Switzerland 2015

Monday August 3, 2015
Luzern, Pilatus, and Grenoble

Tuesday August 4, 2015
Grenoble, Alpe d'Huez, and Lyon

Wednesday August 5, 2015
Lyon and Zermatt

I've biked nearly my entire life. 
In college I rode my bike daily to class at ASU and regularly rode around Tempe and Scottsdale.
Once I moved to Fountain Hills I rode much less but still got out occasionally.
Shortly after we moved to El Granada I rode from our house to the other end of the Golden Gate bridge and back, but other than that the Bianci has been waiting patiently for me to start riding roads again.
A year or two after moving to El Granada I bought a Gary Fisher Sugar mountain bike and now regularly ride.

I watched the Tour de France in 2009 and was immediately hooked on the gorgeous scenery - watching the Tour on a big screen tv is like taking a vacation to France.
I quickly got hooked on watching the Grand Tours.
The Alps are by far the most exciting part of the Grand Tours, and I've been telling myself I really need to climb the Alps myself on a bike someday for years.

Kent was going to climb ZinalRothorn in the first part of our trip.
I originally decided to hike up to the Rothorn hut with him to see that part of the Alps above Zermatt.
While watching the final day of the 2015 TDF on Alpe d' Huez on July 25 I decided that I was going to bike up Alpe d'Huez.
I figured out how to get a bus from Grenoble, France to Bourg-d'Oisans, the town at the base of Alpe d' Huez, and where to rent a bike in Bourg-d'Oisans.
After another few days I realized the only logical time for my ride up Alpe d' Huez was when Kent was doing his climb, so I'd skip the Rothorn hut.

I figured if I could ride up Montara Mountain without stopping I could ride up Alpe d' Huez.
Still I was concerned - I hadn't ridden a road bike much in over 20 years.

At 6:30am I boarded the bus in Grenoble for the 90 minute bus ride to Bourg-d'Oisans.
It was sprinkling but it was supposed to clear up later in the day.
The bus took forever to get out of town and stopped in every single village on the way into the Alps.

Driving south into the Alps


The TI in Bourg-d'Oisans.


My rental

I found Cycles et Sports and rented a standard road bike from them for 42 euros
The owner had to show me how to change gears - I figured out how to downshift but not upshift.
The owner told me that they were closing the road up Alpe d' Huez this morning so bikes wouldn't have to deal with cars.
After a little practice and seat adjustments on my rental I started riding the half mile or so over toward the road up Alpe d' Huez
I started riding at about 8:45am


Looking west from Bourg-d'Oisans, the opposite side of the valley from the road up to Alpe d' Huez


The road up to Alpe d' Huez is hidden in the trees on this cliff

Alpe d' Huez is known as the 21 turns because there are 21 switchbacks on the way up the mountain.
The first 7 turns are supposed to be the steepest, but the climb never lets up much.
Each corner has a sign and is named after a TDF stage winner - they've started adding a second winner to the turns.

There was a big inflatable archway over the road at the base of the climb - clearly this was some sort of special event.
There were lots of cyclists all over the roads in the valley.
I passed under the archway and the hill started.
I was shocked at how steep it was and how slowly I was going uphill.
There were several cyclists in sight ahead of me, each going their own pace.
I quickly settled into a slow and steady pace - about 7.5 km/hour.
I soon passed a couple of slow riders which gave me a little confidence.
Soon I could hear cyclists approaching from behind - I could usually hear them breathing heavily first, sometimes I could hear the bike itself.
I was careful to keep to the side of the road to avoid being an obstacle.
It took quite a while to reach the first corner, which is actually number 21 since they are numbered from the top.
My lower back started aching quickly since I'm not used to riding a road bike and being this bent over.

A few cars raced up the mountain but after the first couple of turns the road was quiet and the cars were gone.
It was very nice not having to worry about getting killed by a car.
Cyclists coming downhill were all going at insanely high speeds.

I passed a few people but got passed regularly.
I had to teach myself not to speed up to match the pace of the cyclists passing me - it is instictive to speed up.
Occasionally I would speed all the way up to 8.5 km/hour or rarely a little faster but generally I kept my slow pace.
I had my camelbak on so I didn't need to stop for water, but I didn't need to drink much because it was cool and overcast - perfect cycling weather, poor picture weather.

