I am sure some of you were aware that Roger and I took part in the 2011 Alpine Challenge last week.
As this was such a superb experience I thought I would share a little more detail with you on the off chance that some may want to enter the event next year.
The Alpine Challenge is organised by HotChillee and based in Annecy, France. It is a fantastic location next to the largest lake in Europe and surrounded with alpine mountains. The challenge consists of 3 days riding with 4 race stages taking in 9 Cols over 200 miles with 6500 meters of vert. The event caters for all levels (you need to be reasonably fit), no one gets dropped and each group has its own ride captains, outriders, lead car, Mavic support car and medic. There is also a professional film crew, photographer, masseurs and work shop.
The 2011 report:
Roger and I departed a windswept England from Luton airport at some ungodly hour on Wed morning for a flight to Geneva. All ran to plan and we were met by the HotChillee crew with a coach waiting to transfer us (approx 1 hour) to the hotel where we registered for the event and picked up 3 goody bags containing tools, gels, drinks, rain cape, tee shirt, race numbers, ride Musette and race kit (if pre-ordered). After we check in Roger and I assembled and numbered our bikes (we chose to do that although the mechanics offered) ready for a 42km leisure ride around Lake Annecy. A little cloudy but with temperatures still 20+ degrees we pushed on through fantastic scenery that only photos can describe. There was a natural split in the group and we arrived back in Annecy about 90mins later with 12 riders (including 2 ride captains) for a quick beer at a riverside cafe. At 7.30 we all gathered for dinner where you had the chance to meet the guest riders like Yanto Barker, Stephen Roche and Emma Davis all who were riding the event.
An early start, buffet style breakfast then everyone gathered outside the hotel reception where timing chips were fixed to the bikes and 60 cyclists bustled amongst film crews, photographers, reporters, mechanics, medics and a number of French Cycling enthusiasts. The cavalcade assembled and we rolled out through the streets of Annecy at 8.30am to a mass of cheering and clapping. It was unbelievable, as we worked our way through the town on closed roads with passers by taking photos and applauding, it is true the French love cyclists especially when they have a number on their back. I have never felt so special on a bike in my life.
Stage 1: Col du Leschaux, a 11.6k mountain time trial to place us in groups for the remaining stages. 24 degrees and bright sunshine made it even harder but the average 6% did not beat us. Roger and I made it up the climb and as planned were both placed in group two (so far so good, this strategy kept us away from the likes of Yanto Barker).
Stage 2: Col de la Cluze, a 12k race section with an average gradient of 7-8%, Roger pushed on well up this one taking some 30 seconds out of me. It was a great stage and we could start to see who the strong riders were. Lunch musettes served at 65k, a really good tuna pita sandwich, tart and fruit. Total for the day 96kms and 1600 meters of vert. GC, 1st Yanto Barker, 2nd Jered Gruber (Pro from USA) 3rd Rob Jackson (Ex Cambridge rider), Stephen Roche 9th, Roger 23rd and me 24th. Tough first day and apparently they get worse over the three days, so time for some food and a massage.
Stage 3: 117kms and 2 main climbs, Col des Aravis and Col de Bluffy. Temp 26 degrees and bright sunshine. A great days riding with stunning scenery and some really challenging terrain. Race section a 14k climb with average gradient 8-9% up Col des Aravis (its getting tougher). Roger and I managed okay with a reverse in the finish order, I managed to claim back 3 mins on Rog. Lunch musettes served at 80k, ham, cheese & tomato pita, cake and banana (really good again). Steady ride back to the hotel under the guidance of the very experienced ride captains.
Total for the day 117kms, and 1800 meters of vert. GC. 1st Yanto Barker, 2nd Jered Gruber, 3rd Rob Jackson, Stephen Roche 10th, Roger 25th and me 23rd. Definitely a tougher day, more food, massage and bed.
Stage 4: This is the big one and everyone was talking about it, 115kms with 5 Cols. Temp hitting 32 degrees, again bright sunshine. The difference about today was that you had to climb 3 cols before the race stage; Col de la Forclaz, Col de lepine & Col du Marais with average gradients moving to 9-10%. So 68k and three tough cols complete, time for the big one, (check; bottles okay, gels taken, bike okay, legs shot!!!!) onward and upward 13k of sun drenched climb with a 3k section with gradient exceeding 12% in 32 degrees of heat. All good then!! We rounded a corner and there was the green start flag, Aller, aller, aller someone shouted (or in my case plod, splutter, pain), we pushed on, starting at 9% all was good, outriders shouting encouragement and playing music from their motorbikes and I had a good tempo going. The tempo didnt last long, as we weaved our way through a tapestry of hairpins the gradient increased to the 12%+ section, I pushed the lever for a lower gear, bugger no more left, thats it then time to grind out on my 34 x 27. I looked down the mountain and saw other riders way below with the Mavic support car following, just waiting for people to climb off! It wasnt long before someone did, Richard, actually a strong guy from Australia riding one of the Mavic bikes (his Pinarelo Dogma had a cracked top tube from the previous stage) so Richard gave the bike back to Mavic and took the lift. (I have to say the thought crossed my mind several times.) The 3k of super pain seemed to last forever, the hairpins just kept flowing left, right, left right (only slower than that) then my cadence increased, was that the steep section over, yes and the next 4-5k passed quickly, then the finish in sight, flags flying and a crowd of people at the top lining the roads and cheering you home. Just fantastic, the feeling at the top after the final race section was indescribable, I was elated as were all the other race finishers. I nipped into to the cafe and had an icy cold can of coke waiting for Roger when he came through the finish. Lunch musettes; chicken salad pita, cake and an orange (again really tasty). While eating lunch we learned that a rider from Chain Reaction Cycles had collapsed, medics were all over it, a few injections and a saline drip soon brought him round. He couldnt ride anymore and was sure to be the topic of the day (or possibly year among the shop guys) but he was okay. A steady ride back to the finish where the town was there to greet us, it was as though everyone in Annecy knew the challenge was over, people cheering at the road side, motorists hooting and waving, the whole town stopped as the lead cars, outriders, video & photography crew and Mavic support guided us back through all the urban obstacles without so much as braking. We all felt like real professionals, like we had completed a grand tour, it was amazing. At the hotel finish crowds awaited us again cheering and applauding our arrival. Bikes parked the medals and champagne were opened and handed out to everyone to celebrate the success.
Bikes packed away, a quick shower then off in a coach to the BBQ and celebration at a nearby lakeside restaurant.
Total for the day 115kms, 2300 meters of vert. GC 1st Jered Gruber (Yanto went back to the UK for duties at the tour of Britain), 2nd Steve Seddon, 3rd Rob Jackson, Stephen Roche 14th, Roger Tyler 24 and me 22nd.
So, I repeat this is a fantastic event with excellent organisation throughout, nothing is forgotten and the crew and captains cant help enough, a brilliant event that every cyclist should experience, and this is the way to do it, well unless you think you are truly talented enough to ride Le Tour!!