BIGGSY TRAVELS

unique travel experiences

Month: December 2016

What’s it like to cycle up Alpe d’Huez?

Whenever you think of the Tour de France do you think of those grueling mountains climbs with hordes of spectators lining the route? Do you picture those snaking mountain climbs such as Alpe d’Huez with its recent great stage winners of Pantani and Shleck? Did you know you can cycle up this mountain yourself? Wait? What? You can cycle up the 21 bends too? Well yes you can and this is what it’s like!

The views from Alpe d'Huez were amazing

The views from Alpe d’Huez were amazing

Back in the Summer my girlfriend and I were making plans for a one week break when the idea of cycling up Alpe d’Huez came about. Some of her friends had done it before and we’d heard their mixed stories of how “enjoyable” it was. So without further ado we thought we’d have a go ourselves, preceded by a couple of nights each in Lyon and Grenoble after starting out on the train from London’s St Pancras station.

Getting there?
We let the train/bus/taxi take the strain!

  1. Eurostar from London St Pancras > Paris Gare de Nord
  2. Taxi from Paris Gare de Nord > Paris Gare de Lyon
  3. Train from Paris Gare de Lyon > Gare de Lyon Part Dieu
  4. FlixBus from Lyon > Grenoble Central Station
  5. Bus 3020/3030(?) from Grenoble Central Station > Le-Bourg D’Oisans
  6. Bus 3020/3030(?) from Le-Bourg D’Oisans > Huez – La Village / Alpe d’Huez

Some Alpe d’Huez facts

Some Alpe d'Huez facts and figures courtesy of procyclingtrumps.com/

Some Alpe d’Huez facts and figures courtesy of procyclingtrumps.com/

So how do you go about it? Well we hired bikes from Cycle Huez who are situated at the top of Alpe d’Huez itself, booking them way in advance as I wanted a size ‘S’ frame to my girlfriend’s ‘M’. The bikes on offer were fantastic carbon fibre Wilier Triestina GTR Gran Turismos with Ultegra groupsets. We took our own pedals and shoes and borrowed their helmets/saddle stuffers. I’d have happily settled with my Kona Kilauea mountain bike from back home with its slick tyres but wowsers, this was one serious piece of kit. You really notice how well €2,500 of proper bike rides, especially uphill! I’m converted.

My Wilier Triestina GTR Gran Turismo Bike fom the 'Cycle Huez' hire shop

My Wilier Triestina GTR Gran Turismo Bike fom the ‘Cycle Huez’ hire shop

The Cycle Huez hire shop at the 'tourist' finish in Alpe d'Huez

The Cycle Huez hire shop at the “tourist” finish in Alpe d’Huez

Our accommodation was Hôtel L’Ancolie, which lies in the village of Huez, 5 bends from the top so we were thankful that Cycle Huez offered us the bikes the night before, storing them in the hotel’s locked underground garage. We went in mid-September so neither the village’s cable car or hotel’s shuttle bus was were running so it was a 45 minute walk up to the main resort of Alpe d’Huez. Also there was very little going on up in Alpe d’Huez as the resort is “dead” and was being prepared for the Winter season at this time of year. Don’t be fooled by  there being nothing available on Booking.com. It’s not all booked out: there’s literally nothing open! In fact there were only 2 hotels open in Alpe d’Huez and 1 in Huez (our one), and only 1 bar and a very small handful of restaurants, and these opened on alternate days! Either way we were there for the climb and it was nice that it was quiet and tranquil!

Starting out at the village of Huez - 5 bends from the top

Starting out at the village of Huez – 5 bends from the top

On the big day we were therefore starting 3/4 of the way up, so we gingerly cycled down to the bottom, regained our composure and prepared for the ascent. Other riders we met had hired their bikes at the bottom in Le Bourg-d’Oisans, therefore having the reward of cycling back down after their climb, while many had brought their own bikes from home, leaving their hire van at the top. For us starting at the top and cycling ALL the way down first certainly had a slightly negative psychological affect as that took us long enough, in fact over 35 minutes which is longer than it took Marco Pantani to cycle up it in 1995! The idea though was to take photos/videos on the way down as we certainly wouldn’t be taking many on the way up!

