Luc Alphand

Overall Distance 120 kilometres Time Taken 4:34
Height Climbed 2200 metres Position 57th
Distance Climbed 40 kilometres Brevet Gold (scratch)
Date July 2005 Country France
Entrants 1,500 Region Serre Chevallier

Here we are in the second week of July at Serre Chevalier, 5 kilometers from Briancon and right in the heart of the alps.  It's cycling at it's best, you can tell that from the people that are here.  The Marmotte runs on Saturday, the Luc Alphand on Sunday and the Tour finishes here on Tuesday.  In fact it's due to the former and latter event that our route is changed to miss out the climb to the top of the Galibier.  As I've done it before I'm not too upset.  I know how how hard it is and how much it hurts!

Get there Saturday, 25 degrees, sun shining, not a breath of wind.  We sign on, get our jersey, numbers and other goodies and find the start and more importantly the finish area in case it comes down to a sprint.  This knowledge has helped me on more than one occasion this year.  Go to bed overlooking the mountains and the Luc Alphand ski slope and ski station with not a cloud in the sky.

Wake up next morning and the mountain has disappeared. It's throwing it down, it's cold and it's windy.  Looking for a positive, I can't wait for the descents!  First, breakfast.  The other riders seem a little quiet, to compensate they seem to be eating more and talking less.  The wives sit there and offer support by bringing endless cups of coffee.

Dianne's not doing this race as there isn't a "family" distance.  Her plan was to go off and ride the Lauteret.  We decide this isn't wise so it's a morning reading Hello and OK and catching up the goss on Jordan and Jade.  I'd rather ride a mountain in the rain!

Somehow I get a start number of 152.  As we are grouped in pens of 150 I get to start right at the front.  We're neutralised out of Serre Chevaillier to Briancon so I use this as an opportunity to get to the front.  As we pass all the traffic calming and street furniture it gets a bit tricky so I decide to plant myself firmly on the left hand edge of the pack, away from the gutter and barriers.

We exit a roundabout and the flag drops, the commisaire speeds away and we climb the equivalent of a motorway exit road.  We hit the crest and start the drop into town,  Already there's chaos.  A group of riders tangle on the right and about eight go down.  Everyone slams on their brakes and another six go down in sympathy, nowhere near the first crash. 

I'm happy on the left and ease away from the mayhem without touching my brakes.  Then from nowhere a rider comes rocketing out of the pack on his hands and feet but facing up!  Like someone playing a bizarre game of Twister he slides right in to my path.  From my good old car racing days I put in to plan my escape strategy. 

My old racing school instructor use to say, "always aim for the accident, or where it came from, because by the time you get there it's probably moved.  If you try to get out of the way you get collected".  I've had some massive car accidents that way but I've avoided more than I joined.  And once again it worked.  I passed underneath matey just as he stood up.  Have no idea where his bike was but all I could here behind was skidding, sliding and that horrible noise of bike scraping on tarmac.  I think about twenty went down.

It didn't get any better as we negotiated the roundabouts of Briancon.  At every single one, I think there were about six, someone was on the floor or heading across the wrong side of the road.  Positioning and delicacy is everything in the wet and Johnny Foreigner just doesn't get it.

After surviving the first few intermediate climbs we came to the first real test at L'Argentiere.  A six kilometre Bone Nuit.  I felt a little flat but put it down to the cold and being soaking wet.  I thought it would be better to make sure I stayed hydrated so I drunk loads more than I thought I should.  When it's cold and you're covered up you sweat as much as you do in the heat.  And when you breath out and can see your breath, that's moisture that is.  So drink as though your ride depends on it.  Because it does.

Although I lost about ten places on the climb I took about forty on the descent.  We then seemed to gather together a large group of about 30 riders and formed a chain gang to the foot of the Izoard.  Predominantly made up of two groups of Italians.  One group all loud and leery, the other, in national colours, more refined and professional.

