Le Tour: Part 4 La petit boucle

This time around I decided to do a loop around the valleys in the Oisans region of the French Alps, I thought it would be a nice break from the climbing I've been doing in the past few rides... I was wrong. The first climb up from the valley was Col d'Ornon followed by the Col du Grande-Serre and then finishing with the first 5 hairpins of the Alpe d'Huez. 

View Oisans Loop in a larger map

First was the ascent up Col d'Ornon, it was about 10.5km long at about 6-7% so not too steep, however by the time I was climbing up it there was full sun and the temperature was coming up to 30ºC.

After about an hour of climbing, I made it to the top where there was a raised plateau in the valley floor, it was a bit of a relief to be riding on flat roads.  The wind was pretty mild that day, however the sun was unrelenting.  Thankfully, every little alpine town had these fountains with cold water pouring into basins (apparently they used to be used for people to wash their clothes in) where I filled up and cooled down.  This was the beginning of the Col du Grand-Serre.

For some reason I get a kick out of riding on dirt, so I decided to take an unsealed road...  However it ended up being very steep and overgrown in some places, the picture above is the good rideable section, it got so bad at some points I was walking up steep paths strewn with rocks and overgrown with weeds.  I imagined that they hadn't been used in a while, note to self: don't assume that because it's shown on Google maps as a road that it is at all sealed or even usable!

It also involved some cows and bulls, as well as a rocky cobbled descent.   There was a point where I was regretting it, but I guess it was somewhat scenic and I could say I saw some rustic cattle herders.  Finally I got out of there and back on the main road, after a few more k's of ascent I finally reached the summit, the climb of Col du Grand-Serre from the north is gradual, however the other side is quite steep.  Now for the fun bit, the descent down the other side is 12km of weaving through the forest around hairpins and S-bends.  It was possibly one of the best descents I've done in a while, I'm pretty glad that I had upgraded the brakes, throughout the last few days I've noticeably needed to adjust the brake calipers to compensate for pad wear.  There is a lot of braking involved when you're going down an alpine pass at 70km/h!  The Tektros were quite good at bringing the bike down to a speed for taking corners.

The descent felt like it went on forever, however it was broken up by gorgeous views of the valleys, my hands were starting to get fatigued from the braking, and my back was starting to hurt from being stuck in a tuck, 30mins of constant descending becomes quite straining.

Now I got down to the valley, the humidity and temperature went right up, it was almost tropical like.  The thing you notice in the alps is the big difference in climate between the valleys and up in the mountains.  Like in the other rides I've done, high up the temperature can be about 10-15ºC cooler and much drier.

Now I had to make it back to Bourg d'Oisans and then ascend Alpe d'Huez again, firstly I had to cycle on the flat for about 30km.  In truth it was more like a very gentle ascent.  I was running out of food and starting to tire, I was at about the 80-90km mark and about 4 hours in.  I was so glad to see the sign for Bourg d'Oisans in the pic above, it was hot and I was tired.

Some left over graffiti from the Tour, seems like someone didn't quite plan it so well...

I had a crack at the Alpe d'Huez, and I cracked myself...  I ran out of food and I was starting to sweat and generally felt terrible... I had bonked.  The first two hairpins on Alpe d'Huez are the longest and steepest, I needed to ascend to the 5th.   I had the opportunity to buy some food on the way to Bourg d'Oisans but I felt fine at the time and didn't think I needed to... boy was I wrong.

Eventually I made it to the top, however my body was saying no the whole way.  I was sweating profusely even though it wasn't that hot anymore, I was starting to feel dizzy... these were all the signs of the dreaded Bonk.  I had some leftover Powergel sachets, I squeezed the remaining bits out of them, just to get enough sugar to get up the hill.  The hairpins from 16-19 are a lot shorter as well, so eventually with some rest inbetween I finally made it.  A long day in the saddle, about 6 hours with only a few short breaks.  Tired, exhausted but not defeated, it was a good ride nonetheless.