Alpe d’Huez is such an iconic climb in the sport of cycling, when you think of the Tour de France and the Alps then this is the one: the fans, the hairpins, the history. When looking at the route for the Tour there were two stages that stuck out for me, the first of course was the Roubaix stage, but then stage 12, Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs > Alpe d’Huez, 175km.
To set the scene this was the third day of three very, very hard days in the Alps. Every day you get on the bike in a Grand Tour you wonder how the legs are going to feel, over the years I’ve had my fair share of bad days, where nothing seems to work, everything seems to hurt, where you can’t seem to follow, you only seem to have one speed, which is not fast enough.
Was my bad day going to come on the stage to Alpe d’Huez? Please not! I so wanted to finish up there, so I decided that even if it was my bad day that I was going to get to the finish line, inside or outside the time cut, I made a pact with myself: today I am riding 175km.
The race started down a valley and in theory there was enough time for a break to form before we hit the first climb of the day, the Col de la Madeleine, a mere 25km long, topping out at 2000 meters above sea level. The attacks were flying and nothing was sticking, I had a look at going with one move. Wouldn’t it be great to start the Madeleine with a minute or two lead on the bunch? But how much energy are you going to put into that? Keep that under control, get carried away and nothing goes, and you’re the first one in trouble when the climb starts.
We hit the climb, nothing has gone, the race lights up, now GC riders are trying their luck, this means one thing, this race is not going to stop till we cross that finish line. As quickly as riders are attacking, the back of the bunch is emptying. I try to control my breathing and hang on, I know the pace I am riding is one that I can’t ride for this whole climb, I need to get out of the red zone, I need to find a group. But the bunch is just there, tantalisingly close. They have settled into somewhat of a tempo, but I can’t quite make it back, metre by metre they pull away. I remind myself I am going to ride 175km today, I settle in. Not long after I realise that I am not the only one in trouble, there are quite a few riders behind me.
I have found my group, about 15 riders, we don’t talk much, we know what we have to do. We have now become teammates, as it were, for the remainder of this stage. It is uncomfortable most of the day, the speed we ride on the climbs is not a nice one, but necessary if we are to make the time cut and continue in this race. At times I wonder…
The climbing takes forever, the descents are quick. Madeleine is followed by Lacets de Montvernier, 3kms of hairpins, on a road the size of a bike path. Then another monster of a climb the Col de la Croix de Fer, I can’t, and I won’t look at the signs, 29km long, but I did look. I start to think how long it will take me to get to the top, then I stop, because I don’t want to know, or because I can’t do the maths in my current state?
My focus is on this climb alone, one of my teammates comes back from a group in front, doesn’t say much, he asks sharply if I have any gels. I get the message he’s not in good shape, that bad day has found him. We ride together in the group for a little while before he slips away. I feel bad leaving him behind, I know the kind of world he is in, but there is not much I can do for him, there are a number of other groups behind us, and a team car with food and water.
The top of each of these mountains are like a finish line, I make it to the top of Col de la Croix de Fer, that has been my sole focus for the last 30km, but I am not at the finish. Sure once I get to the bottom of Alpe d’Huez I know it will be my last ascent but I was already pretty sure I was not going to be in a state to enjoy this final climb. The time cut was still looming and most likely I would not be one of those riders taking a beer from Dutch corner. Gels, more gels, not sure how many I have had, seems to be working. Another one, can’t hurt, keep drinking. We have got this, going to make it.
Why on earth did I think Alpe d’Huez was 7km long, that sign at the bottom is a massive disappointment: 13.8km. Adam said the last two kilometres are flat, he said the start was hard, maybe only 7km is hard? Doesn’t matter anymore. The time cut is not going to be a problem (unless I stop for a beer that is), I can enjoy this. I drift off the back of the group I have been with all day. I can ride my own pace to the top. Soak it up, enjoy the crowd, enjoy people and how happy they are. But I can’t, I find myself back concentrating on my riding, counting down the hairpins, I try to snap out of it the whole way up the climb, constantly fighting with myself to just let go of racing and enjoy the people. I am empty, tired and happy, when I cross the line I have goose bumps, could be I am dehydrated, but I think it’s more likely pride and satisfaction.
4883 meters of gain
6191 kj of work
324 watts normalised
278 watts average
437 watts for 10mins to get dropped
6hrs 11 mins with neutral and getting to the hotel after the finish
This is what it took me to cross the finish line.
Vive le Tour!
Mathew Hayman is the epitome of hard work and persistence with both of these attributes leading to extensive success.
After 16 years of competing as a professional cyclist, Mathew fulfilled his ultimate dream by winning the 2016 Paris – Roubaix.
Mathew captured the hearts of all cycling enthusiasts with his courageous performance within the closing stage of this iconic one-day classic.
Mathew has been a senior member for many of the Marquee Grand Tour Teams including Rabobank, Team Sky and GreenEdge. Notably, he was also the winner of the 2006 Commonwealth Games Road Race.