Colin Brooke – reporting on Alpe d’Huez 28 July 2016
The thoughts passing through my mind could be summed up from verses taken from the book of Ecclesiastes ‘To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven’ ………..’a time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep and a time to cast away’. I recollected the words spoken some years ago by our own prophet Chris Jones when he hinted that I might consider joining the Autumn Tints cycling group. Was that time now upon me? I was peering at a closed barrier, those within proceeding with their run to personal glory, those without left to dwell on their own thoughts of rejection and failure.
Although the Alpe d’ Huez sounds tough and looks tough the organisers seem to treat it as quite ‘run of the mill’. There can’t be many events where you are expected to cycle 15 km , carrying all your swimming gear and food for the cycle section, just to get to the start. Admittedly, it was mostly downhill but in the cool early morning air it certainly was not a warm up. Then during the briefing they took delight in announcing that for this year they had included an extra ‘small’ col, adding 5 km and over 200m of climbing, as if it would be received as a special treat they had found for us.
We were informed that the lake water temperature was over 16 degrees which felt a bit on the warm side during the swim. I decided to swim breaststroke for the whole course, that way I could ensure that I went in straight lines and was happy that I managed to do it within the time I had allocated.
However I was not so happy with the cycling. Almost from the beginning I did not feel comfortable. As is normal for me I tried to keep a lot in reserve for later in the event and I also attempted to make the effort to drink as much I possibly could. After cycling over 100 km and within yards of starting up the first steep section of the Alpe d’Huez climb my upper leg muscles went into a cramp. Dismounting until the pain subsided I then continued but only for a hundred yards or so before having to rapidly unclip and leap off my bike again into the most undignified contorted position I could find to get some relief from the pain. These were the worst cramps I have ever experienced. I climbed most of the steeper bottom section until these attacks were becoming so frequent it became apparent that my roadside gymnastics were presenting a danger to other road users. The only way I could now proceed was to do a Chris Froome and continue on foot, pushing my bike up the remaining 8 miles to the top of the climb. After my long walk I arrived at the entrance funnel to T2 only to be faced with the barrier. I was 45 minutes too late.
I rang my son in Stockholm to unburden my disappointment. Through the marvels of the internet he had more information on the event than I did. He relayed the information from the web site commentary and consoled me with the facts that it had been one of the hottest days for the event, many had struggled and I was not one of just a few but one of many to have to withdraw.
I reckon I can use the heat as a reasonable excuse for failure as I did not feel to have any other after effects from the sections I had completed. Even so it did make me consider the future of my triathlon career. Perhaps I need to listen to my body more rather than being carried away by want I want to do, perhaps it is time to readjust and seriously tone down my aspirations. Autumn, like any of the other seasons, has its particular delights and attractions. Sometimes you have to do a bit of searching to find them.
Over breakfast on the morning of the event, a Parisian, who was a regular on the Alpe d’Huez and also Ironman events, advised me that he considered the Alpe d’Huez to be harder than the Ironman. So, great credit to Fiona and Andy for their successful completion of last year’s Alpe d’Huez. I hope that the Frenchman’s opinion gives their confidence a boost as they prepare for their ironman attempt later this month.