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24-07-2021 | Luc Nouwen

The road to GFNY La Vaujany

In for a ride in the Alps over five cols (and two smaller bumps) with more than 3700m+ (it turned out to be 400-500 less) crammed into about 105 kilometers? The motto: "be a pro for a day".

My boyhood dream was to become a professional cyclist: I would be the first one who could ride more than 50 km per hour (since Eddy hadn't succeeded in doing so in Mexico) and I would win the Tour six times. Tendinitis (an inflammation of a tendon at the knee) and a bit of a lack of talent prevented it.

Thanks to CycloWorld I was able to participate as a VIP! I didn't tell you that I'd never ridden more than 3,000m+ in one day. When was the last time you did something for the first time?

On the menu: Pas de la Confession, Col de Sarenne, the last five kilometers of Alpe d'Huez, after a detour with a few smaller bumps all 21 turns of Alpe d'Huez and for dessert an archly difficult climb of more than 5 km to start and finish town Vaujany. In total more than 45 km of climbing. Where do you start?

Challenges are what a person needs! In preparation, I have sharpened my personal record in elevation from 2,700 to almost 2,900. After the Vosges and the Dolomites a few years ago, we're now heading for the Alps. It will be a lot of suffering, that's for sure. But I want to be a pro for a day.

Hopefully the vaccine I'm about to receive won't throw a spanner in the works, with all sorts of side effects that will mess up my training schedule, hopefully my equipment will hold up (two weeks ago I had a puncture three days in a row...), hopefully an outbreak of the delta variant will stay away. The weather forecast is ominous: thunderstorms at the hour of the scheduled start. I'll be riding good old aluminum wheels; braking in rain on carbon doesn't seem like a good idea.

I must, I will, I will; I must, I will, I will; I must, I will, I will... Mind on zero. Thinking about the blissful feeling when you get the participant medal. Don't try to follow those young guys now! You are not thirty anymore! Keep your heart rate between 160 and 165, and you'll keep going. Just keep pushing those pedals. Don't take any risks in the descents. You want to arrive in one piece. Participating is more important than winning (scratch that; it's against my nature...).

Overconfidence? Old fool? Or dare to be different! Take up the challenge! Explore your limits!

Preparing on site

My first vaccination with Pfizer has not brought any side effects; my son is coming along as a driver; the PCR tests are negative; the bike has been checked and adjusted by my bike mechanic; everything is ready; my shape is ok: in a 60 km race in Wallonia, I got a first podium place (only eight participants, but I could have been fifth ...). Ready for a 900 km ride to Hotel La Douce Montagne. We leave on Thursday so I can explore the descents on Friday, spend Saturday in bed, and push my limits on Sunday.

The ride out is smoother than expected. My son of 23 is an exemplary driver, which can't always be said of the father... Still some time to explore the "Col de la Passion" in the evening. The owner of the hotel doesn't know Col de la Passion... he does know Pas de la Confession. Say for yourself: Col de la Passion speaks much more to the imagination. Great, just the climb up to get a view of the water behind the dam and right up Pas de la Confession. On paper, that looks like Ancienne Barrière near Werbomont. That will be easy. "Reality check!!!" My legs block, that thing is very steep during the first few kilometers, after four of the twelve kilometers I turn around...

The next day we first go to the registration. Wonderfully friendly reception in a family atmosphere! Finally among people again.

Hotel la Douce Montagne is situated at the foot of the climb to Vaujany. It's hard to swallow when we drive up there. That's going to be a tough one after 100 kilometers! The plan for the day is to explore the entire route by car, but to use the bike for the descents. Col de Sarenne with an average of 2.8% will be a challenge for us. The 15% maximum will not be so bad.

On top of Alpe d'Huez a photo to show the beautiful new CycloWorld jersey: nothing done, yet honored (because we drove up by car).

Photo: Parentini's brand new jersey fits like a glove!

Tricky Sarenne

We're all ready to ride up Col de Sarenne for a while and explore the descent to the "real foot" of Alpe d'Huez. Col de Sarenne is not too bad at first; however, the devil is in the tail. An endless road up with very high gradients and no protection from the wind. Is that disappointing or is the bad feeling still the result of the car ride the day before?

Photo: no eye for the beautiful scenery of Col de Sarenne if you want to get to the top!

The descent is quite dangerous during the first part: bad road surface: a patchwork of repairs; curves with gravel; no idea how sharp the turn is going to be. My hands hurt from braking after a while. The second part is fine and you can let yourself go at 60 there.

We're there: at the foot of the 21 corners! As seen on TV ... The fear hits your legs when you see the steep parts coming at you kilometer after kilometer: 13.6 km, 8.2% average gradient, 14% maximum. Of course there's worse, but with about 30 km of climbing in your legs, it's a mountain to approach with respect.

The descent after Alpe d'Huez to the foot of the final climb is reasonable. If it's not raining, quite doable. In between there is a smaller climb as a welcome change.

Now we're going to rest, hope the thunderstorm stays away, check the bike one last time, get the clothes, bars, gels and drinks ready. I'm ready for it!

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