BUCKET LIST TRI IN THE FRENCH ALPS
ALPE D’HUEZ TRIATHLON
PICTURE THIS: Swim in the crystal waters of the Lac du Verney, accessible to swimmers only during the triathlon, ride the legendary bike course complete with three mountain passes– the Alpe du Grand Serre (1,375 m), the Col d’ornon (1,371 m), as well as the 21 switchbacks of Alpe d’huez – and run on and off road within the majestic setting of the Alpe d’huez resort.
Billed by race organizers as “a summit of the international world of triathlon,” the exceptional setting and unique course provide a challenging and iconic course for adventurous triathletes. The 2016 iteration of the Alpe d’huez Triathlon is set for July 25 to 29.
In addition to the long course, there is a children’s triathlon, a duathlon (6.5 km/15 km/2.5 km), and a short distance triathlon (1.2 km/ 30 km /7.3 km), which promises “over less than 40 km you will discover a broad range of landscapes and swim, ride and run through the entire gamut of human emotions.”
But the long course is l’attraction principale. The 2.2-km swim is held in refreshing waters at an altitude of 700 m surrounded by wooded peaks, where the water reaches only 15 to 16 C at the height of summer. South African pro, James Cunnama, who claimed top spot on the podium in 2010 and finished second in 2015, says, “The water is crystal clear glacier run-off and you can probably drink it safely, but all you really think about when swimming is the cold. You are surrounded by mountains on all sides, a little reminder of what is to come, and it is amazingly beautiful.”
On the bike, the 115-km ride is punctuated by the 21 turns of the climb to Alpe d’huez – the cornerstone of the event – a route that has garnered immense fame in the Tour de France. The landscape on this part of the Ecrins Mountains is breathtaking, should you be able to notice it amongst a thumping heart rate and the sweat of a French summer. “The bike is basically three big climbs with fast descents in between them,” says Cunnama. “You climb the Col du Grand Serre, about 12-km long, then drop into a valley and climb the valley to the Col d’ornon, a long draggy 25-km climb, then drop quickly to the base of Alpe D’huez, which is famous for being steep and long. Climbing Alpe d’huez after 100 km of hard riding punishes you.”
On the run, patience and courage are required for the hilly 22-km course, which goes over a mixture of asphalt roads and mountain paths. Cunnama adds, “Then you run at 1,800 m elevation, which makes any run tough, but especially so after that bike. The run is not easy itself, with plenty of climbing involved.”
Add to this the unique flavour of the French fans and you have a truly wonderful sporting spectacle. “The French love triathlon,” explains Cunnama, “and bike racing of course. Combine an iconic climb in the world of cycling with a triathlon and it is amazing. There is lots of support all over the course. The race organization is excellent too. Cyrille Neuveu (race director) and his team do a great job.”
In fact, the English/french race website offers detailed advice from Neuveu for each discipline in each of the distances. As an example, for the long course bike leg, Neuveu writes, “The first six bends up to La Garde (toward the summit of Alpe D’huez) are awful – the