Alpe d’HuYes – report of our AD6 week

(Nederlandse versie hier)

With the announcement that 32.231.747,35 Euro has been raised, the 2012 edition of the Alpe d’HuZes came to a close last weekend (Oct. 7). A staggering amount and one to be very, very proud of – and I am / we are!

This year’s edition was the one of Team AD6 Tweets and 7,892 other participants, countless volunteers and even more supporters – all in all more than 25.000 people were involved during this week. I am proud and happy to have been part of this event – read on about how a year of preparation culminated in ‘one week of Alpe d’HuZes‘…

Alpe d’HuZes week

AD6 2012 - Team FinishOur week (Paula, Riet Greenwood and myself) started Friday June 1st when we departed for France.

Our ‘base camp’ was situated in Villard-Reymond, a steep dead end climb from Le Bourg d’Oisans/La Paute (starting with the first 5k of the Col d’Ornon, then turning left in La Palud).

The surroundings and views there are spectacular, the final kilometer of the climb resembling the Zoncolan – the flip side is that there are no more than 4 persons (on average) present during the weekdays and there is no convenience store anywhere in the area.

So, after settling into the apartment Saturday morning, we headed down to Le Bourg – I was going to test my legs on the Alpe d’Huez while the girls went shopping.

They would catch up with me later, but when I arrived at the top, there was no sight of them yet. After 20 minutes or so, I called them and they were still on the ascend – the Casino (the super market that is) was so crowded with Dutch that it had taken them forever to complete their purchases…

Despite the heat, it had taken me little effort to get to the top: a ‘net time’ on the ascent of just over 57 minutes. Three weeks earlier I was at the end of my rope as a result of the pain my injuries were causing me and at that stage I almost was about to give up the challenge (see the report on ‘Les Ménuires’). But this time around it felt good and that gave me some confidence, albeit I was still feeling weary.

Bend 7 of Alpe d'Huez seen from just past Villard-Reculas on the other side of the valley
Bend 7 of Alpe d’Huez seen from just past Villard-Reculas on the other side of the valley

On Sunday I climbed the alp again, but by taking the route through Villard-Reculas this time. A surprisingly nice climb that was still quiet, as opposed to the increasing (car and cycling) traffic on the classic route.

And the views passed Villard-Reculas down towards Huez are spectacular, though I couldn’t find the particular spot where you supposedly can see 10 back switches at once…

And because I had to be at the Palais des Sports anyway, to get the BIB-tags, my AD6 outfit and some physiotherapy, I climbed up the alp again on Monday.

As it was getting very crowded by now, it took me over five minutes more this time, but I was still going strong. Nevertheless I was feeling worried that I might be testing myself too much.

I decided to take the therapist’s advice to ‘take it easy’ the remaining two days – I couldn’t walk, let alone bike after the treatment anyway.

Tuesday I went out for a flat ride with Stefan and Jeroen through the valley between Le Bourg and Allemont, biking around the Lac du Verney. In the afternoon we went up the alp by car for the photo shoot, which was not such a great experience under the blistering sun…

While Wednesday was our day of rest, for 3,000 others it was their D-Day. They were confronted with (heavy) rain during the first half of the day, but eventually the skies cleared.

Paula and Riet were volunteers in the merchandise shop and they were so busy that they hardly realized it when their time was up around 1:30 pm. We went back to our cabin, had an early ‘dinner’ and around 19:30 we went to bed.

D-Day – June 7, 2012

Of course I hardly slept, but I guess at least I rested. At 1:30 am we got up for a coffee and some pancakes and around 2:30 we went down to Le Bourg/Les Sables where the rest of the team was located.

Paula and Riet dropped me off and went on to the top of the alp (the roads were closed for all nonresident traffic starting at 4:00 am) – we had a resting place some 500 meters before the finish line, where we could eat, drink, change cloths and… rest between our climbs 🙂

I joined the other guys for breakfast around 4:00 and some 35 minutes later we departed for the start. And at 4:58 sharp we started our first ascend! The first 1,5k or so to the bottom of the climb was a treat, with thousands of clapping and cheering supporters on both sides of the road.

When the road starts going up – and it does so quite savagely the first 4 k or so – the cyclists scatter and a long ribbon forms itself. And even that early in the day, there were already a lot of supporters along the route, concentrating in the hairpins.

