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Saturday
Jun122010

Alpe d'Huez Continues it's Legend!

Wow!  The stage to Alpe d'Huez did not disappoint!  From the gun, the race seemed like it had been transformed from the Dauphine into the Tour de France.  The speeds were incredible, as every rider was dreaming of winning on Alpe d'Huez.

We had one category 3 climb six miles into the race that blew the field apart, and before you knew it, a large group had escaped.  Team Footon had missed the break and was driving the pace so hard to bring it back that the field was stretched to the limit for the next 10 miles.

When we hit the cat 2 climb that was almost 12 miles long and only 20 miles into the race, riders were everywhere.  Some tried attacking, coming right back one after another to the field as teams that missed the break each time chased hard, only to reshuffle the deck time and time again.  Finally no one had any energy left to chase, and three groups escaped on the climb.  They were chasing each other until they finally became one large breakaway of around 20 or so riders.

Right away, Astana and RadioShack got together and started driving the pace, since there was no time for chess games if we were to have any chance of keeping the break close.  On the twisty descent, the pace was incredible, and when we hit the flat section before the HC (hors categorie – or top category) climb of the Glandon, the field was still single file.

The pace eased for only a bit at the start of the Glandon, as the guys driving the pace on the front needed a little time to recover.  But, at 12 miles and 7.2% grade, they weren't going to get much of a rest.  With 5 or 6 miles to go to the top, Alberto put his climbers to work.  I was doing almost 400 watts and at my limit, while trying to give Jani any extra draft I could by riding just a little to the side of Alberto.  With the wind changing direction with each switch back, I had to change my position behind Alberto with each turn to give Jani the best draft possible.

Over the top of the climb, Astana continued setting a crazy pace on the descent.  As we flew into one corner at 50 mph that was followed directly by a left hairpin turn, I hit the brakes hard.  The wheels locked up on me as I hit a bunch of bumps on the road.  Meanwhile, Jani was right in front me and slowing down three times faster.  I went flying past him, yelling something to the effect that this might be it for me!  But, somehow, I got the bike under control just in time to not go flying off the edge – not to mention saving the race organizers some money on a memorial plaque in my honor, with something like “Kids, Daddy loves you” on it! 

At the bottom of the climb, Paulino returned to the front, and was once again riding all out with the Astana boys.  We had only 12 miles of flat roads before we hit the legendary Alpe d'Huez.  In that time, I went to the car twice for drinks, gels, snickers, and of course Cokes for Jani, Paulino, and myself.  As we neared Alpe d'Huez, there was a little fighting in the bunch for positioning before we hit climb, but in all honesty, the Glandon had destroyed most of the legs so the fighting was pretty half-hearted.  I did one big jump on the left side of the field, and was back on Jani's wheel for the start of the climb.

Alpe d'Huez hits hard right from the bottom and gets steeper in every turn.  The heat at the bottom from the sun wasn't doing anything to make me feel any better as Astana was driving on the front with every rider they had left, trying to destroy the field and set Alberto up for the win. With only a few riders left in the group I was just about to blow up and drop off the pace.  I went up to Jani and gave him my last water bottle and told him to keep it - it would be last thing I could for him until tomorrow.

After leaving the front group in the wrong direction, I latched onto AG2R's rider, Christophe Riblon, with a QuickStep rider who didn't stick around too long.  I was on the limit to stay with Christophe, when the wind finally started blowing a little harder, allowing me to recover in his draft.  Sanchez and few others caught us from behind, and the pace went up again.

Somewhere on the climb, in one of the switchbacks, I could see Jani up the road in front of us, holding onto Contador’s wheel as he was attacking him to try to gain some time and the win, but Jani was hanging tough.  Meanwhile, Sanchez was riding on the front of our group, as close to the side of the road as possible.  We were passing within inches of every RV and spectator that was on the road – his tactic for trying to drop us all.  At times I had spectators jumping off the road as we came straight at them.

With just about 2 miles to go, we caught up to the young American, Tejay van Garderen, who is having an incredible Dauphine.  Keep your eye on this kid for future!  He had been in Contador’s group for most the climb and was just now coming off the back.  He is fighting for a podium place in the Dauphine, so I opened up a space in line for him to get out of wind.  From there to the finish, the road stair-stepped up to the summit.  Personally, I was happy to see the last corner arrive - with Jani at the finish, and yes, still in yellow!  

Tejay and Chris after the finish. Photo courtesy of Graham Watson (http://grahamwatson.com)

 

Jani and Chris at the finish. Photo courtesy of Graham Watson (http://grahamwatson.com)

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Reader Comments (39)

Great job, looking forward to your blog from the TDF

June 12, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterLarry Schellhase

Awesome!

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSuperfred

Chris,
Incredible! Ditto to all comments above. Great riding and great writing. You have my adrenaline racing reading the blog.....Don't know how you have the energy to write, but glad you do.....

Thanks

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Way to go Chris! Having a great year on your own & for the team and helping the guys from home (USA).

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermike

Congrats. Some damn classy and gritty riding from you all week. Fingers are crossed that you make the TdF squad. Go HORNER!

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterRyan

There is something about older riders doing something really nice that makes me appreciate the fact that sometimes torches are passed before they are yanked from an athlete. If cycling news is correct than Chris had WAY too much energy to think :-)

From Cyclingnews.com "On l'Alpe d'Huez on Saturday, he received the strange help of Chris Horner who rides for RadioShack as he could no longer help Brajkovic, who was up the road with Contador. The 39-year-old Californian might have been thinking of the US qualification for the World Championship via the world ranking for which the Dauphiné allocates an important number of points."

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Horner - you are one unsung hero my man. As I have followed cycling more and more over the last few years, you have definitely become one of my favorite racers. And what you did at the Dauphine on Alpe d' Huez with Tejay VG, was absolute class and deserves some massive props. Keep up the amazing year you are having and can't wait to see you at the Tour.

June 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPJohnson

3rd time trying to post. I'm probably not the only one. Chris: Your accounts of the race are simultaneaously entertaining, and invaluable. From all of us daily, harcore commuters, and messengers: You are our Hero!

June 15, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterchristian

Chris,

We had the pleasure of cheering you on from the side of the road just below the 10km to go banner on Alpe D'Huez. You gave us a big smile as you passed by. Thanks for giving Tejay a boost, him and his dad used to ride in my hometown of Bozeman, Mt.

June 22, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMike Riley

I agree with the others ,your a class act through and through . It will be guys like you who will keep cycling popular or better yet draw more people to ride and spectate. I decided to do the Dempsey challenge after seeing that your participating in it. Please don't drop us!

JackO

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