One of the great things about cycling is that fans can ride the same courses used by generations of pros in the biggest races in the world. You may never get the chance to test your football skills against a World Cup goalkeeper, but you can test yourself on iconic climbs like Alpe d’Huez. Starting at the base of the climb in Bourg d’Oisans, Haute Route Alpe d’Huez riders lined up on Sunday morning for the Stage 3 individual time trial, which finished at the traditional Tour de France finish line atop the mountain.
Rolling down the start ramp every 20 seconds, riders could see competitors ahead of them to chase as they ascended through the 21 switchbacks. The climb of Alpe d’Huez starts out quite steep, with ramps of about 10% through the first handful of straightaways. The climb settles down to a steady – but still unrelenting – 7-8% grade for most of the rest of the way.
Asked about their goals and strategies for the climb, John Oxley said, “My objective was not to get taken by someone I’ve passed, and I wasn’t. I wanted to get into a rhythm, and then with 3km to go, if I had anything left, to go for it. To be honest, I’m quite euphoric now, after the pain of the last two days.”
John’s friend, Ben Beevers, answered next, with a dry laugh, “Try not to cry, and try not to be sick. I felt sick on the first bend and thought ‘oh, this isn’t a good sign’.”
The climb up Alpe d’Huez is as beautiful as it is challenging. The numbered switchbacks help break the time trial effort – typically an hour or longer – into smaller sections, each with its own character. Riders also pass well known landmarks, including Dutch Corner and the village of Huez.
“I think this is a really nice finish of the three days”, said Christian Olsson. “I’ve never done this before. You can go all in for the one climb. It’s interesting. I’ve done Alpe d’Huez before, many years ago, but that was after the Galibier, the Telegraphe, and a bunch of climbs, so I didn’t really appreciate it. This time I really appreciated it. That’s the benefit, I think, of just doing it once as a time trial.”
Athletes come to Haute Route Alpe d’Huez from all over the world – and for many different reasons. For some it’s an opportunity to visit and experience the Alps for the first time or spend time riding with friends and family. For others, it’s a chance to compete for victory, beat previous times on familiar climbs, or train for other upcoming events.
Jean-François Bacmann is using the challenge of this weekend to help prepare him for more Haute Route races later in the season. Speaking at the finish line today he said, “I’ve already ridden Alpe d’Huez twice, and blown up twice, so this time was much better. I did Haute Route Dolomites, and now my conditioning is better, building up, with Pyrenees next, then Stelvio and Ventoux.”
Haute Route Alpe d’Huez was a family affair for Neil and Janet Cockings, thanks to the Compact course. Janet commented, “It’s my first one. It’s tough. Everything is 10%, wherever you go. You go on a bit further and look, and it’s still 10%. I’m ecstatic. It’s a wonderful feeling to finish these three days. Absolutely fantastic.” Neil, who rode the Original course, added, “It’s been good. With Janet doing the Compact, and me the Original, I tended to catch her near the end. So, a chance to offer a bit of encouragement.”
For some, the reasons to come to Haute Route Alpe d’Huez are even more personal. Ryan Jones, a track racer from Great Britain, traveled to the mountains and Haute Route Alp d’Huez to honor a friend. “I ride for my mate back home. He wanted to do the Haute Route, but he died last year. He had five on his list because he had a month left before he was set to retire. He wanted to do this one, Dolomites, Alps 7-day, Stelvio, and San Francisco. So, I’m doing all of them this year. Today I gave it everything; I couldn’t have done any more, so happy days.”
With the Haute Route season in full swing, athletes are making their plans for later this summer and into 2020. Stay tuned this summer for the announcement of the 2020 Haute Route calendar.
General Classification leaders Ruari Grant and Rebecca Johnson had only to ride 15.5 kilometers – albeit entirely uphill – to defend their jerseys and take the overall victory at Haute Route Alpe d’Huez. Grant achieved the feat by winning the Men’s time trial with a time of 44:45, ahead of Martin Palmer in second and Julien Batlle in third. Overall, Grant won the Men’s Original course competition with a 3-day time of 6:39:35 and a 17:47 margin of victory over Philippe Béchet in second place. Martin Palmer rounded out the podium for third place overall.
In the Original Women’s competition, Gretchen Miller, runner up on both Stage 1 and Stage 2, surged to the Stage 3 victory by finishing in 1:02:32. Rebecca Johnson finished second on the stage in 1:03:36, conceding 64 seconds to Miller. In the end, the time gain wasn’t enough for Miller to take the General Classification victory. Johnson won the Original Women’s category with a 3-day time of 8:52:34 and a winning margin of 8:41 over Miller. Ingrid Saupstad finished a strong third place in the Stage 3 time trial to retain her third place overall position on the final podium.
For the Men’s Compact competition, Jonathon Oxley won Stage 3 and was the only Compact competitor to break the one hour mark for the time trial. Victor Engel and Brice Engel finished in second and third on the stage, respectively. The General Classification victory in the Men’s Compact competition went to Marco Augusto Dueñas Cepas, with Armando De Sanna in second and Mark Turner in third.
In the Women’s Compact competition, Betty Kals crossed the finish line in 1:07:11 to win the Stage 3 time trial, ahead of Jeanette Caldicott in second and Kelly Grilo in third. Overall, the commanding lead Grilo built on Stage 1 stayed intact and she won the General Classification with a 3-day time of 7:39:59. Calidcott finished second overall, and Amandine Malardeau rounded out the final podium in third.
In the Duo categories, Team Koalas (Alexandre Menneteau and Timothy Harris) won Stage 3 and the General Classification in the Original Duo Men category, Fitness Maréchal (Bernard Maréchal and Crystel Matthey) won Stage 3 and the General Classification in the Original Mixed Duo category, and Les FrancoPolish de Genève (Sebastien Vandenbergh and Iwona Kucinska) won Stage 3 and the General Classification in the Compact Mixed Duo category.