While holding back, I still managed my first climb in around 1:10 – 1:15. I rested for some 20 minutes and went down for the second, which went just as good. Again in around 1:20 I was up there, taking another break and descending for number three within 20 minutes.

AD6 2012 - Climb number 3And quite unexpectedly, halfway during that 3rd climb, the pain started to ‘work itself’ inwards. It surprised and scared me, because it went so well up till then, although it was a small miracle that I managed so long without real problems anyway…

Had I tricked myself into feeling too confident? Should I have rested more?

Difficult to tell afterwards of course – so far, everything I had done had felt right, so perhaps I did trick myself…

Anyway, I managed that climb in little over 1:20 also and after a longer break I went down for number 4, but this time the ascend was a downhill ride.

Probably the increasing heat (it was around 32 degrees Celsius in the valley) also had its effect, but every ‘weak spot’ in my body was accurately found and penetrated with hot iron rods and other pointy virtual objects.

Fighting the nausea and red haze, my heart rate ever decreasing I struggled my way up in 1:45.

AD6 2012 - Climb number 4I considered the possibility to wait it out and do a final run as a (complete) team starting around 16:30, but as it was only 14:15 or so, I felt I had to go down, try the 5th and then hope for a miracle (recovery) and pull out a sixth from some dark pit.

The temperature in the valley had increased a couple of degrees, so that didn’t help. But hope and my virtual passengers pushed me forward. I guess Hubertus, Fest, Leontina, Harry, Ruud and Linda were doing their best, but it was in vain.

I had to get off my bike ever more frequent and time seemed to run out ever faster. I knew I had to get back up within around 11:30 hours total (i.e. between 4:30 and 4:45 pm) and when I was at 11:10 in bent 8, I knew it was going to be impossible.

Just around bent 5 Paula send me a text message ‘Where are you? The guys want to wait for you’. But after what seemed an eternity later just around number 3, I sat down in the grass and called her to tell the guys to leave – it was not going to be possible for me to pull out a sixth.

Once you realize that, it’s over – I sat there for some 10, 15 minutes, staring at nothing, hardly hearing or seeing anything.

Finishing for the 5th time - finito, kaputI then pulled myself together, struggled the rest of the way up – getting off my bike 3 more times, but cycling into the village at least – and after 2:35 (just the ascend) I crossed the finish line.

It was close to 5:30 pm and I was glad I did not even have to consider another run, as I was simply out of time anyway. I seated myself in the car and immediately fell into a black hole.

When Paula woke me up some 1,5 hours later, when the other guys arrived, I didn’t even realize how much time had passed. Not being able to complete six runs or do the last one all together, made me feel miserable again, but we crossed the finish line together once more.

And that was it; Stefan, Roelof and Marten managed to climb the Alpe d’Huez six times, Ronnie, Werner and myself five times, Jeroen four times and Daniel three times.

That’s 40 climbs among the eight of us and we’ve raised close 26.000 Euro. A good An excellent result and I’m proud to have been part of this very special team as well as the event.

All those people hand biking, cycling, running and walking up that mountain. Thousands of volunteers and supporters, clapping and cheering, pushing those who needed a push. The elderly couple that was banging on a pan cover, the lady in a wheel chair at the entrance of Alpe d’Huez, clapping her hands all day long…

Not to be proud of your (own) achievement would be a great injustice to them.

Taking into consideration that only three weeks before, I was feeding the marmots with the contents of my stomach on every climb, I consider it a small miracle to have been able to participate at all. A challenge the medics considered impossible – and certainly deemed irresponsible – to complete even once, let alone five times…

Of course, there is – or there will be – a price to pay, but I’ve chosen to be willing to pay it and so I’m not complaining. In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether you climb that mountain once, twice or half a dozen times, but the name of the event is Alpe d’HuZES.

And quitting beforehand may not have been an option, knowing when to quit was. And although it was a very difficult decision, I’m (also) proud that I made it…

For those interested: the Garmin recording of the 5 climbs here.

Below you find a link to the organizer’s video registration of my climbs, shot at various (fixed) points along the route – I’m not easy to spot sometimes and there are two or three fragments in which you can spot teammates Roelof and Marten also.

I cooled down on Friday, cycling up the Col d’Ornon and the Grimpée Villard-Reymond/Col du Solude to our apartment; Saturday, on our way back home, I cycled up the Lautaret and Galibier.

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