In this blog article I would like to share my experience about my experience of climbing Alpe d’Huez, the arguably most famous mountain top finish in cycling.
Alp D’Huez is located in the Central French Western Alpes in the department of Isere. In the winter it is an attraction for wintersports having an overall of 249km of slopes while in the summer it is the paradise for cycling as you well know. The Tour de France often comes for a visit, in 2022 even on Bastille day. I was there too but this will be part of a different blog post! 🙂
Getting to Alpe d’Huez – not an easy one
In 2018 I really wanted to climb Alp D’Huez for the first time. As a passionate Tour de France fan I could never imagine how hard 8% are as the TV pictures often look quite deceiving. I also was not sure if I could even do it. So I decided to do a one-week holiday with my girlfriend. The first three days we actually spent in Ukraine visiting the power plant in Chernobyl (own story for itself) before we took a flight from Kiev to Lyon. From Lyon airport we took a bus to Grenoble where we stayed one night in an Air Bnb. The real challenge is to get from Grenoble to Bourg d’Oisans by public transport. Bourg d’Oisans is a small village located at the foot of Alpe d’Huez and acts as the starting line for the climb. There are no trains but only a bus runs from Grenoble to Bourg d’Oisans once or twice a day. We actually were lucky and could sort out a BlaBla car where a nice French lady took us to Bourg d’Oisans and also took us back, but back there certainly was not a lot of offer.
After sorting out our AirBnb we went to centre of Bourg d’Oisans where we rented our bikes. There are plenty of shops where you can rent your bike, however, they all know about their location and you will have to pay premium pricing. We paid 35€ per day for a bike which I think is quite expensive. In return you get a nice roadbike with a 11-32 casette and a service in English which I guess is also not normal in France.
The first kilometer – Do or Die
We then started off to climb Alpe d’Huez and I was super excited but also a bit nervous about whether I can do it. I am 185cm tall at 70kg and did not train that much before. Even thoughe I commuted 20km to work every day and did occasional tours but never really exceeded 50km, so I certainly did not have the best preparation. So we rolled through the roundabout and took the exit “Alpe D’Huez”. After you have a nice 600m making you roll past some houses before you have to take a sharp left; this is where it starts. You will just see a long and very steep looking street. Within 10m your momentum of the flat is gone and you will have to fight up an average gradient of around 10%. As you slowly make your way up you get overtaken by some cars making you go as close as possible to the right hand side where the wall is. As I could not go much faster than 8kmh without going into the red so it took me a while until I reached the first bent. Here I had to wait for my girlfriend who started questioning our decision to go to Alp d’Huez as she found it super difficult.
We then kept making our way up, me waiting for my girlfriend at every while looking at the signs you find on all bents telling you the winner from previous mountain-top finishes. Those signs are pretty cool. They basically tell you how many more bents you need to climb as well as telling you the altitude you are one. After the brutal first kilometers, the gradient eases off and ranges between 7-8% so you can start finding your rhythm. Once we reached bent number 9 we made a longer break. The views are absolutely fantastic here as you can look down to the valley and see most of the hairpins you have already climbed. Definitely worth a picture to show your friends how much you have climbed as taking pictures of the gradients do not give away how steep it really is (a bit like on the TV I guess).
Enjoying a cold beer up top up Alpe d’Huez
Once you reach the village many people climbing Alpe d’Huez for the first time think it is the end. Even though you will find a podium and a finishing line marked on the floor it is actually not the official Tour de France finish. The official Tour de France finish is another 1,5km up. The good news is that it gets a lot less steep and you are able to enjoy the last meters in much thinner and cooler air. The finish itself is actually next to a parking space only marked by a little sign. It really is not that amazing to take pictures, hence many people go back down to Alpe d’Huez to take their well-deserved picture and beer. There are plenty of restaurants you can enjoy at the top and you are also able to eat should you fancy it.
Once you decide to go back down descending you should be very wary and attentive. Although some parts have resurfaced tarmac, there are some parts which are in poor quality. You will sometimes even find some rocks lying on the street. At the speed you are going (maximum I reached was 70kmh) this can easily knock you off your bike. So do not feel pressured, just go down your own pace especially when you descend such a long and steep climb for the first time. My girlfriend and me also took some breaks for us and our breaks to cool down. You will most likely see other cyclists or cars being super fast and disrespectful going down but I always let them by in every hairpin. It is actually a lot more enjoyable if there is no one behind you.
How did I find cycling up Alpe d’Huez?
Overall it was great riding Alpe d’Huez for the first time. When we came home and my girlfriend prepared some food I just passed out, though. You do not realize how exhausted you are until you have eaten. On this day I definitely feel in love with Alpe d’Huez and the Alpes in general and since then have been to the Alpes for cycling every year. The region is just amazing for cyclists with so many nice climbs around the corner like the Galibier or the Croix de Fer. Most of the people you meet there are just in a good mood so you can talk to most of them on your way up. 🙂
If you have any questions then let me know. And should you want to feel like a Tour de France rider and ride some stages of the Tour de France then check out our offer here.