Aug 19

2015 Tour De France Trip with alpinecadence by Neil Cleminshaw

I was lucky enough to get booked onto a wonderful TDF trip for July 2015, the third cycling Holiday I’ve been on now with cycle tour company alpinecadence.

Our Guide John Thomas is a ski instructor by winter and a cycling tour guide by summer, his sportive performances are exemplary and getting better with each season; in fact he placed 91st overall in the 2015 Etape with a time of 5:39:46, which to put that into perspective, from 15,000 entrants and 10,000 finishers means he’s bl@@dy good!


John has a great personality, extremely knowledgeable having lived and worked in the area for several years, he is supported by Tour Van Driver and fellow Les Arcs Ski Instructor Martin Rowe, Martin also has a great sense of humour, a cycling enthusiast and is also a keen photographer, so there’s always plenty of great snaps taken whilst on tour. Additionally John drafted in Nick McLoughlin as an additional rider to ensure our group had more support and options available during the week.


This trip had everything for the keen cyclist and TDF enthusiast, riding in the Alps in fantastic weather, covering as many kms the pros were riding that same day, with the added bonus of watching the race live from several points whilst the Tour hit the Maurienne valley region – I ask you, what’s not to like?


The trip had an option of including the Etape du Tour, then a recovery ride before the TDF week, this time I opted for the shorter version, which still included 5 epic days riding in probably the best region for road riding in the world.




Day 1 Alberville to Allevard – Tuesday 21st July 2015


This was a nice start to the day for me, the other riders having toiled in the 38 degree heat of the Sunday’s etape from Saint Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire (which would be Stage 19 of the TDF) and had a recovery ride on the Monday. I was relatively fresh in comparison; two groups were selected departing at 8am and 8:30am, with me in the 2nd group.


Lovely descent to ease us in down to Marmaudy with a nice flat road, we soon had the first 13 miles cracked off and then we were at the foot of the HC Giant Col de la Madeleine, feeling good I got into a great rhythm and soon recalled the sensations of climbing for over an hour and a half, taking in the spectacular views, the awesome scale and beauty of the Alpes – we caught up with some group 1 riders as we ascended, and all regrouped for lunch at the café at the summit, which offered welcome refreshments and spectacular views.


The second part of the ride firstly gave the rapid 12 mile descent down to La Chambre, another renaissance for me, greatly enjoying alpine descending, extremely addictive; the more you do, the more you crave! We regrouped at La Chambre (which would be our hotel stop later in the tour). Then we pressed on to Epierre in the afternoon heat, which kept cranking up to make the next climb, a 7.6mile Cat 1 named the Col du Grand Cucheron. With one HC climb in the legs and the rising temperatures up to 38 degrees C, my performance started to fade a little nearing the last mile of the climb. However John and James (my American climbing comrade) stayed together for most of the climb, with John pressing on, James following and me third to the top. Replenished bottles from the van and we were soon off again with a 2nd group forming to be led by Nick.


Another good descent was followed by rolling roads and freshly gritted lanes to our overnight stop in the picturesque Allevard. A great meal that night, and free wifi enabled upload of pics and stats for the day.


76 miles and 9,000ft of climbing.


Day 2  Allevard to Alpe d’huez – Wednesday 22nd July 2015


The 2nd day of our trip was to take us towards Grenoble, then climb up out of the valley from Domene over a 2nd Category climb of the Montee de Revel and over some rolling roads to have an early stop at Saint-Martin-d’Uriage (Through which Cadel Evans took the Yellow Jersey from Andy Schleck in the Stage 20 TT to seal the 2011 TDF victory with an impressive TT performance, only 7 seconds behind Stage winner Tony Martin). After a pleasant stop in the village square, with bottles again replenished, we descended down to the main Valley road, destination Le Bourg-d’Oisans, which is nestled at the foot of the Cycling Mecca that is Alpe d’Huez.


John and I had forged ahead on the gently rolling valley roads and arrived at Bourg with time to get an ice-cold coke whilst the rest of the tour group joined us. After a stop we were soon headed to the official Chrono start of this legendary HC climb. I took the opportunity to refill my bottles again and ensure I had a couple of energy Gels for the climb, not wanting to do a Froome al-la Stage 18 of the TDF 2013!


Then it was all systems Go, and bearing in mind this was Wednesday and the TDF wasn’t scheduled to arrive until Saturday, it was already getting busy up the Alpe! I saw ‘Thomas’ Corner, with the Welsh flag resplendent upon the rock face, got cheered on by many fans from all nationalities on my ascent – on Dutch Corner where the beer drinking had already commenced, a welcome hose pipe handling Dutchman offered some temporary cooling relief as I toiled up the famed mountain.


