Marmotte - Alpe dHuez
The Glandon climb had tested the Corvid, and an annoying "clunk" had developed in the bottom bracket with every turn of the crank. Nothing major, but certainly too much to cope with for the main event.
The day was planned to sort the crank, resolve H's online banking needs, and sign on at the top of the Alpe d'Huez. I was putting off the d'Huez. For some reason I'd established the d'Huez as "the climb", something I wanted to preserve and cherish and "save my flower" for the race. Daft, I know. Anyways, after the subtle psychological tricks played by Harbs all morning, I relented and agreed to cycle up rather than drive. It made sense, I really didn't fancy the idea of an unknown climb after the best part of 100 miles. Anyways, a lazy early morning was spent waiting for the BB to be sorted, translate the French web page for the free wifi "hot spot", and having too much cafe au lait and pan au chocolates. The guy at the shop "Dan" did an excellent job, and for "free". "Just put something in the tip jar". Great service. Not learning the lessons from yesterday, well, maybe something, H attacked a sandwich, however this time it was Tuna, not "fromage avec jamon". We set off to give my flower to the Alpe d'Huez.
From Bourg d'Oisans, looking north, a huge monolithic vertical rock slab faces you. Taunting you, like Ahab's dead hand. In the high distance, beyond the cliff, a small clump of buildings can just be made out in the clouds. Amazed at how people got up there, you can just make out small specs moving on the vertical cliff face. Some crazy goat herder must have carved a path up the granite face, which time and labour has slowly evolved into a road. A road! UP a cliff! This is the climb to the Alpe d'Huez. 21 switchbacks over 13 kilometres and 1100m of ascent. The climb has one of the worlds leading cycling reputations. The greats measure themselves by their performance on this climb. Tours de France won and lost on this ascent to a ski village. Notoriously each switchback is numbered, but in reverse, counting down rather than up. The signs cruelly reminding you how many you have to go, rather than how many you've done. Even when you know, it still plays with your head. The first 4 bends are the steepest section, and to be honest, filled me with woe. If the climb was all like this, it was going to be a real SOB. The switchbacks are thankfully broad and allow a short recovery before each steep stretch between bends. From "La Garde" village at turn 6 (15?), the climb relents, a little. Still in the granny ring, but the pressure on the knees and the heart, drops a little. Unless of course you're after a keen time. I just wanted to get up this first time. Keeping up with Harbs seemed easier than I thought. It seems that the half-heeded baguette/sandwich warning was still causing problems. He had to stop, shed his thermals, wait for his HR to drop, and then slowly endure the pain of climbing when suffering from an apparent array of ailments that Dr.Gregory House would have trouble diagnosing. After turn 8, the climb is just perseverance and endurance. Steady, relentless pressure on the pedals, no easing up, no distractions, just keep going, keep turning the cranks. The first site of the ski village, while welcoming, lets you see the bends remaining, the road littered with cyclists, all reaching for the sky. Another mess with the head, but for me, it steeled my resolve. So far, to be honest, it wasn't that bad. Maybe I should be going faster? I knew it was doable, I had enough energy to get through the remaining bends, and the summit was reachable. Passing into the final climb past the ski shops, burger bars and countless cyclists going up and down was a bit of anti-climax. Some how putting so much effort into climbing a mountain, only to find rip-off fast food joints and t-shirt stalls seemed...tacky. I don't know what I expected, maybe I should have tried harder, really pushed it all the way, but I felt like I had loads left to give. Maybe that’s how it feels when ever any flower is given, good, but it could have been so much more.