The Alpe d'Huez profile

The Alpe d’Huez profile

Pre-arrival I soon realised there are 2 different starts and 2 different finishes. If you want to cycle the full actual climb that the Tour de France riders do then check out these useful Google Maps links below. Essentially start at ‘2’ and finish at ‘4’:

  1. The start with the electronic counter
  2. The official start with signpost (650m further up the climb):
  3. The “tourist” finish line
  4. The “Tour de France” finish line (1,500m further up the climb)

So we started out at number ‘1′, where there’s a counter which shows the number of cyclists who’d set out that day (we were numbers 101 and 102). Just up from there is the “true” start, number ‘2′ (as far as my research showed after studying multiple Strava segments). Our intention was to get to number ‘4′, via number ‘3′.   We’d been warned that the first 2-3 bends were the worst and they certainly were with the profile map above backing it up. So the advice was to take it easy to start with. In fact we only got as far as bend two before de-robing. My technique on the way up was to stay in my penultimate gear as that always gave me “somewhere to go”. The bikes’ gearing being purposefully set up for Alpe d’Huez beginners with a large toothed cog at the back. I put a ‘Quad lock’ phone holder on the handlebar to enable me to quickly twist off the phone for videos and photos en route.

We didn’t particularly notice the traffic much either. It was a quiet time of year, but any traffic we did see was going slow enough and was giving the cyclists a wide berth. Also the number of us out on the road gave us a great feeling of “safety in numbers” too so no problems for us there.

The counter at the bottom of the climb

The counter at the bottom of the climb

There were some roadworks on bend 11 but fortunately our timings workerd ok and we reached the roadworks in the hourly 30 min window which meant we could climb straight through it. At bend 12 my girlfriend stopped to let me catch up but I cheekily carried on, encouraging her to catch me up, which she promptly did at bend 13 …and I didn’t see her again until the top! Before that, bend 7 is the iconic ‘Dutch Corner’, which is normally festooned in a sea of orange when Le Tour rolls through. It was hard to imagine what this might look like, but a complete lack of spectators here at least meant I could take the racing line through it.

https://i1.wp.com/biggsytravels.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/my-alpe-dhuez-view.jpg?resize=676%2C507

My view for most of the climb!

Above Huez with just 3-4 bends to go two separate photographers from PhotoBreton.com and Griffephotos.com snapped us as we cycled past, handing us business cards with a link to find our photos later. One of which turned into a nice Christmas present for Claire. A nice touch as we were too busy cycling to want to take each other’s photos. As you count down the bends towards the top you see the names of its various stage winners over the years. My favorite being bend 3 from the top (Marco Pantani), less so bends 19 and 21 near the bottom (Lance Armstrong).

Looking back! Bend 4 is in honour of stage winner Roberto Conti

Looking back! Bend 4 is in honour of stage winner Roberto Conti. Check out the small, white rectangular sign on the corner of each bend

half-way-up-alpe-dhuez

Half way up Alpe d’Huez and time for a “selfie”

With just one bend to go I could sense the looming village of Alpe d’Huez above me with the gradient thankfully lessening off. One last false summit to go and I was then cresting the final hill before riding past the “tourist” finish line between the Cycle Huez shop and Bar L’Indiana. 25m further on to the right being the “tourist” podium and a well deserved photo opportunity.

Here’s me cycling up the last of the 21 bends with the village ofAlpe d’Huez looming in the background.

The welcome site of Bar L'Indiana opposite the 'Cycle Huez' bike hire shop just past the

The welcome site of Bar L’Indiana opposite the ‘Cycle Huez’ bike hire shop just past the “tourist” finish line

Celebrating on the Alpe d'Huez tourist finish podium

Celebrating on the Alpe d’Huez tourist finish podium

We knew this wasn’t the “real” finish so after a few minutes, break we cycled under the bridge, turning left, onwards for a further 1.5km to the actual finish line. There are discrete, permanent signs along the road pointing you in the right direction. It’s not a glamorous line with nothing much to see, but then you know won’t be kicking yourself when you see the stage on the TV only to find out that you stopped 1500 too soon. If you did stop early then don’t worry, you certainly “did” Alpe d’Huez. What an experience! Next up for us might be Mt Ventoux and that’s longer and harder by all accounts!

the-tour-de-france-finish-alpe-duez

The “real” Tour de France stage finish line 1500m up from the “tourist” finish

Here’s a video by Sverre Turter Sandvold as he cycled up the full climb – (between numbers ‘2’ to ‘4’).

 

The podium 50m down from the real 'Tour de France' finish

The podium 50m down from the real ‘Tour de France’ finish

Was the ‘Dream Hotel’ a dreamy NYC experience?