I was climbing pretty well, but realised from my average climbing speed that my previous ascent time of 56:38 to the 7.4 mile “Vieil Alpe” @ 7.9mph average back in 2012 would be safe. In 2012 I attacked it with fresh legs, first thing in the morning after a gentle descent from an overnight stop at les Duex Alpes. Due to the excessive heat (peak 45 Celsius, average 39!) and cumulative effect from my day’s efforts this ascent took 1:02:45 to the same point @7.1mph average. Pressing on to the official Chrono finish point with 1:08:04 @7.6mph (Three days later Thibaut Pinot won Stage 20, finishing it off with an extremely impressive ascent time of 42:09 @12.3mph average and another Strava KOM for his collection!). Pinot had a more palatable 26 Celsius, but even accounting for that, I somehow think I wouldn’t have been anywhere near his Stella performance!


I still managed to climb the Alpe for a second time with no other cyclist passing me, which is quite a satisfying achievement, conversely catching and passing others I found extremely motivating, as was the encouragement from fans who had staked their claim on a viewing spot well in advance of TDF Stage 20, what a great experience. The added benefit of having a nice cold beer and watching the last 37km of Stage 17 on TV with Team Giant Alpecin’s bearded Simon Gescke taking the honours, another fantastic day.


67.7 miles covered today with 7,818ft of climbing.


Day 3 Alpe d’huez to La Chambre – Thursday 23rd July 2015


Today we awoke to a fresher morning with the overnight thunderstorms having cleared the air, however the sun was still shining and it was market day in the town. I’d pity anyone going for a good time up the Alpe and having to weave their way through a bustling market!


We were above the cloud base which was clinging to the bowl over Bourg, we descended a little down to join the balcony road after Bend No.5, the spectacular views unfortunately hidden from our sight due to the thick cloud (I recall glimpses of the Alpe snaking its way up the mountain from a previous trip). Our route today then got underway with a long descent to Allemont, where the reflection on the reservoir was like a mirror reflecting the church and village across the opposite side, Beautiful. Our next challenge was to climb the epic D526 climb past the Lac de Grand’Maison with its imposing Dam. I had good climbing legs today and soon found myself forging well ahead, this climb is in 2 parts with a brief zig-zagging descent before hitting a ‘brick-wall’ of a gradient to scale upwards toward the Dam. The views see the Dam wall emerge, massive ahead and to the right, then before you know it your half, then level with the top of it, then forging on above it! Unfortunately as I got nearer the other end of the Lac I was stopped by the Gendarmes! It was a road closed, proceed on foot scenario, and there’s no arguing with an armed Gendarme! Compliant I walked my bike until out of sight, then back on until the process was repeated with the next Officer! This continued until I reached the junction of the Col du Glandon, where I could press straight ahead through the barriers and throng of Tour Supporters and on to the café at the summit of the Croix du Fer, with a nice cold coke and ham and cheese sandwich was my prize!


After lunch I dropped down to the Glandon junction again and found the remainder of the group, they also were understandably hungry, so back to the Café I went with them.
We headed down the other side of the Croix de Fer and on to Saint Jean de Maurienne where the end of the stage would be that afternoon.


John found us a great Café Bar and a seemingly endless Set Menu for the meagre sum of 14 euros! We were in good company because on the next table was Mrs Nairo Quintana resplendent in a white Movistar Gilet Official TDF Pass and their little girl on her lap!


We were able to watch stage 18 progress and see AG2R’s Romain Bardet hold off the chasers to fly up the Lacets de Montvernier and down the Chaussy and crack a marvellous stage victory. We were well positioned as the official finish line was just around the corner, and all the riders individually filtered up past us to meet their team busses. I was right in front of Gerraint Thomas whilst Sky News interviewed him and got some great photos. It was Tour supporters paradise, with Froome’s bike being wheeled by a member of Team Sky, Contador, Valverde, Nibali, Pinot, Majka, Yates, Porte, Voeckler all emerging one after the other. The Team Cars trying to get through the mayhem, it was great.


Then it was just a 6.4 mile ride to La Chambre for our Final Hotel of the tour, selected due to its proximity for the final TDF alpine action.


62.4 miles covered today with 6,500ft of climbing.


Day 4 Lacets de Montvernier + Col du Chaussy, Maurienne valley loop, Saint Jean de Maurienne to the TDF Depart, then back to La Chambre – Friday 24th July 2015


Beautiful day for cruising around and watching the TDF! First had a 6 mile Cat 1 climb starting with the outstanding Lacets de Montvernier (as featured at the end of the previous days TDF Stage, with Roman Bardet AG2R cresting the climb with enough lead intact to descend the foot of the Chaussy and take a well-earned stage victory in Saint Jean de Maurienne). At the top of the Lacets a left turn joins you onto the Col du Chaussy as utilised in the etape, this combination of the climb has some steep sections at circa 16% and averages 8% to ascend 2,438ft in 6 miles. As the tour stage headed over here later in the day all the barriers and staging was taking place at the summit, it adds to the interest and excitement of riding the same roads that the peloton will scale only hours later.