Once I reached the 6th turn from the bottom I realized that now only would I be able to finish the climb, I might even be able to do it without stopping.
I had a new goal - no stops.
I hadn't even considered the possibility of completing this without stopping.
I don't even own a short sleeve riding jersey with pockets since it is rarely short sleeve weather at home.
My food was in my camelbak and not at all accessable while I was riding - that was not going to help.



The start of Dutch corner, 14th from the bottom or 7th from the top, one of the few landmarks I recognized on the road.
Thousands of drunk Dutch men and woman mob this corner screaming on the cyclists in the TDF.

After a while my butt hurt more than my back.
I was holding onto my handbars with a deathgrip.

Since there were no cars coming downhill I cut a couple of left corner across the lines.
I had to watch very carefully for cyclists coming downhill while cutting corners since getting hit by a cyclist 40+ mph would be just as fatal as getting hit by a car.

I was passed by a large number of cyclists going uphill but I didn't care.
I was here and I was going to make it up Alpe d'Huez and live my dream.


Dutch corner

Dutch corner

Dutch corner


iPhone panorama
Click here for a full size picture

At the fifth turn from the top you can see the town of Alpe d'Huez and the entire road above you.
The town is much, much higher than you are, and the turns are very far apart.
So close, and yet still so far.

On the third turn from the top a professional photographer took pictures of the cyclists riding up.
As I realized what was happening I smiled a mile wide.
The photographer handed me a card with his website and a group number on it.

Another photographer was at the second turn from the top.

I didn't really know what I was going to find at the top.
I wasn't sure where the actual ride ends.
In the TDF the finish line is at the top of the town of Alpe d' Huez.
I was determined to ride the entire climb but didn't know what that meant.

Turn 3 of Alpe d'Huez


I made it!
A little girl at the archway even clapped for me! (and everyone else coming in slowly).
Only at the top did I realize how special this climb and day were.
The local cycling community works with the police and other officials to shut down one major climb every Tuesday in July and August in this area of the Alps so cyclists can have the road.
This Tuesday morning that climb was Alpe d' Huez
I just happened to bike up Alpe d' Huez during the only two hours of the year that the road was closed to cars.
Dozens of cyclists all celebrated their climbs at the top.
It was like Christmas morning.
I experienced sheer bliss.






I bought a cycling jersey.
I asked the shopkeeper how many people ride up Alpe d'Huez.
He told me that the photographers estimate that between 600 and 800 people a day ride up.

After about 45 minutes of wandering around, taking pictures, and having my picture taken I finally headed back down the mountain.
All the pictures of the road up were actually taken on my way down, but I've displayed them as I saw the sights coming up.


I returned my trusty rental bike, saw the TI, and waited for the bus for about 20 minutes before it arrived.




Another 90 minutes later I was back in Grenoble.
Another 2 hours later I was in sweltering Lyon.
Lyon was far too big and crowded...and HOT.
I caught the subway to my hotel then explored the area around Place Bellecour.
I tried to find a great place to eat on tripadvisor but all the nearby highly rated places were closed for dinner.


I found Rue des Marronniers, a side street with dozens of restaurants, but none of them were very highly rated on tripadvisor.
I eventually picked one with an English menu out front, Le Comptoir des Marronniers.
Yes, I know that an English menu is typically NOT a good sign for a restaurant abroad, but I needed to be able to understand what I was ordering...

Rue des Marronniers

Rue des Marronniers

Le Comptoir des Marronniers.

Cod Tartar with Mango.
The fish was raw and delicous.

Dombes roasted duckling with chasselas grapes
The duckling was a little tough and a little overcooked considering I asked for medium rare.

The chocolate fondue was perhaps the best desert I've had in my life...



Monday August 3, 2015
Luzern, Pilatus, and Grenoble

Tuesday August 4, 2015
Grenoble, Alpe d'Huez, and Lyon

Wednesday August 5, 2015
Lyon and Zermatt