One of the most iconic cycling climbs is the Alpes d'Huez. It's not the most steep mountain, nor the longest climb, but it's perhaps the way it snakes up the mountainside with 21 numbered hairpins, or perhaps the slopes on which many Tour de France winning attacks have been made. It's not the steepest, but it's steep enough.
Thursday was the day I'd picked to make a loop in the mountains - climb Alpe d'Huez, come down the Col de Sarenne on the otters side and then back up to Les Deux Alpes. Not overly long (68 km), not significant amounts of elevation, but enough to get a full work out, before a couple of days rest and the main cycling reason I'm here: La Marmotte.
Starting at 10 am, it's an easy zip down to Bourg d'Oisans at the base of the Alpe. From there, it's history. The cliff walls, the painted encouragement on the road, the breaks of the villages. You count down the hairpins one by one. But even when you finish the hairpins, you have to get through the village to the top. It's slat, and if you have the energy you can sprint a little.
It takes pro cyclists 44 minutes or so to do the climb. Pantani did the climb in 32, but was drugged to the eyeballs. I achieved a respectable 54 minutes. But with only 20 km or so done, I still have a lot to go.
Cresting the Alpe brings you to the beautiful Col de Sarenne. A wide open top, which begins a stunning, twisting and turning descent. It's not a wide road, and so rarely used in the Tour, but it's one of the most pleasurable that I've ridden down over these past few days. Speeding through the villages of Clavans le Haut, and Clavans en Haut Oisans (where there was a water fountains I was very grateful for), brought me to the village of Mizoën, to where I'd climbed a few days before, and the beautiful church.
Of course, because I was staying at the top of Les Deux Alpes, my day was not over. Another 600 m of climbing awaited me.
After a quick rest, and some coffee, it was out again to hike to a local farm which made its own goat's cheese: La Mollière. You can hike up the Alpe further than the roads would take you, by following hiking trails, which often coincide with the downhill mountain bike trails, which dot the terrain.
The countryside was beautiful, with views over Les Deux Alpes as well as the back of L'Alpe Huez and Col de Sarenne. The hike went up, and then down the other side of the Alpe Venosc, where the farmhouse and small cheesemaker at La Mollière was situated. A plate of cheese, charcuterie, water and wine was a perfect early evening fuelling. They had just a few goats to milk, and 1000 sheep on the mountains for meat and wool. These sheep are protected by the Great Pyrenees dogs, although the previous night they lost 10 sheep to wolves - the dog was away having its vaccinations.
There are many difficulties with being a farmer and cheesemaker, and losing part of your herd to wolves, is probably not one we think of very often…