The plan was simple. We’d buy a tent and camp out on the mountain the night before the Tour arrived, only there was two problems. One, we didn’t know how to pitch a tent. The second, I’ll get to in a second.
The first problem was easy to solve. We bought a pop up tent. According to the ‘how to’ video on YouTube it was a simple to pitch as opening the cover and letting it open naturally. It took seconds, with no poles, pegs or skill required. Perfect.
The second problem was harder to solve. The day we arrived in Grenoble, the nearest city to Alpe D’Huez, it started to rain. And then the lightning started. And the thunder rolled in and we chickened out of using a tent and booked a hotel for the night instead with an aim to get up early and drive to Bourg-d Oisans, the town at the base of the climb.
And that’s what I’d recommend. We thought there would be a queue of cars, that would it would be difficult to get parked but, we left at 6am, got there for 7am and had no problem driving there or finding parking in the town. I admit, we then had eight hours before the tour passed through, but we were there, and we could explore the town to find… a bike shop run by a woman from Glasgow?!
We bought water, we bought breakfast, we bought supplies for lunch and filled our backpacks and then started to walk up Alpe D’Huez.
As the sun rose, it was a warm climb but not a difficult one. There was food and drinks for sale as you climbed and every corner was covered in flags, people and RV’s who’d booked there spot a week before and had set up home with barbecues and satellite dishes on their roof feeding live coverage of the day’s race.
As we climbed we got higher, as did the spectators. Corner 7 – Dutch Corner – was loud techno music, orange t-shirts, smoke and booze. The party had started and even the thunder & lightning hadn’t stopped it.
We found a spot overlooking corner 7 and had a cracking view of the spectators including one man who tried to run up to the summit while wearing a Borat mankini. He was last seen, buttocks jiggling, breath heaving on his way to corner 6. I hope he made it. It would have a tale to make his grandchildren proud. As long as he didn’t show them any photos…
As you wait for the tour, the excitement builds. You can see helicopters in the distance, the publicity caravan comes through around an hour before, throwing Bic pens and sweets from cars disguised as chickens or baguettes. Then security comes through. Cars get faster. Helicopters louder. Flares are fired. Smoke drifts. You can hear the cheering roll up the mountain before the road gets mobbed in an orange mass and the first rider breaks through. It’s half war film, half circus performance.
And the best bit is that unlike most days in the tour, it carries on for around 40 minutes as different riders take different times to climb to the summit. The GC contenders are first, the main peloton next and then a steady stream of spent domestiques and burly sprinters just about holding on at the back.
Once done, you can walk back down the mountain using a trail to cut the corners and to walk almost straight down rather than back and forth from corner to corner. You could use it to climb up, but, that would mean missing out on walking the same route as the riders climb.
Watching the Tour at Alpe D’Huez is a fantastic experience. One I would recommend if you’re thinking of going to watch the Tour.