The Alpe D’Huez a Tour De France Mountain even Professionals fear! On the France/Switzerland border, Its about 650 miles cycling from London.
“Just keep going, Huez is waiting. Just keep going, Huez is waiting” I repeated again and again as I pushed my legs through every turn of the pedals. With so much going wrong, I had come up against the toughest ride I’d ever done.
It all started one day on Twitter when I won a competition for some goodies from a company named “Huez” (www.huez.co.uk) they sent me a water bottle, some stickers and a bag; I was over the moon as I never win anything in competitions. I used the bottle for the gym and stickers on my bike as the logo was very cool.
A few weeks later I was out riding with a friend of mine who is a very experienced cyclist and he said “Robbie mate, you have never been to the mountain, what’s with the stickers?”. Slightly embarrassedly I said “Hey I have plans to go haha”, we laughed it off and from then on, whenever I looked at the sticker on my bike I knew I was going to have to do it. So I started to make a plan.
The first step was to contact the people at Huez, so I sent them an email saying that I was planning a ride from London to Alpe D’Huez, solo and unsupported. They got back to me very quickly saying they loved the idea and offered to help me with the adventure. Lorenzo and Josh were the guys I was dealing with. I speak to a lot of people in the cycling world but these were cyclists through and through. They had a hashtag of #MAKEYOURESCAPE. This mean’t alot to me on many levels as my cycling is about making an escape from normal life. It was October when were were talking and after looking at the long range forecast I said I’d quite happily go in a couple of weeks; looking back winter wasn’t the best time to go but the forecast was good. I had three weeks to get ready.
I trained hard most nights in the gym, the darkness falls early so I couldn’t get out on the bike much. The weekends were always just cycling and preparation. Then eventually the big day was tomorrow. Going solo and unsupported means you travel as lightly as possible….Here is my basic kit list. I packed and downloaded loads of new music for the long road ahead.
The day had come. I wished my Mum goodbye, she had helped so much in the planning and preparation. I felt quite worried about the adventure but there’s always a nervous moment when you leave for a big trip. I jumped on the train down to the ‘Huez’ pop up stall in central London where my adventure was to begin. After meeting Lorenzo and Josh they kitted me up ready for the adventure in what I can only describe as “The best gear I’ve ever had”. I’m not saying this because I wear it, I’m saying it because it saved me from hypothermia. So after a chat and some lunch, off I began the ride to the night Ferry at Portsmouth.
The First Ride was tough, London to Portsmouth! I had about 80 Miles to cover and 50 of them would be in the dark covering the South Downs (very hilly terrain south of London). It was a fast ride even with the wind against me, but I did have to work very hard with the extra weight of the kit. I remember stressing because I’m not a good night rider; it wasn’t until I had a couple hours under my belt that I felt comfortable and really appreciated how peaceful it was. That was short lived as while I was speeding down a hill a massive rat ran into my path and unable to avoid it, I sliced its head off with my front tyre.! I spent the rest of the day feeling guilty about it.
The second day I woke up feeling not very well rested after the night ferry to Caen. It took me a while to warm up but my sense of freedom was there and was getting very excited about the road ahead. About 30 miles into it I’m listening to my music powering on, then before I know it I’m lying on the floor grasping my leg. A car had flown past, clipped my bar and knocked me straight off the road. I lay there in shock and the driver just carried on. I pulled myself together, checked the bike and walked to the closest town which luckily I was on the border of. After booking into a hotel I had a sobering moment wondering if I would be able to carry on. I thought I’d get a good night’s sleep and see what the next day would bring.
I woke up with some bad pains in my right leg and arm. Feeling very unmotivated I got my phone out and just lay there. After posting on Twitter and Facebook about the accident the night before, I had so many lovely messages from people. I pulled myself together, grabbed my bike and then gave it my all. It was pretty painful but as I carried on, I loosened up and made 62 miles that day. I was a day behind but I’m just glad it didn’t finish my trip there and then.
The next day came fast and although still feeling very fragile and having quite the ride ahead I cracked on! I knew there was a storm approaching in the afternoon. The ride was good, I was really enjoying the small French towns and the freedom of not having to worry about work or life in general. I kept ending up on dual carriageways. You will find in Europe that there is always provision for cycling, so after much navigation I found my way round them. After just past 102 miles I checked in at my next hotel. The storm was very bad that night and didn’t ease off the next day, with my leg feeling like it was about to give, I took a day out to avoid the 50 mph winds outside. Now I was two days behind and said to myself “What else can seriously go wrong?” This was a question I shouldn’t have asked.
