Stage 2 of Haute Route Alpe d’Huez today tackled a tough and unique route featuring narrow balcony roads hugging cliffs high above the valley below. The climbs on the balcony roads connected riders to the primary challenges of the day, the ascents of Les Deux Alpes and the Col du Sarenne.
To start the day, riders descended Alpe d’Huez on their own to the town of Bourg d’Oisans in the valley below. There, in the shade beside the outdoor market and clear running stream, the voice of Haute Route – Fergus Grant – was waiting to send them on their way.
Within only a few kilometers riders started up Alpe d’Huez, though only through the first five switchbacks to turnoff in La Garde. Riding the road from La Garde to Le Freney d’Oisans is an experience that leaves an impression. Carved out of the side of the cliff and barely wide enough for a single car at times, it provides unrivaled views across the valley and down on the Romanche River far below.
For the Original course riders, a quick descent through Le Freney d’Oisans provided a short respite before a steep ramp onto a quiet, shady, and steep road through the forest to start the climb up to Les Deux Alpes. Coming out of the forest, riders emerged onto the second balcony road, this one featuring sections with massive rock overhangs.
Intersecting with the main road to Les Deux Alpes, riders continued up through numbered switchbacks to the ski station at Les Deux Alpes.
Chatting at the feed station in Les Deux Alpes, Chilean rider Filipe Sandoval – one of a group of 22 Chilean riders on two-week European cycling holiday – said, “I’ve never been to such amazing and beautiful places. Chile is beautiful, but you don’t have as many great roads for cycling or the culture of cycling like you have here.”
Although there are long climbs in his home country of Brazil, the steepness of climbs in France was a draw for Rodrigo Arruy. “Here it is totally different. At home we have climbs of one hour, but steady at 6%. These are the real climbs. So nice.”
Armed with knowledge of what was coming with the climb up the Col du Sarenne, Alistair Christie was taking his time at the Les Deux Alpes feed station. “I know what it’s like. My strategy is to sit here as long as possible, and then tackle those first two or three kilometres.”
Indeed, the start of the Col du Sarenne is one to rest up for. The first kilometer averages over 11%, followed by a brief respite before another ramp averaging nearly 10% for two kilometres. The natural spring water fountain on the side of the road as you enter Clavans le Bas was a welcome site for riders looking to dunk their heads.
The tricky part about the Sarenne – which many riders later realized – is that it gets steeper and hotter as you emerge from the trees for the last four kilometers. After traversing along the top of the Sarenne to the town of Alpe d’Huez, riders intersected the famous switchbacks just above the town of Huez in order to climb to the finish.
The last remaining challenge of Haute Route Alpe d’Huez is the 15.5-kilometer Stage 3 Individual Time Trial up the famed 21 switchbacks. Though some of the bottom and top switchbacks have been included in previous stages, the time trial is the riders’ opportunity to test themselves on the full climb and finish at the traditional Tour de France finish line.