Alp D’Huez is a bucket list triathlon to be sure. I arrived in Alp D’Huez the day before the race and picked up my rental bike. The biggest thing about the event is the spectacular scenery.
Race morning started with setting up my run kit in T2, before riding (mostly descend) for 35mins to the swim start to setup T1. The ride was helpful to get more comfortable with the rental bike, and I also made a friend from Poland named Daniel 😉
I got setup and met my family before the race start. It was then time to hop into the freezing water for the mass start. My head hurt as I swam out into the fjord. Thankfully it adjusted and I waited on the rocks till 2mins before, then swam to the start line, and slotted in 2nd row a bit to the side.
The start wasn’t as frantic as I expected. I found myself with some space, but slowly moving backwards as I didn’t have any good drafting options and I didn’t want to go into the red. I considered moving into the fray, but decided to just keep it consistent and focus on my best form.
At certain points I’d have some people bump into me, and getting splashed as I breathed but the water tasted.. like water! It was nice actually. And I didn’t panic when I drank it. The swim seemed long, but it’s just me being slow and my gps being generous. Swim time 37:34.
Into T1 and I decided to put on socks as the ride was going to be a long one. I ran out of T1 in 3:09.
On the bike and we had a tiny hill, before riding along the dam and then following the valley for 25km through the Alps. It was beautiful and fast! Averaging close to 45-50km/h at moderate effort. The first climb was a big one.
Riding up for some reason I thought it was only 7km, but speaking with a Belgium dude he informed me I had about 8km to go (this was after almost 7km of climbing). Ah, so this was going to be a solid hour of climbing.
The descent was technical and fun. An American commented that he didn’t realize Aussies could descend so well… somewhat ironic considering what happened later. We hit another valley and things were really spread out. At times I found myself totally alone on the road. It was false flat, I felt tired, slow and lacking rhythm. Someone passed me and then I had something to focus on. It didn’t seem quite as hard. The gap grew to 30-40m and then would shrink and I’d pass before being passed back and the gap blowing out. This went on for about 5km.
We then hit the final few km of this climb and started catching others who 90km in seemed to be blowing up. I felt decent for 3hrs in but was being conservative as I knew the Alp D’Huez climb was going to be hard. I’d been fueling well (~100g carb an hr).
Over the top and the descent was technical. It was enjoyable, but I was with some guys and I worried about them holding their lines etc. I then made a foolish decision and passed on a straight section.
It was nice now being able to pick and choose my line and braking. However, about 2mins later, after another fast section I saw red padding on a corner ahead. I couldn’t see the exit of the corner and I started to brake hard. Too hard and I locked up.
I adjusted the brake pressure and started to turn, locking and drifting. I considered leaning the bike but lacked confidence on the rental. The lock-up/drift happened 2 more times before I ran out of road space.
I clipped the guard rail and my handlebars caught on the H struts behind the rail which held it in place. As a consequence, I did my best Superman impression and flew over the rail (hitting it hard with my leg) into the scrub. My thoughts were hope I don’t hit a tree, or end up too far down the cliff side.
I was a bit shaken, I glanced at my leg and saw a deep cut, which was stark white before slowly turning a crimson red. I wasn’t entirely sure what I should do. People kept asking me as they rode past, am I ok? Was I ok? I climbed back over the guard rail and checked the bike. It seemed okay for the most part. Wheels still spun and brakes worked. I decided to hop back on see if I could still finish.
I descended further, overtaking a few people while rolling down… what was I thinking? I wasn’t, was the answer. I was just focused on continuing. My mind thought maybe I can still run. Yes, I can still run.. I just need to get to T2 and all will be alright.
I hit the short flat section before the formidable climb up Alp D’Huez and had to pedal. Both legs started to cramp, I had to stop and jump off the bike. All thoughts of running well evaporated instantly. My quad was burning where the cut was and I prayed my quad wouldn’t cramp, as it hurt enough already. After a couple of minutes, I forced myself to get back on the bike. Waiting by the roadside wasn’t helping me get to my goal. Just get to T2 and see medical. The cramping in my legs eased as I spun tentatively down the road. I looked up and then had to look even further up to see the top of Alp D’Huez. It was intimidating, I wasn’t sure if it was possible to ride up in my shape.
I tried to shift my big ring to the inside and noticed the shifter had been snapped off during the crash. Oh man, just what I needed… It hurt immensely to pedal sitting down, so I stood up. Just get to the U-turn, and then we’ll see.
I’ve virtually ridden Alp D’Huez many times in training, and typically it’s a solid 4-5min hard effort to turn 21. So mentally I knew I just had to suffer for <10mins and I’d get there. When the pitch dropped on the hairpin I could sit, and then it was back to standing to shoot for turn 20. One turn at a time is all I focused on. I got to turn 15-16 and had a good view of back down the valley. 2 things occurred to me: 1) The hardest part was done 2) I was pretty high up already, I can do this!