With the storm out of the way I made like a bullet the next day; 20 mph+ winds with me and feeling like a beast on the bike, ggggrrrrr!. I flew across France and ended up taking 3 Strava KOMS on my travels! I was getting stronger by the day but was it enough?
When I first looked at the weather before the trip, the lowest temperature prediction was 5 degrees. This changed very quickly. The storm had brought a very sudden chill with it and the temperatures had all dropped by about 10 degrees in some kind of flash freeze. Fortunately, the Huez clothes I had been provided compensated and they were amazing. It was on this day that I saw a very big shortcut over a mountain pass which would slice as much mileage off as possible, so I took it. It was bad terrain, very hilly and the higher I climbed, the colder and harder it became to ride. There was a very strange peaceful feeling in the mountains and I will never forget a deer running along side me as I was riding, it was so beautiful. About 104 miles later I had reached Lyon.
Something felt very wrong when I woke up the next morning, I was so demotivated and felt really upset. You burn so many calories just staying warm and cycling it has a very bad mental effect after a while. The delay meant I had to email my boss and ask for an extension of my holiday but she was great about it. That day I had to get to Grenoble so I pressed on. I had puncture after puncture and it just put me over the edge!. I put the bike down and starting hitting a sign, I cried wishing I had never even started the trip. I was planning to find a train station ,scratch and go home. I was out of spares so I stopped at a Decathlon. After picking up what I needed, two of the mechanics got talking to me, I told them the story and what had happened. They bought me lunch and convinced me to carry on. In life sometimes the right people are in the right place and I think they saved my adventure. With high spirits I arrived in Grenoble, I knew Huez was mine the next day!
Up to now after suffering with the accident, the storm and the sub zero temperatures, I was ready to put this adventure to bed. I got up nice and early, put on some motivational music and warmed up ready for one of the toughest rides I was going to have. I left my luggage at the hotel and set off to face the beast! I’m not a climber, I live in Norfolk in the UK where there are no hills. I needed every edge I could get. It was very cold and I was looking at 0 Degrees on the run up the mountain and -8 Degrees at the top. The Huez gear was really proving itself, I was only in a T Shirt, Jersey, leg warmers, shorts and a storm Jacket and was taking these low temperatures very well.
I spent the 25 mile run up to the mountain thinking about my family and friends and how excited I would be to tell them my tale. It was hard work and I felt like I was climbing all the way up to the mountain. I didn’t mind as I knew I’d have to make my way back down the same route. As I hit the base I was very nervous and cold but there was a sign that said La Ferriere, I’m Robbie Ferri, it felt like I was meant to be there!
21 bends named after famous Tour de France riders. I started on the assent, It was some really hard work but it kept me very warm. As you climb there is an amazing feeling about the mountain’s rich history which has you thinking of the ‘greats’. Its like the ghosts of past legend riders pushing you to the top. After about bend 12, I felt the work get harder, I looked down and saw my tyre was quite flat, it wasn’t hitting metal and I was going so slow so I thought I’d carry on to the top, I was not willing to stop in the cold to fix it. I was hitting energy bars like there was no tomorrow, to wash them down I went to go for my water and to my surprise it had frozen!. I was out of water due to the temperature being so low. Why didn’t I think of this?!? As the bends slowly counted down I was seeing more and more snow, it was getting colder and colder. I passed Huez Village but wasn’t ready to stop, to the Alpe I go! The altitude was low, I kept getting a stitch, but by changing positions it seemed to stop the pain. I came to the last straight and my bike was slipping on ice and snow but I was there!. As I entered the village a local pulled me aside and said, “What are you doing? nobody cycles here in November?” I told him my story and he took off his hat off and said,”Well done Sir”.
As I stood at the top I didn’t feel happy or sad, I felt fulfilled. I couldn’t believe what I had been through. As I looked at the beauty of the mountains I was amazed. I wasn’t screaming or cheering, just staring. In life you get out what you put in and for this single moment the whole trip had been worth it. Its hard to describe in words, it was a moment that changed me as a person.
It took me 30 hours to get home, on my way I stopped back at the Huez pop up stand. Lorenzo had a bottle of champagne and I told him and Josh about everything that had happened. It was amazing to go back after 9 days and have so many memories. Would I do it again they asked? Yes, but not in November!
After this experience, if there is any advice I can give you, follow your dreams, nothing good in life comes easy. There will be times when you want to give up but dig deep, it will be worth it.