How I Taught Stage 18 up Alpe d’Huez (twice) this Morning

This morning was my first day back to my class after a three-week hiatus for my trip to the Tour de France. In honor of our climb up Alpe d’Huez, I decided to teach Tom Scotto’s profile for Stage 18 from the ICA Tour de France package. It was, in a word, amazing! I used his exact playlist, which worked perfectly with the drama depicted in the profile, as well as with his powerful coaching. As is sometimes the case with my own playlists, there are some songs that I probably wouldn’t choose to listen to while cooking dinner or driving my car, but they match the message of the profile as if it was an epic movie soundtrack. Now that is a playlist that elevates the excitement of a profile, and this one does not disappoint!

Tom calls the profile “Two the Pain,” a play on words from the movie The Princess Bride, but also describing the fact that this monster climb is being done twice in the same stage, the first time in the history of the Tour de France.

If you want that profile (along with six other very detailed stage profiles, plus a 90-minute video on how to create a TDF program and profiles, a 48-page e-book, and much more) you’ll have to purchase the ICA Tour de France package. But, I’m going to give you some additional suggestions for teaching this profile based on the actual way the stage played out. While it’s a perfect addition to Tom’s coaching, you don’t need the TDF package; you can just add this to your own profile of stage 18.

First, a little background from my experience at this stage at the Tour de France two weeks ago. Joni and I had gotten separated from the others in my group. We were in the village of Alpe d’Huez on the wrong side of the street when they closed it off completely to traffic; there was no way to cross the street and we were stuck on the uphill side. Unfortunately that meant we could not go through the lower side of the town to meet up with our friends, so we watched the first pass of the stage from the middle of the village. American Teejay Van Garderen and Frenchman Christophe Riblon were the first to come through, but they still had a steep dangerous descent followed by another climb up these 21 switchbacks.

After that pass, since we weren’t allowed on the main road by all the cops and the metal barriers, we rode our bikes through hotel and apartment parking lots and hiked with our bikes down some hiking trails about a mile to switchback #1, overlooking what they call “Norway corner” because of all the Norwegians who congregate there.

Teejay up ADH 2013

From here we had a perfect view of riders as they ascended from the switchback below and could see them coming for a while. It was here that we saw Teejay come flying up, about 20 seconds ahead of Riblon. That’s him in the photo above. He still had 3 km left, but we were sure he was going to win. Apparently it was not the case, as just out of our sight, Riblon flew past him for the win.

I later read how the stage actually played out, and used that as I coached my class this morning. Here are some cues you can use to describe this stage if you are doing two ascents up Alpe d’Huez and want to describe the stage as it happened. This is best done in conjunction with Tom’s great cues and playlist for Two the Pain, but that is up to you.

Warm-up and intro

I don’t know if you watched the Tour, but this stage 18 was one of the more exciting stages of this year’s Tour. We are going to re-enact what actually happened on that day. We’ll go back and forth from the front group to the peloton and see what is happening. Occasionally we’ll check in with the autobus, because we know they are suffering as much as, or perhaps even more than, the leaders.

Up to this point, Team Sky has led a perfect race, with a seven-man formation at the front of the peloton protecting their yellow jersey and maintaining a high tempo. They aren’t too concerned about the nine-man breakaway that has about 7 minutes on the peloton. In that breakaway are a few riders of note, though not too high in the GC. They include Teejay Vangarderen (American from BMC Racing), Jens Voigt (German on Team Radio Shack), Christophe Riblon (French, AgR2-La Mondiale), Sylvan Chavanel (Omega Pharma-Quick Step), Moreno Moser (Canondale), and Tom Danielson (American, Garmin-Sharp), among others.

Ascent of the Alpe #1

Once on the Alpe, at the steepest part of the climb, Van Garderen and Riblon both attack and break away. The American keeps up the pressure and soon drops the Frenchman. (Have your class mimic the extra effort required to drop another rider by digging in deep for several minutes.)

Back at the head of the peloton, the pace set by Team Sky sheds rider after rider. This shows the importance of teammates as they turn themselves inside out for their leader. But 23-year-old Colombian Nairo Quintana sticks to the yellow jersey’s wheel, and won’t let go.

The original breakaway begins to fall apart as riders are spread out over the Alpe. But Moser pushes onward and catches Riblon, and the two of them step up the pace to catch Van Garderen, just before the first summit.

Remember that autobus? They will summit the Alpe this first time about 15 minutes back (and almost 20 minutes back on the second ascent). But there is safety in numbers. All the sprinters (well, most of them–usually Sagan in the green jersey is ahead of the other sprinters even on mountain stages) tend to congregate in a big bunch at the rear of alpine stages. Other riders who might be injured, sick, or especially worn out will also join this group. They are not likely to be disqualified as a large group, but if they get dropped and come in behind the autobus, well, then they might be DQ’d.