A regroup at the top had us then descend to intercept the lower slopes of the Madeleine and back to La Chambre. We opted for a nice ride up the Maurienne valley, taking in the Skoda sprint point and acquiring some freebies on offer there. Then on to cross to the other side of the valley and south, some opted to return to the Hotel as the peloton was due to ride right past later in the day. Four of us opted to press onto the Start town.


Glad we did as Saint Jean de Maurienne was absolutely buzzing, with time to explore we found all the team busses and saw riders going about their pre-race rituals; Nibali and team Astana all warming up on turbos, Mark Cavendish looking cool and relaxed, signing Autographs and getting his bike ready, many riders were having media interviews, and taking it in turns to go and sign on – the atmosphere was fantastic.
Then we managed to get to the other side of town and picked a great spot to see the whole peloton roll out, with Thomas Voeckler managing to appear from a side street and having to ride toward the peloton and make a hasty U-turn to join his fellow riders!


Once we saw them off, we followed and then as we could see the whole caravan zig-zagging up the lower bends of the chaussy, we gunned it back to La Chambre, in good time to get a place for their arrival.
The 3rd chance to spectate of the day was a brief 1.3 mile ride around to a roundabout, which would see the peloton head off towards the Col du Glandon. Then back to the hotel in La Chambre to watch the stage progress, a sterling performance by defending champion Vincenzo Nibali in 4:22 raised a few eyebrows with the tour group as that was the etape stage they had all suffered over the previous Sunday.


58.7 miles covered today with 5,500ft of climbing.


Day 5 Col de la Croix de Fer – descend the Glandon, Lacets de Montvernier – Saturday 25th July 2015


Another fantastic day to be out on the bike, first we toiled up the Col de la Croix de Fer all the way to the Iron Cross at the summit, this time from the Saint Jean de Maurienne side, what an epic HC climb this is, it has wonderful variation from Tree lined slopes, to tunnels picturesque alpine villages and stunning vista’s. We had the added excitement of TDF fans lining the route and cheering us on as we ascended. James my American friend shared the workload and probably pulled more out of each other up this climb.


John caught up with us after Entraigues where the grade eased and the pace lifted however we were still only at 4,200ft and had to progress to nigh on 6,700ft to crest the summit. We all three pushed on and the Gendarmes had barriered the road, but were allowing cyclists to continue (thankfully and rightly so!). The climb was truly beautiful and really enjoyable (if you like this terrain and I love it). As we neared the summit the KOM livery came into view, with John doing Froome (elbows out) and Contador (bobbing out of the saddle) impressions as the line approached. We managed 1:50:07 for the 17.7 mile ascent 5% average grade, that’s 4,809ft of vertical ascent at an average speed of 9.7mph. We were pretty pleased with that. Later Strava would reveal that Thibaut Pinot had bagged yet another Strava KOM and clocked 1:08:20 @ 15.6mph average on the same climb – incredible!


James and I managed to find Dustin who had set off in an earlier group and we waited for Miriam to join us before descending the sinuous Col du Glandon (neutralised in the Marmotte sportive due to being perilous). This is the second time I’ve descended it, so knew what it was about, again most enjoyable J.


After another regroup at the foot of the descent, we couldn’t resist another ascent of the incredible Lacets de Montvernier, and why not? Then a quick descent of the Chaussy saw me overtake a silver Peugeot, much to the annoyance of the driver and fly down to Saint Jean de Maurienne. This gave us an opportunity for a spot of lunch and then get to the South West of the Town to see the breakaway group followed by the peloton on their way to climb the Croix de Fer in pursuit of Alpe d’huez.


Back to a café bar in the town for us to see them ascend to the summit, with fireworks happening for the GC battle with Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde getting a gap and then alarmingly being joined by Columbian teammate Nairo Quintana. Even Nibali had a dig before the crest, but left it a little late to make anything stick. Fortunately the panic didn’t set in for Chris Froome and thankfully he was reunited by two teammates as the GC skirmish was neutralised on the descent.


The brief ride back to La Chambre saw John and I doing huge powerful turns into a very stiff breeze, what awaited us was a well-earned ice-cold beer (or two) in the packed hotel bar and the amazing spectacle of Alpe d’huez on the TV screen. The home grown stage winner in Thibaut Pinot proved immensely popular accompanied by a huge round of applause, so we all joined in – what a great day, Vive le Tour!


58.8 miles covered today with 7,9010ft of climbing.


by Neil Cleminshaw