After a long drive, about 6 hours, from Carcassonne, we reached our next destination, Les Deux Alpes. Les Deux Alpes is best known as an alpine skiing destination, but it does lie in the epicenter of the French Alps road riding, not to mention its healthy lift assisted mountain bike scene. We were destined to have fun, at least if the weather report of a 70% chance of rain until the end of time did not hold true.
When we arrived in “Les Deux,” as we would like to think that the locals call it, it was a ghost town. The mountain biking season was soon to start, they promised. The ski season had long since ended. Even the summer glacier skiing time had not begun.
We entered our hotel to find that we were the only guests. Becky kept chanting “red-ruM, red-ruM.” I was starting to be concerned. Maybe, just maybe, the box cutters that she insisted on bringing along were not only about opening the bike boxes.
The next day, Becky, recovering from a fever, was still murmuring “red-ruM, “red-ruM.” Perhaps a bike ride might clear up that disturbing little rhythmic chanting thing. I just wish I knew what it was about. Thankfully the weather cleared and we rolled down the hill to climb back up to Les Deux Alpes.
Rated as a Category 1 climb, the road to Les Deux Alpes starts at a dam, Barrage du Chambon, that sits in the Romanche Valley. The Romanche Valley is impressively deep and narrow. Lined with rock and lush green vegetation, the valley walls rise steeply well over 2,000 feet. The road to the resort town of Les Deux Alpes is wide and smooth as it switchbacks ten times in covering 5+ miles and climbing 2,000 feet. With a 6.8% average gradient, the Les Deux climb feels similar to Tunitas Creek back home. But, compared now to Col du Tourmalet, every ride feels easy.
For me there were two goals for the climb. Goal one was to stay ahead of the fever-struck Becky still murmuring “red-ruM, red-ruM.” The second was to beat Sheryl Crow’s time up Alpe d’Huez. OK, I know that Sheryl Crow rode up an entirely different road on an entirely different mountain. But the road and mountain were nearby and a goal is a goal, isn’t it? And at least the two goals had different motivating factors. There was concern that a feverish chanting Becky would catch me with her freshly sharpened box cutters (who sharpens box cutters?) and fear of embarrassment that I couldn’t beat Sheryl Crow’s Alpe d’Huez time up a climb that was half as high. I’m glad to say that I surpassed both goals. However Marco Pantani’s time on Les Deux Alpes during the 1998 Tour de France when he crushed Jan Ullrich and took the yellow jersey was never seriously in danger. I’m not saying it mattered, but I’m pretty sure that Pantani’s hematocrit levels were higher, much higher, than mine for his climb. Besides, do you think Pantani would have crushed Ullrich like an inflated paper bag if he were riding a 30-lbs full suspension mountain bike? I think not.
After the climb and the sequestration of Becky’s box cutter, we headed to Bourg-d’Oisans, the base of the climb to Alpe d’Huez, for dinner. On the way, we took a route that Homer Simpson, as we call our TomTom GPS navigator, attempted to guide us up in the dark the evening before. This road has a section, 1.5 lanes wide, that clings to a 300 foot or so high vertical cliff. Only a low concrete barrier separates a wayward car from coming to rest a vertical quarter mile below the road surface. Even the Michelin map marks this road section with a warning.
We had are concerns before, but now we are certain. Homer is trying to kill us.
(More pictures of “Homer’s Road,” including a view from the bottom, are posted on Picasa.)