By this stage, I had a decent hematoma where my leg hit the rail, below the cut. It throbbed, actually my knee was stinging too, and my hand. Then my mind should shift back to the pain of the cut in my quad. Don’t look down, it won’t help and I can’t change it. I rode in the saddle when the gradient wasn’t too steep and stood whenever I needed more force to keep going up. It hurt a lot shifting positions, but I didn’t have a choice. I tried to flag down a medical moto as it went past, but was unsuccessful.
I celebrated the milestones: Turn 14, 1/3 of the way. Turn 11, halfway (as the bottom half is harder). Turn 10, now I’m over halfway! Turn 7, 2/3 of the way. Turn 4, I always find the number 4 or less easy to process mentally when it comes to reps. 3,2,1. I spotted my wife and began to cry. I felt immense remorse.. why did I push so hard? I don’t need to prove anything to her. I felt sorry to do this to her again. It wasn’t my intention and yet here we were again.
I rode into T2 with a bike split time of 5:18:47 and took me just under 1hr26min to ride up Alp D’Huez. Before the crash I was hoping to hit ~4:30 bike split, but was more likely on track for a 4:40.
Racking my bike volunteers tried to stop me. Just let me put my bike in the rack spot which is close, then I’ll go to medical. I racked the bike and took off my helmet, picked up and run kit and limbed to medical. They took one look at the large wound and fetch some stuff to sew it back together. For some reason, they only stitched the part of the wound which was really deep (and still bleeding >90mins after the crash). It was somewhat hard with the language barrier, but I got across the message that I wanted to attempt to complete the run. I saw my wife, and she said there was no need to do it, but I wanted to try as we’d come so far from the other side of the world. Would I ever be here again? The challenge was to finish.
I’d no idea if I could do it, or if the pain would be too much. However, after being wrapped up, I managed to slip my shoes on (yay for elastic laces!) and hobbled to the run (or should I say walk?) start. T2 time was a new record for me at 19:42.
Run (walk) Leg
Yes, I agree, I’m somewhat crazy putting myself through it for what?! I wanted to try and finish, and I also wanted to see what the course was like firsthand. The run course is 3 laps, around a 6-7km loop which is either going up or down. Very little is flat. Again I just focused on going 1km. 1 down, and then onto 2. At 2km I’m like that 10%! I focused on each 1km within a larger block of 5km. Do that 4 times and I’d be done!
Thankfully with my injury to my quad, going uphill was actually not terrible and I could jog at 6:30-7min/km pace. However, going down was terrible and hurt immensely. The hematoma was back. It crossed my mind thinking about blood clots and other complications. Was it worth putting myself through this? … It’s so hard to switch off, when you’ve been preparing mentally for some time. I couldn’t not finish, if I had the capability of doing so.
One particularly challenging section was the runway, which is a very steep downhill section of the course. Walking was hard, and one of the ‘watchers’ (volunteers roaming out on the course as both referees and helpers) suggested walking backwards. I did that I found the pain greatly reduced.
I completed the first lap and saw my wife and kids. Again it was suggested there’s no need to keep going. I was sorry, but part of me almost felt like I deserved everything I was going through. It was a complex emotional situation. However, after completing one lap I knew I could do it. Only 2 more laps.
I found myself passing people going uphill and then everyone would go past on the downhills as I walked. I met several people over the hours I spent limping around the run course. It was a different experience, as I wasn’t breathing hard in the slightest. So talking was a breeze, and I enjoyed the conversations helping pass the kms.
At the start of my final lap, my wife said the kids would meet me to complete the finish. I couldn’t think of anything better. I tried to go a little quicker, but I was going as fast as my pain tolerance would allow. I wondered if I could do it in under 3hrs…
Eventually, I saw my kids, they ran up to me and grabbed my hands. Tears filled my eyes behind my sunnies. They ran, pulling me too fast. I had to ask them to slow down, and we jogged hand in hand to the finish. The noise was immense. It was so loud I couldn’t help anything except for the thumbing on the race fences. It was an amazing experience and I was thankful to share it with my kids.
My run split was 3:00:55.. oh so close to sub 3 haha.
Total time: 9:20:09. 109th in AG or 709th OA (out of 1627).
The main wound, complete with multiple sunburn / tan lines lol.
After a solid 3.5 weeks travelling around Europe with the family, I was surprised to see what power I was still able to hold on the bike. It certainly wasn’t quite as good as usual, but I was still doing ok. Months and years of building a training base don’t just disappear. Yes, you may not be quite as fast. However, trust in your body’s abilities and just have a go.
Secondly, if you want to race a technical course you need to recon it. If you cannot recon, then you cannot race. It’s as simple as that.
Finally, reasons to never due to things in my control let this happen again.
1. I want to be a dad to my kids
2. I don’t want to be disabled
3. Making my loved ones worry
4. 30sec What does that matter in long course.. push harder if necessary where it’s safe
5. Not being able to finish on my terms
6. Bad type of pain, that lasts for weeks + emotional pain
7. Lost fitness. Takes longer to resume training.
8. Expense. Crashed bike, medical expenses, race entry, accommodation etc
9. Not as enjoyable
10. It is just a trophy
The day after the race. Going up to the top of Alp D’Huez with the family! Making the most of what I could do.