For quite a few years a group of us have been taking on somewhat 'out there' challenges for charity. They are usually Royal Mail-themed due to the majority of us being postmen and women. From carrying the mail barrows to each of the 3 peaks (Snowdon, Ben Nevis and Scafell Pike) to cycling various distances on the 3-speed Pashley post bikes, we have almost exhausted every sensible idea.
With that in mind, this year we decided to push the boundaries - surely we're the first to conquer Alp d'Huez on 25kg bicycles built for delivering post? The idea had been put forward and without a lot of thought, four of us had the “you only live once” moment and agreed that this was the event for the year.
I think between us we all had doubts about the suitability of the bikes and whether our legs would be able to turn the smallest of the 3 internal hub gears up the unforgiving gradient of Alp d'Huez. However, we all kept our doubts to ourselves in fear of being the party pooper of the group. Fundraising started slowly but as the trip approached and we began to post pictures of our bikes deconstructed to fit onto the roof of the car, people saw that we were both serious and stupid meaning support poured in.
Our journey to the Alps in Southern France was a lot more enjoyable as every email notification was another GoFundMe message of generosity and encouragement. The last 12 kilometres to our hotel, however, sent us all cold and silent as we climbed what lay ahead of us the following day. From the car, we witnessed a climb which never seemed to let off and with every hairpin seemed instantly steeper as you exited the turn in the road. Winding up the mountain to the ski lodge at the top we slowly broke our collective silence about our lack of faith in the bikes and our legs. A quick pint and a pizza were probably not Geraint Thomas's recipe for success but these five days were before his victory so we knew who not to email for advice.
Thanks to the timing of our trip coinciding with the Tour de France (albeit missing the stage by a week), we were delighted to see fans in mobile homes readily plotted well in advance to secure prime viewing as the pros struggled on one of the race's most infamous summit finishes. As we rolled down the mountain the following morning - breaks firmly gripped throughout - we were greeted with looks of bafflement and amusement from Dutch, Belgian and other cycling enthusiasts alike. Being passed by slender Frenchmen on life savings' worth of carbon fibre gave us no confidence as we continued down to the start for what seemed like an eternity.
Gathered at the bottom at around 9 in the morning, the sun was already making itself known and we quickly decided to crack on before we got too comfortable. All the nerves and doubts were there right up to around the second hairpin out of twenty one. I settled into a rhythm and realised quite early that the bike's gearing was fantastically suited and that despite its continuous climbing with no flattening at any point, the smallest gear in which I stayed for its entirety was up to the challenge. The climb in places reached 12% gradient and didn't dip under 8% from start to finish, however knowing that the bike was up to the challenge I had the comfort of knowing it was all down to our fitness. We have all competed in multiple triathlons ranging from sprint distance to Ironman, meaning that the base fitness was there but had we worked hard enough? And how was our hill climbing?
Around 8km up we hit what is known as Dutch corner where mobs of Tour De France fans swarm the riders in their patriotic orange garments. Despite the pros not arriving for another week, camper vans were already parked and music was pumping from a tangerine gazebo. This was our only break to quickly regroup, refill our drink bottles, and take an energy gel. The last push was noticeably hotter as altitude meant less tree shade and long drags of raising tarmac lay ahead.
As we hit the summit, the winter ski resort became a Lycra-clad paradise with cafes and cycling boutiques. Fortunately, the bars remain bars and we re-hydrated alongside a French Harley Davidson festival. Ideas for our next challenge have already been bounced around but we are always open to input.