Canadian pro triathlete and TMC contributor Brooke Brown recently raced Triathlon EDF Alpe D’Huez, where she placed 9h in the elite field. Here she recaps her experience at this unique, Europeans destination race.
Renowned for the Tour de France, Alpe d’Huez is a hotspot for endurance athletes. The summit of this epic climb is at 1860 m above sea level and boasts 21 switchbacks spread over 14 km. Triathlon EDF Alpe d’Huez takes this challenge even further.
The Triathlon EDF Alpe D’Huez is a weeklong festivity with a duathlon, long course and Olympic distance race as well as an event for kids. The big-ticket show is on Thursday where some thousand of athletes tackle a 2.2 km swim, a 120 km bike and 22 km run.
This year was the 11th anniversary of the race and a second consecutive year that Dare2Tri has been a sponsor of the event. It wasn’t until last minute that I decided to enter the long distance race. Two weeks ago, after racing the full distance Triathlon Vitoria-Gasteiz, I felt my energy levels returning to normal and thought, “Why not?”
Without any serious race plans until the end of August, I thought it was a perfect time do this bucket-list triathlon. Typically as a professional athlete hoping to qualify for Kona, your calendar year is prioritized by Ironman-labeled races leaving little time for non-branded races. Sadly, this pigeons athletes and limits exposure to other quality international events that similarly have an attractive prize purses and demanding race profiles. I wanted to use this race to build my fitness and strength on the bike. I had heard so many great things about the event, location and organization. I wanted to experience it firsthand.
We arrived in Alpe d’Huez on Sunday. As we made our way to the top, I stared in trepidation up and down the mountain. For a girl from Windsor, On this was quite a sight. At that moment, I asked myself what was I thinking when I signed up for this. Alpe d’Huez was only the icing on the cake, there were two other mountain ranges I needed to attack first.
I used the race week to train at altitude and follow my normal routine. The car ride up the mountain was more daunting than actually riding it. The funny part of my training week was that since we stayed at the top of the mountain every ride started with a long descent and ended with a serious climb.
This point to point race started at beautiful Lac du Verney. It was a real privilege to swim in the crystal waters of this lake as it is exclusively open for the triathlon. The race was a mass start. Not being so confident in my swimming, I positioned myself some 20 meters or so back from the start so that I wouldn’t get clobbered… that was inevitable with so many swimmers. However, the crowds dispersed after the first buoy and I made my rounds around the swim course — two loops. As I got out of the water, I heard that I was less than two minutes down from the leaders which gave me a confidence boost. My coach and I have been working hard the last few months to improve my swimming and are seeing small gains.
The first part of the bike leg was a rather flat and fast section. Already there several elite girls passed by me. Leading into climb one of three, Alpe du Grand Serre (1375 m), my hamstrings and adductors were causing me so much pain from the new bike position that I could barely peddle. Somewhere in between kilometre 40 and 80 my muscles went numb allowing me to push the peddle a little bit more. Fortunately, I didn’t get passed by any other women, but I knew that I had lost considerable and unrecoverable time. After four hours, I was finally onto the last stage Alpe d’Huez. At this point, I felt comfortable on the last climb despite a bent derailleur and skipping gears. I found peace in the clacking of the chain as it bounced between gears and forged on.
The best feeling of the day was getting off that bike. At the top of Alpe d’Huez, I racked my bike in T2 and headed out on the course. Considering all the pain I had on the bike, my legs felt happy running although there was no gusto left in them. Perhaps it was the 3000+m climb, riding on a borrowed bike, running at altitude or likely a combination of all three. My goal was just to get through the 22 km run and hold my place. The run course traced the roads and mountain passes that crossed through the ski resort. Keeping sight on the finish line, I managed to pass a girl on the last lap, to snag a 9th place finish.
Overall I was very happy with my office day in the mountains. I came out with more fitness, confidence and some cash too! With a finish time of 7:35:26 this race resembles more of a full distance race than a half for sure. I have the satisfaction of completion and a baseline for next year.
Alpe d’Huez truly is a destination for the entire family. It is a perfect summer retreat with plenty of outdoor activities for everyone. Sunshine, fresh mountain air, an outdoor pool in the Alpes makes for lots of fun for triathletes and spectators alike.