By Jen See
The Alpe d'Huez appears twice in this year's Tour de France, twice on the very same day. The first time up, the riders continue past the traditional finish line to climb the Col de Sarenne. The second time, it's regular style. It's a veritable gluttony of Alpe d'Huez.
It would be easy to feel like we know everything there is to know about the Alpe d'Huez. The climb is after all something of a fixture at the Tour de France with 27 appearances and counting.
Left to its own devices, familiarity can breed contempt. And here at Paved, we feel contempt should be reserved for such things as four-ounce espressos and bad hair. We're not about to leave you to your own devices. That seems dangerous in so many ways.
Instead, after a long, arduous process involving countless go-betweens and lackeys, we have secured an interview with the elusive Alpe d'Huez. There was a lengthy negotiation about ground rules and seriously, you guys, you should see some of the requirements. I'm just going to say green M&M's and leave the rest to your imaginations.
But we did it. We sat down and we asked the hard questions. Here is the result: The exclusive Paved interview with the Alpe d'Huez.
Paved: Let's get some basics out of the way first. Tell us about your elevation. How many switchbacks are there?
The Alpe: Is this kindergarten? There are 21 switchbacks. Everyone knows that. The Tour finish line is at 1850 meters.
Paved: How much farther is it to the top of the Col de Sarenne?
The Alpe: You're really wasting my time with that? You "journalists" are all the same. Lazy. You've heard of Google, haven't you? American company, owns the entire internet, knows the answers to everything? Here, watch: C-o-l-d-e-S-a-r-e-n-n-e. You seen these iPhone things? They're pretty cool.
Oh look, here it is. The Col de Sarenne, it summits at 1999. That's meters, obviously. None of that American inches and feet stupidity. It's just over 7 kilometers from the usual Tour finish.
Paved: [Yes, we have an iPhone. Also, we know how to use Google. But now doesn't seem to be exactly the right time to mention it. Moving on…]
How do you compare to some of the other climbs around France?
Alpe: Other climbs? Pah, there are no other climbs. I'm the only one that matters. I let you come here, ask me questions, and you want to talk about other climbs? You seemed like you knew what the hell you were doing. Apparently, I was wrong.
Paved: Do you have any favorites among the riders who've won on your mighty slopes? [Flattery seems like a good tactic here. And more green M&M's.]
The Alpe: Bike racers, they're all the same, cocky bastards all of them. There was that one guy, one of yours. He came from one of those states in the middle. You have way too many states, how am I supposed to keep track of them all?
Anyway, he was blonde, looked like he belonged on a beach somewhere. Was that his real hair? I always wondered. It looked like wig.
Paved: You mean Andy Hampsten? He's from North Dakota. We're pretty sure that's his real hair, yes. I mean, we've never asked him, but…
The Alpe: Well, you should. You are journalists, right? It's your job to ask questions.
Yeah, that's the guy. Everyone always talks about how he rode up some Italian mountain in the snow. What's so big about that? Nobody cares about Italy. Real men win here. That Hampsten guy was okay. The rest of them, forget about it.
Paved: So we shouldn't ask you about Lance Armstrong? [We're pretty sure we shouldn't, but this can't get any worse now, can it?]
The Alpe: That guy. Mr. High Cadence, climbing is easy, everyone should spin like me. Climbing isn't supposed to be easy! Then he had to go and get caught for doping. Well, duh. I could have told you that. Geez, you humans are stupid sometimes.
Then they came out here and they decided to take down the sign in the switchback with his name on it. You know, like none of it ever happened. And they left a big gaping hole where the sign was! They didn't even fill it in! No respect. At least fill in the hole!
Paved: It's a nice tradition, though, naming the switchbacks after the Tour stage winners.
The Alpe: Sappy sentimental crap.
Paved: [Okay, it's a stupid tradition! We surrender! Time for a softball. We are so not killing this.] How do you feel about this year's Tour visiting you twice in one day?
The Alpe: Well, it's about time they recognized my genius. Why bother going anywhere else? But honestly it's all such a chore. All those people, drinking and pissing all over the place. And then there's all the couples rustling around in the bushes doing who knows what all. And sometimes there's three of them! People are such a mess. The cars and the horns honking all day, it all just gives me a headache. It'd be okay if they could be a bit more quiet about it.
Paved: Do you —
The Alpe: And don't get me started with all those amateurs who want to pretend they're in the Tour and come try to ride, too. I mean, when they go to the basketball games, do they take their basketball? No, of course they don't. And they all look so stupid throwing their hands up, pretending they won at the top. Do they know I'm laughing at them? Tell me you wouldn't do any of that nonsense.
Paved: We aren't much for nonsense, honestly. Also, climbing is hard, so we try to avoid it at all costs. What did you do before the Tour de France discovered you in 1952?
The Alpe: Ah, Coppi. Now there was a beautiful man. Those legs! So long and slender! And that hair! Always so perfectly done… What were we talking about again?
Paved: What did you do before Fausto Coppi scaled your great heights? Did you play open mic night at the coffee shop or anything? [More flattery, but it's probably too late to help now.]
The Alpe: I lived a peaceful life in the country. Occasionally, I herded sheep or did odd jobs to earn some extra cash. A country boy needs his beers, you know. It was all so blissful. Then along came the Tour to cut up my peace.
Paved: What's your favorite kind of beer? [This feels like a safe question. What could possibly go wrong with asking about beer?]
The Alpe: That stuff those monks in Belgium make is pretty good. I always like that. I don't get out much these days, though. Too busy. It's not just the Tour. There's the skiing in the winter and the mountain bikes. Those guys, they're the crazy ones. Just straight down they go. They don't even need the road. Amazing.
Paved: So you're a fan of mountain biking.
The Alpe: It's okay, I guess.
Paved: Last question. Do you have an iPod? What's your favorite song on it right now?
The Alpe: Of course I have an iPod. Doesn't everyone? I'm really into that band Journey right now. You know their song… Some will win, some will lose, some were born to sing the blues —
Paved: Uh, yes. We know that song.
The Alpe: I'm really digging that right now. It's a great song. I play it really loud and sing along. Don't stop belieeevvvinnngg. I think I'm pretty good. Want to hear it?
Paved: Uh, thanks, but really, we should be going. Thanks for all your time. You can keep the M&M's, too.
The Alpe: Are you sure?
Paved: We're trying to cut back.
The Alpe: Well, come back and visit again sometime. You're not bad for a bunch of journos. Bring more beer next time, though. I get thirsty.
Paved: Okay, will do. See you again soon. [Not in this lifetime. But sometimes you have to lie in this line of work. You know how it is.]