Stage 3: Courchevel – Alpe d’Huez
137km overall, 113km timed
4650m of ascent / 4100m of descent
3 climbs: Col de la Madeleine 1993m (1st class), Col du Glandon 1924m (1st class), ascent to l’Alpe d’Huez 1850m (2nd class)
Stage difficulty: 5 out of 5
“You just switch off the brain and you keep going… Col after col, kilometre after kilometre…” David Fussell
The marathon stage is always a BIG day on the Haute Route – physically demanding in the climbs, technical in the descents – and today’s torrential rain added another whole dimension to this very tough stage making it a mind over body experience. For the riders it was like stepping into a cold shower at 7.30 in the morning, the full force of the cold jets of water never subsiding, only increasing in force on the downhill sections, until the bitter end. For some riders the end didn’t come until they had spent more than 9 hours on the bike to finish. And for others, they ended their day on broom wagon– 52 riders had been swept up along the route.
The day started with a fast downhill from Courchevel to Aigueblanche, where the riders were immediately drenched and feeling the cold, although temperatures never dipped below 10 degrees C, the wind chill and persistent rain had a bone-chilling effect. Thankfully, the 28km climb to the top of the Col de la Madeleine warmed the riders. Visibility was down to 10 metres and, as if things couldn’t get worse, the riders had to endure 50km/h headwinds over the last 3km of the Madeleine. A 20km descent, then the ascent of the Glandon with demanding 3km stretches averaging 10% and in places 13% before the top.The descent was neutralised for safety reasons, and it was certainly the right decision in conditions like today. The final ascent to L’Alpe d’Huez and the end of this stage was within sight; the minds of the riders, desperate for that final psychological boost, were now looking ahead to the Individual Time Trial of tomorrow on the same ascent ‘piece of cake’, right?!
The only people who had the right words today to try and explain what they had endured were the riders themselves. Here are some of their words…
“The wind going up the Glandon - I could hardly move. I kept thinking ‘get to the top, get to the top’ and I got to the top. It was so cold out there but I’m so glad to finish - quite emotional” Chris Holmes
“It was ups and downs. The cols were fantastic, but the downhills were freezing cold. And during the last one my brakes almost didn’t work, I was scared” Mark McKillop
“Very, very tough. Tough stage on paper but even worse with the weather. At least it wasn’t too cold but the rain doesn’t help. The people on top of the Glandon gave us food and water … heroes. It was colder for them than probably for us.” Cato Rokne
“Challenging but fun. Cold, you lost your feeling very early on but after that fantastic ride. You start thinking about other rides and how they have been and that’s a top 5!” Kevin Nash “You know, I rather be here than in the office so I m still happy. It rained all day but this is what we like to do, we like cycling, this is as good as we get sometimes.” Stefan Fritz
“It was probably the hardest day I have ever spent on the bicycle.You know, the cycling is one thing but you throw in being soaking wet, cold and hot and it’s a totally difference experience… The best being finishing and being here, it was tough, very tough. I’m glad it’s over.” Robert Beer
“Obviously with the weather forecast we knew what today was going to be so you just get on with it! Probably more mind than body today really!” Amy Brice (only female triple crown rider)
“When I was going down the Madeleine I was so cold that I was losing feelings in my fingers. I stopped at a gas station to try to get warm and I saw all the riders passing by and told myself if you stay here any longer you’re not going finish so I got on my bike and here I am!” Henk Rensik
“It was rainy from the beginning to the end. No minute without rain. If the rain was not coming for the top, you get wet from the road. It was unbelievable and the descents were freezing. And the descent of Col du Glandon was very fast, I used the brake very often but I thought the sooner you go down the sooner you get warmer in the ascent. I was so glad for any hill, any small hills because your body gets warmer. What was very good for my mind in the last climb is that I knew the route as I did it in the Haute Route Alps 2012. I could really push it to the end and I was so happy to arrive! And the hot shower was the best thing today!” Sven Kraft (GER)
About L’Alpe d’Huez
With 21 hairpin bends to reach the summit, the prestigious Alpe d’Huez is as famed for cycling as it is skiing and shares a close association with the Tour de France. The predominantly south facing ski slopes give it a sunny reputation and being situated in the heart of the Massif des Grandes Rousses it offers stunning views of the Ecrins National Park, the Belledonne chain and Mont Blanc.