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Saturday, 7 August 2010

Going downhill.....fast(ish)

There was no time to stop on the time trial to take photographs, so here's a photo-panorama created from 5 photos taken between bends 9 and 8 on a subsequent ascent of Alpe D'Huez) of which more later)

Hopefully this gives some idea of what this climb is like overall, but there really is no substitute for being there.

The descent starts immediately you crest the small hill in Vieil Huez, and freewheel out of town, on a lane dedicated entirely to bikes. Cars have to take a one way system and emerge lower down. Despite the fact that I descended on the hoods all the way down, the stretch to the first bend still saw 60+kmh despite braking often and early. My descending is still hesitant, and although I remembered the 'advice' and reading about how to handle the hairpins, it wasn't until lower down the mountain that I started to feel remotely confident. There is a big difference between Etape descending, and descending on open roads where you have to share with cars coming up.

The first thing you notice going down is that even between the hairpins, this road is far from straight. Even kinks in the road can throw you over the centre line when reaching speeds of over 70kmh. My record on this descent, despite deliberately being careful, was 71.6kmh between bends 17 and 18. In fact, the gradient steepens about 100 metres before 18, and I almost overcooked it both times I descended this mountain. not really advisable on a hairpin bend with only a 2 foot wall separating the road from 500 feet of fresh air.

Secondly, it becomes painfully obvious that a climb that can take 85 minutes to get up, is over in just 19 minutes going the other way. This was a source of constant surprise all week, particularly as our campsite was in the bottom of the valley, and all rides started off going pretty much uphill.

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