At Guillestre we turned left off the main road and began the 31 kilometre and 1360 metre climb to the 2360 metre summit.  I thought if it's cold here what's it going to be like at the top?  In my heart I knew but I still wasn't prepared for it!  As soon as you leave the main road you hit a very, very steep climb.  It catches everyone by surprise; some more than others.  Three of the leery ey-ties aren't paying attention and run into the back of one another and end up on the deck.  No one sheds a tear or waits.  We climb.  After two kilometres it flattens out.

We're now riding through the Gorge d'Izoard and some very dark tunnels.  It's no use I need a comfort break.  Too much fliud, the cold, and being over forty means you have to stop.  It's not like your twenties when you can go later!  I slam a power bar down my throat, take another drink, pull over to the side of the road and surround my feet with steam.  I get back on the bike and chase the group that's now down to about twenty.  Within a kilometre and a half I'm back on with a full stomach and an empty bladder.

The real climb starts at the end of the gorge when you pass the resistance memorial.  From now on it's up, up, up and the talking stops.  Our group begins to disintegrate and I fight to stay near the front.  At Chateau Queyrans I'm joined by two riders.  They speak in French and I talk to them before they realise I'm English and chat even more.  We exchange some pleasantries and expletives, about the weather, have a good laugh for a kilometre or so then they ride off and stop at the feed.

I decide to crack on and chase the riders in front.  As we climb I begin to feel the lack of oxygen; either that or I'm knackered.  The sun comes out for a bit and all of a sudden the road begins to steam.  Not a little six incher like we get back home, this is a full blown turkish-bath with steam billowing six foot off the ground.  Riding through it is a right pain because it's hard enough to breath as it is without having to breath in damp hot air.  Anyway it doesn't last for long and once we pass La Chalp it becomes freezing again.

It's now 6k to the summit and from here on it doesn't drop below 9%.  As we take a right hairpin I can see the whole of the valley below and a monstrous snake of riders, as far as the eye can see, chasing after me.  I can also see about twenty riders in front of me.  I focus on them and try to pick them off one by one.  Slowly I reel them in on the horrible paved road that's been beaten up by the freezing winters and boiling summers.  Then it changes to a billiard smooth roadway.

Someone, somewhere has decided to resurface the Casse Desert.  You can not imagine how much pleasure this brings.  A smooth road.  it's soon tempered by the fact that the temperature has just dropped by about five degrees.  Now it really is freezing.  There are 500 metres of slight descent before the two kilometre, 10% push to the summit.  Again I pass eight or nine riders on the tiny descent and make up time.  It's very dark, you can see the car, in the photo above, with it's lights on, and very cold. I ride past the Bobet & Coppi Memorial and can't feel my feet.  The break in climbing appears to disrupt some of the other riders rhythm. I pick another six off before the top.

Boy is it cold here.  I have to stop for water and where the marshals are pouring it out it's freezing on the road into sheet ice.  Kids are there with broom handles smashing it up and brushing it away.  It's the middle of July!  I'm stopped for no more than 30 seconds then start the descent past the Refuge Napoleon, below, and through the Forest d'Cerviers.

Brilliant, just when you thought it couldn't get any worse the north side of the mountain is covered in fog.  The first five or six corners are real humdingers (as you can see on the right) but it's so cold I can't steer properly or get the front to bite.  I take a deep breath, compose myself and get a grip.  Once I enter the forest it all comes together and the fun begins.

If you want a rush, there's only one thing better then descending a mountain and that's descending in the wet.  Even better than that is descending in the wet in fog.  At one point I managed 52 mph in the airy silence you only get in fog.  Passing riders who, all of a sudden, appear from nowhere.  By the time I'd descended the 20 k to the bottom I was absolutely frozen but managed to warm up on the run in to Briancon.

I push as hard as I can to the finish to try to stay ahead of a largish group that was chasing me.  In the last 5k a group of three broke from them and passed me just as we went past the site of the first crash.  I stayed with them on the run in but got dropped on the last climb inside one-k.  I crossed the line alone, In 4 hours 34 minutes, the 48th rider across the line.  However, towards the end I was nudged back to 57th.  Once more another gold medal ride for my age group and scratch.  I was cold but happy with my ride

Oh yes, the rider I was chatting with on the climb?  Non-other than Luc Alphand himself.  When I got to the finish his photo was everywhere!

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