A few days after the Alpe d’Huez race, my good friend Will and I decided to take on a route we had been looking at for years.
It’s always a fine balance when racing Alpe d’Huez between getting the right amount of rest and recovery around race day but also making the most of the incredible roads and famous climbs. However, with this being my 4th visit to the race and with my biggest target for the year, Ironman Switzerland, now behind me, we decided this trip was going to be more of an adventure.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about my opportunities and objectives in the sport and in life generally and have often reflected on the phrase “If not now, when?” as a way to help me overcome those harder tests and take on new experiences. I’ve also been influenced a lot my friend, John McAvoy, and his constant strive to push outside of his comfort zone and live every day to the fullest.
We set off early on the Saturday morning, 2 days after the race, with 186kms and 5330m of climbing ahead of us. This year we were staying in Alpe d’Huez so would be avoiding the flat start of Bourg d’Osains. Instead we would descend the Pas de la Confession from Huez village before rolling along the valley and tackling all but the final 2km of the Croix de Fer before turning off and passing over the Col du Glandon. We would descend the north side of the Col du Glandon for what would feel like an eternity, ride along the hot valley to Saint Michel de Maurienne where we would refuel before turning south to tackle the 35km route up the Télégraphe and Col du Galibier. From here we would briefly take in the stunning views and blistering cold winds before descending again, via Lac du Chambon, back to Bourg d’Osains before finally climbing the famous 21 virages de l’Alpe d’Huez.
I'm not going to go into detail about the ride and each climb there are plenty of videos, articles and blogs around this route what its like and how it looks! However for me there was something important and special about that day and route.
Honestly in the morning I was scared of what was ahead, you can't really bail once on the route and there is no shortcut, once you're in it its on and you have to keep going. I think their is always comfort on a long day/ride knowing you can turn back or cut it short if needed but here it just isn't an option. You know for sections you will be slowly riding your bike uphill for 3 hours + pushing whatever power you can.
I love and cherish days like this, no one is making you do it, it's not a race and it matters to no one but yourself, yet the pressure, fear and excitement feels like any big race. I have realised I think since Lockdown I need days like this, I need moments like this I suppose to feel "alive" and like I'm getting the most out of myself. Without challenges or big days I feel empty and longing for those feelings again.
The day was brutal, physically and mentally I went to many dark places and genuinely wasn't sure I could finish certain sections. Yet once I was over the top of the Galibier with views of endless mountains, glaciers and roads I felt so privileged and content at what I was doing and where I was. I haven't had the easiest last couple of years for various reasons so to experience and find these feelings is rare and at times it takes something quite extreme. This won't be the same for everyone and I understand we each do the sport and races for different reasons but this is a big part of it for me and something that's taken me a few years to really understand.
At around 19:15pm we were back up in Alpe Dhuez and rolling home some 8 hours 45 later; broken, quiet, empty but equally full of pride, stories and moments that live with you for a long time. Rolling the last 2kms thinking about the hours before, the places we went and were is such a unique feeling to put into words is very difficult but you feel complete.
If I'm honest since coming back from the Alps and the last month I've struggled a bit, I've felt quite flat and without the next "thing". When you do these large days, races or challenges you certainly have a comedown after but I have found it interesting over the last few years that these are the moments and days that make me feel most alive and challenged. I don't see this as a bad thing, they have to be managed and planned but ultimately we all have to find what makes us tick and move forward.
I hope some of what I have written makes sense, it's funny you wake up the next day from something like that ride and feel a slight emptiness, a longing for more and a bigger challenge. So what's next?
In the words of Mary Schmich "“Do one thing every day that scares you...Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can"