Even though this was my 5th visit to New York City, a stay in town is always a complete pleasure and I realise for many people it is still simply a “dream” to be able to visit. Feeling like I had the whole of NYC to choose from I chose the Dream Hotel just off Broadway on W 55th Street due to its proximity to Central Park (just 4 streets away), Times Square (8 streets away) and its Midtown location (which I generally know better than any other part of Manhattan). So was it a dream experience?

The view of the Dream Hotel on 55th Street

The view of the Dream Hotel on 55th Street

The hotel doesn’t have a sweeping, set-back entrance so its frontage is up against the sidewalk but once through the front doors you are welcomed into a dark, marble-floored reception area along with a stylish floor to ceiling aquarium.

The Dream Hotel frontage

The Dream Hotel frontage

The aquarium in the Dream Hotel foyer

The aquarium in the Dream Hotel foyer

The hotel also doubles as a hotspot for the ‘PHD Terrace bar’ located on the top floor and in the evening one of the three lifts serves as an express lift straight up to it. It was nice to know as a guest it was my “local” bar and the party had come to me without me having to go to the party. Arriving late on the Saturday night there was a small queue of beautiful looking people queuing up in the right-hand side reception of the foyer patiently waiting their turn to visit the roof. In the summer months it’s fully exposed but as it was March temporary plastic covers draped down from the roof to keep away any chills. Only the next day for a quick post work drink did I have a proper look around over a bottle of Samuel Adams Boston lager and it certainly ticked the cool NYC rooftop bar tickbox.

Enjoying a Samuel Adams beer in the PHD roof terrace bar

Enjoying a Samuel Adams beer in the PHD roof terrace bar

Attached to the side of the hotel is the ‘Serafina’ restaurant and on the opposite side ‘The Rickey Bar’, dimly lit in the late afternoon slot when I visited so presumably even darker at night time.

I appreciate carpeted bedrooms and hallways as they tend to feel more homely and the Dream Hotel didn’t let me down. The room was small but perfectly formed with an opulent bathroom off towards the foot of the bed. The view out of my window was of … another hotel’s window but the cosy, dark feel of the bedroom’s décor didn’t warrant the need for me wanting to open the curtains anyway.

my-dream-hotel-bedroom

My cosy Dream Hotel bedroom

 

My tastefully decorated Dream Hotel bathroom

My tastefully decorated Dream Hotel bathroom

So dreamy? Location wise you’re located right in the centre of the action. No distance at all to the Broadway theatres, and an equal stone’s throw to both Times Square and Central Park. For those who love Midtown or are visiting NYC for the first time and want a luxurious bolthole to explore the sights by day, and to have a cosy, romantic setting on your return, then the Dream Hotel is just for you. For those who love to lounge in a cavernous, brightly-lit reception allowing you to people watch, read the newspapers and watch the world go by then this place probably isn’t your cup of cafwee. Have a nice day! 🙂

Take 12 Trips

Back in January I stumbled across a blog post on TheTravelHack challenging people to take 12 trips throughout the year – #Take12Trips. At this point I already had some weekend breaks booked to get me off the mark – a stag do, a marathon and a wedding. The other 9 would have to materialise in 2016 as we went along.

My 12 long list eventually looked like this being fortunate enough to get my 12 trips in early … and I missed January anyway. Always grateful that I have the ability to visit so many places, and aware of the environment impact of flying I’m pleased to say the 12 trips conveniently broke down as:

  • 4 by train
  • 4 by car
  • 4 by plane

Trip 1 – Paris – February

First up a work conference in Eurodisney Paris. It was low season but there were still a surprisingly large number of families around. The alarm has to be set at 4am to get there on the Eurostar. Ouch!

Meeting Minnie Mouse in Eurodisney

Meeting Minnie Mouse in Eurodisney

Trip 2 – València – February

A stag do in València for our pal Osman. Not the most obvious stag do choice but much better for it as we weren’t surrounded by lots of other stag dos! It was lovely to experience t-shirt weather so early on in the year, explore the food markets and follow Valencia’s snaking green park all the way to the beach.

