Southend Wheelers in the French Alps
Day 1 - Alpe d'Huez, Col de la Sarenne & Col d'Ornon   

September finally arrived and Mike O'Kill and I set off for the French Alps; breakfast on the 07:45 Dover-Calais ferry and a long drive via the auotroute saw us arrive at the King of the Mountains chalet at Rivier d'Ornon by 19:00 (we didn't stop very often!). Also staying was an American named Bob and six members of the Mid Oxon Racing Club (Ian, Mark, Kevin, Kevin, Paul & Andy).

The first day brought terrific weather and where else to start but the legendary Alpe d'Huez. We rolled down the Col d'Ornon into Bourg d'Oisans and regrouped at the foot of the Alpe. Arm warmers and gilets were discarded for the ascent. Last year I climbed the Alpe in 1 hour and 17 minutes and was hoping to break the 1 hour 15 minute mark. A study of the profile told me that after bend 17, I should change up a gear as the steepest section would be behind me. My eyes and legs were a little disbelieving, but I changed out of my "mountain" 27 sprocket and into the 24 and kept plugging away. Rounding the final bend (number one - they count down from 21 as you climb) at around 1 hour and 13 minutes I wasn't sure if I was going to make it, but I crossed the (tourist route not the full tdf route) line at 1 hour 14 minutes and 55 seconds - beating my target by a whopping 5 seconds.

About 15 minutes later, Mike arrived declaring "that was the hardest thing I have done in my life". "Mmm" I said, "we are doing the Galibier tomorrow!"
 

Martin "Contador" Harris and Mike "Schleck" O'Kill on the Alpe d'Huez podium

Rather than roll back down the 21 hairpins, we chose to return via the scenic Col de la Sarenne; a drop of some 200m followed by a climb up to 2,000m with some stunning views of snow-capped peaks and sheer drops into the valley below. This is where Mike told me that he was scared of heights - there are not many barriers along these roads....
 

Mike nearing the Col de la Sarenne

 

Snow capped peaks of the Ecrin Mountains


We descended via Clavans and Mizoen to join the main road at Barrage du Chambon for the ride back to Bourg. This was when we wished we had the car as we still had the 500m climb back to the chalet but knowing that home made cake awaited us we made good speed back. A delightful chicken dinner was served and it was agreed with the six Mid Oxons that we would all ride up the Lauteret and Galibier the next day.

 


Day 2