Alpe D’Huez Triathlon
Last autumn, Helen of Tri Montagne rallied the troops to enter the Alpe D’Huez triathlon, short distance.
1.2km swim in Lac du Vernay. The lake is only open for swimming for the triathlon as it is owned by EDF, France’s main electricity provider.
28km (more like 30km in the end!) with + 1415m up the infamous 21 bends on the road to Alpe d’Huez.
7km run with 110m +/- along tracks up above the village at roughly 2000m above sea level.
Helen then abandoned us for bigger and better things, competing in the long distance.
2 loops of the swim, 2.2km, 118km with + 3200m, and 3 loops of the run equalling 21km. Apparently it was harder than an Ironman. Whilst competing on the Friday in the short distance, I kept thinking how the hell did they do the long distance? Then again, you mentally (and physically!) prepare for your particular challenge. Still, an amazing feat, especially considering the heat and I have so much respect for those who did the long distance.
I arrived Thursday in my trusty Panda to news that the road was closed up to Alpe d’Huez (the long distance was taking place) and we’d have to cycle up to register. A quick change and I pedalled with the Wedgewoods up the last 6km to Alpe d’Huez.
It was the most awkward ride of my life. To be riding, fresh legged, barely sweating next to these poor souls who’d been out exerting themselves for nearly 6hrs was bad enough, but to then have people cheering us and taking photo’s I found just plain embarrassing!
We registered, gaining another t-shirt, and went to find the Skyes who were watching Helen and Hanine on the run. They both did brilliantly and looked very strong, right to the end. Well done!
Our race wasn’t to start until 14h on Friday. I was a bit concerned as to how we would fill our time, but we did. The swim to bike transition was obviously down by the lake and the bike to run transition was up in the village as we would be climbing up on our bikes. Therefore we needed to leave our trainers and running gear in transition before heading down for the start. We also took the time to watch the brief and I appreciated the language tekkers of the commentator who just switched between Spanish and English flawlessly and no doubt spoke French fluently, too. Language skills to aspire to… And on that note, why were there so many Spanish competing?🤔
Driving up also revealed the reason as to why we were starting so late; the market! Yep, the road was closed due to the local market filling the streets with it’s stalls of fruit and veg and other delights.
Lunch back at the chalet, packed up our bags and down to the lake we went. My heart went out to those who punctured on the way down, and I spent most of the descent praying that wouldn’t happen to me.
The women set off 15 minutes before the men. Helen had advised us to swim out to the rocks on the far side where we could rest rather than tread water, and have a cleaner start than being kicked in the face – although I had Sarah behind me who has been know to grab my feet!
Surprised at how quickly I settled in to a pace with steady breathing, I really enjoyed the swim. A little far out up to the first buoy as I couldn’t see anyone, I changed course and slowly made progress over some of those in front of me. Coming out the water I heard the commentator say we were the 20 minute swimmers and was chuffed I’d hit my target.
A helping hand out the water and I ran up to transition.
I’m afraid I didn’t attempt to put my shoes on the bike, but ran in them. We had big bin bags in which to chuck all our swim kit which would then be transported up to the village. I was a little paranoid about leaving anything behind so took my time making sure everything was in and tying it in a nice big knot.
Out on to the bike I went.
Feeling good I needed to reign it in to make sure I didn’t waste valuable energy that would ‘power’ me up the mountain later. It took me 30 minutes to get to the base of the climb. I was surrounded by a few women and as drafting was not allowed we worked together to get to the base without blatantly sticking behind each other. Each woman went to the front and then a few minutes later someone else would catch up and go in the front etc. I noticed everyone fuelled themselves on the flat. It was good fun!
Then BOOM! We were climbing! Straight into 10-12% which remained that way until the top. Signs on each bend counted down the 21 we had to go around, at times providing motivation, and at times, somewhat demoralising.
The supporters were awesome and the extra cheers when some spotted on my bib that I was british were great! At one point a father and son had cut plastic bottles to fill with water from the stream and pour over our heads. It was pretty hot! Apparently temperatures hit 40ºC on the climb.
It was good. It was a challenge. I think I enjoyed it. My back and glutes hurt. I practised coming out the saddle to stretch and ease the aches but found it hard to judge on how much to push and how much to pace and keep things in check. After all, there was the run to do at the top.
The road was still covered with writing from the Tour de France, and it was great to look back down the mountain, watching all the cyclists crawling up like ants.
Needless to say I did not PB at any point on the last 6km from our chilled ride up the day before. The last 2km, I knew where I was going, I upped my game and knew I didn’t have far so could manage the pain until the end. I’m not going to lie, I saw a woman in an actual GB trisuit and thought I’m going to have her! I did, but then was thrashed on the run!
Off the bike (Yes, I did de-shoe on the bike!) and into transition, the pain was instantly relieved in my back. My trainers were as I left them that morning, and along with my new visor I set out on the run.
Eugh! When will I ever get my head in the game for running. I tried to set off steadily, getting into a sustainable pace. Then the hills hit. Oh. I wasn’t expecting this. I focused on just keeping moving, trying to go faster but scared of not finishing. The downhill was a short relief, but even that became tiring. I did succumb to a walk up one of the inclines. I saw Tri Montagne’s Antoine who I didn’t know was competing and high fived him, along with Anna as she started out on the run – it was great to see other Tri Montagne competitors! The last 200m I was able to speed up and a high five from Hanine made me sprint to the finish. I did not feel so good after that! The run was ok, not great and not awful but something I need to work on psychologically more than anything.
It was a brilliant course and race and I really enjoyed it. I am pleased I fuelled myself well, I didn’t really feel sick and just felt it was the heat that maybe made it harder. I’m almost tempted to enter next year to see if I can beat my time and get under that 3hr mark!
Thank you Helen for getting us all to enter!
The official TIME film of the course – Anna has her claim to fame near the end!
We stayed at Chalet La Source in Villard-Reculas; the views were glorious!