Valencia's 'City of Arts and Sciences'

Valencia’s ‘City of Arts and Sciences’

Trip 3 – New York – March

An invite to present to a sales team in New York – another fortunate “work” bonus leaving plenty of time to explore out of work hours during the 7 days I was there! I also became the very first person to stay in my hotel room at the newly opened ‘INNside New York NoMad‘ up on 27th Street. My favourite location is always Central Park and I ran 8 miles around it with Christy Turlington as we both trained for our repective marathons – London and Brighton.

Running arund the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park

Running around the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir in Central Park

Trip 4 – Isle of Wight – March

Sad news followed with my Uncle John’s funeral in the Isle of Wight. They say you only meet your family at weddings and funerals and this was one of those such occasions. It was lovely to catch up with my 3 cousins and Auntie though and we were all blessed with nice weather.

Leaving on the ferry from the Isle of Wight back to the mainland

Leaving on the ferry from the Isle of Wight back to the mainland

Trip 5 – Cardiff – April

I kept my 100% record and attended the 4th and latest instalment of the Traverse travel blogging conference in Cardiff. Another great effort by Michael, Paul and the team. A highlight was being taken around Cardiff Bay in a rib at speeds up to 50 mph!

Our view we had at the 'Traverse' travel bloggers' conference in Cardiff

Our view at the ‘Traverse’ travel bloggers’ conference in Cardiff

Trip 6 – Brighton – April

Another of the initial “booked in” trip where I ran the Brighton Marathon together with 5-6 friends from the Hitchin Running Club. I feel I’ve now  “done” Brighton having cycled to it 3x in the “London to Brighton” bike ride, run around it in the marathon as well as visited the town many “normal” weekend breaks too.

Brighton and its wonderful Brighton Pier

Brighton and its wonderful Brighton Pier

Trip 7 – Cyprus – May

A  random trip to Cyprus with my mate Chopper for some proper, early Summer sun. With only 4 months of the year gone so far I was already over halfway on trip number seven. We stayed in Aiya Napa but drove west to Limasssol and north up to Girne, crossing the border into the Turkish occupied region. It was strange seeing the capital city Nicosia with blockades, barriers and border guides running through its middle!

Inside one of the sea caves near Ayia Napa, Cyprus

Inside one of the sea caves near Ayia Napa, Cyprus

Trip 8 – Belfast – May

Belfast in early May featured a trip for me and Rob of Hornblower Travels to see our Irish friend Emma, back in her homeland … but sadly with one friend down due to pregnancy (preferring not to fly after 28 weeks). The Games of Thrones tour was a highlight, culminating in the Giant’s Causeway and Rob wrote a little post about it.

The spectacular frontage of the Titanic museum in Belfast

The spectacular frontage of the Titanic museum in Belfast

Trip 9 – Cotswolds – August

The Cotswolds is very twee and makes the perfect location for a Summer wedding. On this occasion the marriage of my girlfriend’s brother Matty to his now wife Megan. We stayed in Lower Slaughter! Sounds omninous but it was absolutely delightful, like something straight out of ‘Midsomer Murders’.

Back from a run around the beautiful little village of Lower Slaughter

Back from a run around the beautiful little village of Lower Slaughter

Trip 10 – France – September

Lyon > Grenoble > Alps to cycle up the formidable and world famous Alpe D’Huez! The climb is 8.5 miles long, has an average gradient of 8.1%, consists of 21 hairpin bends and involves 1.2km of climbing! I recommend it to anyone! Just stick it in the lowest gear and off you go … for an hour and a half.

On the podium after completing Alpe D'Huez

On the podium after completing “Alpe D’Huez”

Trip 11 – Bournemouth – October

Another running event but this time “just” a half marathon along the beautiful south coast. Half marathons make so much more sense than “full” marathons. Not everybody can do a “half” as you still have to  put in the training … but at least it’s not a crazy marathon, allowing you to still walk around the next day! The four of us ran for charity Every Mother Counts

Completing the Bournemouth half marathon for charity 'Every Mother Counts'

Completing the Bournemouth half marathon for charity ‘Every Mother Counts’

Trip 12 – Norfolk – October

Hornblower Travels celebrated his 40th birthday so 12 of us descended on a small village near Cromer in Norfolk. An AirBnB in an old barn no less. A fun way to spend the weekend, and not too raucous. Well a few of us are in our 40s now 🙂 The more of the UK I see, the more I realise there is still to see in my home country!

Cromer Pier in Norfolk

About to stroll along the pier in Cromer

So that’s my #Take12Trips! Anybody else been able to do the same? I wonder what lies in store in 2017 🙂

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