Short descent followed by Col de Sarenne

On the narrow road up the Sarenne, Van Garderen finds more and pulls away, Riblon goes with him. They drop Moser. They know they’ve got a long, steep, and dangerous descent ahead of them. A few minutes back is a group of four riders, the last remnants of the original breakaway, seeking to chase the lead group down.

Checking back with the group maillot jaune, Froome still has three teammates to protect him. They are keeping the pace high as they climb the Sarenne. Quintana, a name you must remember in the future, has a Movistar teammate with him now, as he plans not to let Froome out of his sight.

The descent

The descent down the eastern portion of the Col de Sarenne, which has never been used at the TDF before, is narrow, twisty, and poorly maintained. I would have thought that it would have been repaved prior to the Tour coming through, but that was not to be. The riders have feared this descent for a number of days leading up to this stage. Chris Froome even asked TDF organizers to neutralize this portion of the race if it rained. That request garnered some nasty comments from retired riders such as Bjarne Riis, who implied that today’s racers were wimps and should learn to ride like real bike racers.

Imagine you are descending here. Yes, you get a little recovery, but your brain has to be at 100%. You cannot get distracted. One false move, overshooting a turn, and you could go flying hundreds of feet over the edge! Riblon is the only rider that has a little scare as he overshoots a turn but only goes into a grassy rut, fortunately. He’s quickly back on the road.

Van Garderen has a mechanical and his chain gets stuck. What horrible luck! He loses some precious time. Contador and his teammate attack the yellow jersey on the descent, a very hairy thing to do, especially since it’s started raining lightly. Their drastic efforts are for naught as they get caught by the maillot jaune group near the bottom, where Contador also has a mechanical. Bad luck for Alberto today!

(You can have a short song devoted to the flat road back to the next ascent of AdH if you want.)

Ascent of the Alpe #2

Oh, have we got a race for you today, folks! At the base of the Alpe, Van Garderen has dropped Riblon and is all alone, and Jens Voigt (be still my beating heart!) has overtaken Moser for third position on the climb. Froome attacks at the bottom, along with his lieutenant Richie Porte, but just like fly to flypaper, Quintana continues to stick to Froome. They are just over 4 minutes behind the American Van Garderen. What will happen? Can they make up the time?

Quintana every now and then digs in to try to pull away, but is answered by Froome. (This is a fun game you can play with your students of attacks and counterattacks.) They are soon joined by Rodriguez, who joins in on the attacks. What a chess match this has become!

Uh oh…trouble in paradise. Froome doesn’t look good. He gestures to Porte, and raises his hand for his team car. Quintana and Rodriguez take advantage of this and attack! But Froome can’t respond. Guess what’s happening? He’s bonking! Porte had to get him some gels to help him get through (and they are both later “fined” 20 seconds for taking sustenance from their team car this close to the finish).

Porte leads Froome past Norway corner

(Photo: Richie Porte of Team Sky leads yellow jersey Chris Froome past the Norweigian Corner on turn #1 of the final ascent of Alpe d’Huez)

Up ahead, Teejay digs in deeper; he’s only 4 km from glory. He’s having the ride of his life! Will he make it before one of the eager hound dogs baying behind him catch him?

Riblon has gotten a second (or third or tenth or twentieth) wind, and is picking up speed. He’s only 20 seconds behind the American now… He matches him pedal stroke for pedal stroke, gaining inch by inch. Teejay smells him behind him and stands up and goes for it. He can’t give up now! Understandably, the French are cheering for Riblon, “ALLEZ!! ALLEZ!!”

Two km to the finish line, just over one more mile. Teejay, can you do it?? Christophe Riblon sees his chance and pulls alongside the American, only to attack and pull away; the exhilaration of what this means must have fired him up. He is about to win on Alpe d’Huez…that is, if he can hold on for 2 more km. Riblon gives it everything he’s got, and Teejay Van Garderen just cannot answer. He must resign himself to second place after all the hard work he’s done today…that is, if he can even hold on to second! Keep pushing, Teejay–you can do it!

Not far behind him Quintana bolts past Rodriguez and takes third. He’s cementing his grip on the white jersey for the best young rider.

A few minutes back, Porte leads Froome across the finish line. His closest rival, Alberto Contador, suffers even more than he did and Froome gains another minute, for a comfortable lead of more than 5 minutes.

What a day on the Alpe d’Huez!

As we are cooling down, and getting interviewed by the press for our amazing performances, the autobus limps its way across the finish line. Their day will come on the Champs Elysées in Paris a few days away, the next true sprinters’ stage.




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