This is the final posting by guest blogger, Michael Lowe. On Monday of this week, during one of the Tour de France rest days, Michael had an opportunity to ride in the Étape Du Tour, an epic cycling event that takes riders from the town of Modane to the famous and storied climb of L'Alpe D'Huez. Below is his story and some of the photos he took along the way. Major kudos and congratulations for conquering the mountains of France!
Made it! Exciting, difficult, hot, beautiful, rewarding, memorable ... all of these words and more would apply. I've had some long tough rides in my career, but this was one of the hardest overall, and DEFINITELY the hardest back to back to back set of climbs I have ever done. Hats off - or "Chapeau!" - to the Tour riders who do this near the end of this year's Tour. They will do it with 18 stages already in their legs. It will be a real challenge!
Climbing the Col du Telegraphe:
The Col du Telegraphe was a long steady climb in the cool of mid-morning and under the shade of many trees. It was not that difficult, though it did exact a cost. The Col du Galibier on the other hand was a real challenge. The sun was high, the heat was in the 80's, and there was no shade and no wind. But the views were spectacular - especially against the clear blue sky. From many of the tight curves one could look back down and see thousands of riders stretched out over miles of roads - like a long, long line of ants.
One thing of note for you hikers. As you climb a ridge in the Smokies there are no signs saying 10 km to the top AND the grade is 12%. I kinda liked the distance alert. But I could have done without the gradient info! My legs were already telling me about that aspect.
At the top of the Galibier I felt great! My body and legs were good. I celebrated with a photo of the descent behind me. Looking at it I realized I would not be taking photos while riding down at 40 mph. (By the way, hiking downhill is irksome as your feet slide forward in your boots. Riding a bike down a steep slope really gets to the hands. Squeezing those brake handles gets pretty old!)
Atop the Col du Galibier:
After the long 20 plus mile descent there was a quick flat stretch and then we hit the bottom of Alpe d'Huez. It surprised me. I was quickly in my lowest gear as the first 2 km average 10%, with little ramparts much higher than that. No wonder the strong climbers launch their attacks right at the start. I settled into a rhythm, stopped taking many photos and concentrated. It was hot. My legs were tired. The big sport was watching the signs counting down the corners - 21 , 20 , 19 , 18 ... I learned on some of the very steep parts that I can ride 3 mph and not fall over!
At the bottom of l'Alpe d’Huez:
In short, it was a sufferfest of the first magnitude, but I made it to the finish. Out of the 9500 riders who started, I understand that 3000 did not. Including my roommate. His hamstring gave out at turn 15, so he walked the remaining 5 miles, pushing his bike. The official results will say DNF by his name but he hiked over the finish line at 5:15 pm, took a photo of himself, and coasted the five blocks to the hotel. No medal, but he DID finish!
Michael - what ever happened to that red polka dot jersey and those podium girls you were telling me about???
I finished in just under seven hours. I only averaged 10 mph! But while it was tough, it was also a memorable ride. If you would like to see the ride, tune in to the Tour on the Versus Channel next Friday, July 22nd.
Thanks for reading my blog entries! I hope they were a pleasant diversion. Keep up your support of this website, and I will be looking for you out on the foot trails!!
Michael Lowe splits his time between Louisville, KY (his home) and Bristol, VA (his workplace). He's an avid cyclist, and also enjoys writing, photography, gardening, travel and hiking. He's hiked portions of the AT inside GSMNP, but completing a thru hike of the entire AT remains on his bucket list. His notes on l'Etape were written as a friend in support of this site, and we'd like to say thanks by pointing out that if you're a fan of adventure fantasy, we recommend Michael's books Wizardmont and Bryunzet, the first two parts of his Promise of the Stones series. If you're a fan of history, check out Charlotte's Story, the true story of how Michael's mother survived as a young girl in Berlin, Germany between 1943 and 1951.