riders are able to do day after day in the Tour de France. My legs were totally shot after the first 3 switchbacks, and I spent most of the ride getting passed by skinny pre-teens and folks riding commuter bikes with full panniers! I looked for any excuse to stop and take a picture, like the shot above of  the notorious “Dutch corner” about halfway up, complete with its own DJ and a steady supply of beverages (beer hand-ups were not uncommon).

But up and up I crawled, counting down the switchbacks as I went. Once again the record for fastest ascent of Alpe d’Huez was safe, but eventually I made it back at the hotel to meet Chris and Dan, who had pulled ahead on the lower third of the mountain. Exhausted but satisfied with our efforts, we got cleaned up and met the rest of our Europeds tour group for a well-earned hearty French dinner. You can check out more photos from Performance Tour du Jour on our Facebook page.

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