Conquête de l'Alpe d'Huez (1): Bourg D’Oisans!

Last June, for work, I had the great good fortune to go to France for the Cannes Festival of Advertising, not the film one. (It’s a big deal, too... really, ask anybody in the business).

I hadn’t been to Europe since this cycling obsession really kicked into the middle-aged-crazy stratosphere, so naturally my first thought was Exactly how far is it from Cannes to Alpe D’Huez? and How can I sneak some riding into this thing? Some timing logistics, two-thirds of my luggage taken up with cycling kit, a little AirBnB, bike rental, car rental, a rather harrowing drive from Cannes, et voilà! I was able to bracket the back end of the trip with 3 days in Bourg d’Oisans, the town at the foot of the famous climb to Alpe D’Huez.

By the time I got there it was dark (to this day I'm not exactly sure how I found it), but when I saw the place he next morning: wow.

Here’s how I would describe Bourg d’Oisans: Two Jumbo jets full of middle-aged cyclists crash into each other, mid-air, over the French Alps, and everybody dies and goes to Heaven. That’s this place.

Au Cafe Les Negotiants on a des cyclistes.
Every other shop is a bike/gear store; everything else is a pub/cafe/brasserie. There are hundreds of high-end bikes all over the place, and hundreds of gnarly, shaven-legged, too-skinny middle-aged dudes (it’s all men, really) buzzing about on their bikes in search of caloric or alcoholic intake. The insect-whirr of very expensive freewheels is everywhere. It’s awesome. (My wife would hate it. Or at least, do a lot of eye-rolling.)

If you go, I recommend Cafe Les Negotiants; lovely patio with a lots of bike parking (a very long horizonal bar, usually full, to hang your bike by the saddle), hearty food and very pleasant staff. If you are in your bike kit you will not be alone, in fact pretty much everybody else will be too, in gangs of four to eight or more, including what seems to be the Statistically Obligatory Bald Guy in every group.

Isabelle en board
Isabelle, en equipe
My Air BnB was fantastic, a farmhouse just outside the town and literally right at the foot of the Alpe climb, and as an added bonus, my wonderful hostess, Isabelle Blanc, just happened to be a gold-medal winning Olympic snowboarder (Women's Downhill, Salt Lake City 2002). How cool is that?
Plus, she makes really good granola.
(Isabelle doesn't seem to be listed on AirBnB anymore, but you can find her place here.)


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